Tech Co-op’s Are on the Rise. . .

A couple of weeks ago, I posted about the desires to create co-op version of “Uber”. One respondent on a different forum noted that I was in “violent agreement” with the platform co-op community. I was glad to hear that! But some also saw my post as technophobic focusing on my age (Ok, Boomer!), so I feel the need to talk about some of the incredible tech co-op that are popping up!

Here in the PNW, a couple of communities are using Althea-mesh software to provide direct access to the internet with cooperative ownership by the users. These ISP co-ops (Clataskine Co-op and Tacoma Cooperative Network) provide true net neutrality through community ownership and control of the ISP. The payments are made through Althea blockchain cryptocurrency (which is linked to the US dollar).

Other tech based co-ops include Motion Twin, a worker-coop which produces on-line games, and Modo (a consumer car sharing co-op in Vancouver).

I’ve also mentioned Resonate, a music streaming app that has membership for producers (artists) and consumers and uses blockchain as well.

Last year, Working Systems, a software developer servicing labor unions, converted to a worker co-op and I am currently talking with a couple of platform start-ups (since they are still in the start up phase, I don’t really want to name them, but one will be about encrypted storage and file sharing. The new Employee Trust in Washington (a project of SIEU, PHC, ICA Group) will be working with the independent contractor caregivers providing homecare through medicaid. Of course, The Workers’ Paradise has always been hosted on Electric Embers, a worker cooperative. A common theme in these co-ops is taking control of the technology and operating an ethical basis.

This was the point of the previous article: we can’t simply replicate a corrupt extractive model, offer memberships, and then call it a day. We have to make the operations aligned with co-op values and principles. and that means strengthening communities, not just disrupting them because that is what technology does. When I hear the word “disruption”, what I hear is someone saying that they don’t really care about upending people’s lives. That the folks losing their jobs or community are just collateral damage in the march of progress filled with a unfounded optimism that everything will work out in the end.

On one of the social sites on which this blog posts, some asked about Eva. Eva was presented to me as a retort to my post: “hey, what about Eva” but it wasn’t easy to find information. Eva is a platform co-op offering “ride sharing”. I use the scare quotes because, as someone on social.coop argued, “it isn’t really ‘sharing’ if your charging for the service”. Anyway, the website doesn’t offer a lot of information about the co-op (they told me that the site is do for an overhaul in April), but this interview on Each for All Radio (a co-op itself), with Dardan Isufi, Eva co-founder and Chief Operating Officer, provides a deeper dive into their model. If you listen to the recording (about 49 minutes), you will hear that Eva works with brick-and-motor cab companies, has staff in the cities it serves, insists on 35 hours of training, police background checks, and maintenance reports. Most importantly, Eva doesn’t engage in price gouging (known as “surge pricing” in the industry and covers the insurance cost directly for the drivers (another core difference from Uber/Lyft), the latter is likely an aspect of Canadian and Quebec laws).

The response from me: Eva is not trying to replicate Uber or Lyft.

They are an example of what I was talking about. I am glad to learn more about them and they were very generous in answering my questions in a separate forum. I obviously write from a US perspective (and my Canadian experience is mostly english-speaking Nova Scotia), but avoid US exceptionalism and ackowledge that I can’t know the different laws in every country, province, and state. Eva told me, they can’t provide service to people who need wheelchair accessible vehicles or to people who don’t have a smart phone (and debit/credit card). Apparently this is the law in Quebec (and Eva is working to address that, but politicians move slowly). So, hourra por Eva!. The biggest lesson that I learned from this exchange is to tread lightly with the Quebecois!

The bigger story from all of this is that almost a decade after the forming of the Tech Co-op Network, tech co-ops have begun popping up all over. They don’t have the capital to become household names like Spotify and Uber, but they are building the foundation for a tech community based on human values and a lot of them organize as multi-stakeholder co-ops when it makes sense (such as streaming services). For an industry known notoriously as anti-union and libertarian, the new generation of developers promises a different future of tech in which the technology serves its community and not the other way around.

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The Government Will Not Save Us

Regardless of the outcome of the Iowa Caucus tonight, our salvation as a community (however you define it) and as a species will not come from politicians. It will will only come from our collective efforts to build a better world.

Government as it has been formed, does not exist to solve problems. It exists to control and maintain order. Claus Offe, in his collection Disorganized Capitalism, argues that the role of capital and government tend to feed off of each other. Specifically, the capitalist simply asks government to get out of the way, to do less while other groups (labor, communities) seek to have government intervene. This creates a form of social entropy that requires constant work to maintain.

Of course, sometimes the needle moves as it did during the abolition movement, the populist and progressive movements, and most recently the New Deal. Each of these efforts though further prove the point, that without constant effort, the government will default to doing less.

If we want a better world, it is imperative that we make that world. There is an incredible opportunity now to change our economy from a mercantilist/capitalist model to a more cooperative model. Project Equity estimates that only 20% of existing small businesses. According to JPChase:

“Over 99 percent of America’s 28.7 million firms are small businesses. The vast majority (88 percent) of employer firms have fewer than 20 employees, and nearly 40 percent of all enterprises have under $100k in revenue. 20 percent of small businesses are employer businesses and 80 percent are nonemployer businesses.”

Rather than trying to “get to scale”, we have an opportunity right now to help many of these businesses remain in their communities providing jobs as either worker cooperatives or community (multi-stakeholder) cooperatives. In 9 short years, every one born during the Baby Boom will be 65 or older and the majority will be over 70. Rather than watch the further consolidation of wealth into fewer and fewer hands, we can change communities, create cooperative corporations, and build an economy based on meeting needs, not maximizing profits.

What this could mean is that the majority of the corporations would no longer be asking government to do nothing. A cooperative economy might be asking the government to be a partner in building a better world. Gary Hart, a former Senator from Colorado, wrote his PhD thesis on the Jeffersonian view of what the US could have been. Jefferson, during the drafting of the US Constitution, was Ambassador to France and not part of the deliberations. Hart’s book, Restoration of the Republic: The Jefferson Ideal in 21st Century America, Jefferson envisioned a world that looks a lot like Robert Owen’s communities. Small, (5,000 people or less) but connected in networks and federations to meet the needs of the community. The common defense would not be through a police force or army, but more like a volunteer fire department (that are so common in rural Washington).

A cooperative economy might even make government somewhat obsolete. I have always been amazed at the similarity between Mondragon’s organizational chart and that of the IWW’s vision from 100 plus years ago. A government that is an outgrowth of the cooperatives that we engage to meet our needs would not need to be interventionist. It would be a true partner with the communities that feed into it.

Tonight, the 2020 campaign for president begins in earnest. Regardless of who wins tonight, the nomination, or the presidency, we can only make the world a better place and safe it from ourselves by working cooperatively to create an economy based on meeting the needs of the planet and its residents. The ability to be Masters of Our Destiny lies within us.

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No, a Co-op Version of Uber or Lyft Isn’t Possible

I often see posts and efforts regarding platform co-op that want to co-operatize the “gig” economy. I understand the desire. The co-op community missed this change in our society in a big way. It happened very quickly and utilized an industry whose culture tends not to support collective action (either through labor unions or cooperatives). One of the regularly recurring concepts is to replace Lyft or Uber with a co-op version. I try to be an optimist, but not only don’t I think that it is possible, I think that the co-op community should be thinking about how to reinvent the use to technology in line with the cooperative identity.

Uber and Lyft are not new to the taxicab industry in terms of their model. The only difference between these companies and the traditional taxicab companies, is that they were able to operate in multiple cities and afford political influence at a level that most taxicab company owners could only dream about. The manner in which Uber and Lyft treats the drivers and passengers is part and parcel of the industry that it pretends to replace. It is predatory and extractive.

The primary reason that I don’t think that a co-op version of Uber/Lyft is possible comes from a simple aspect of their plan. These apps are available to provide services in thousands of communities. While it might be possible to create a co-op spanning a similar geography, it would be difficult to have a meaningful democratic control and economic participation through multiple languages, cultures, and nationalities. In addition, Uber and Lyft exist, in my view, more as research labs for their investors (Google among them), so even breaking even isn’t the priority that it would be for a driver-owned platform. It may be possible to simply serve a single area. However, drivers for Uber and Lyft don’t make any more than cab drivers even with millions in marketing support provided by these companies, I a skeptical that a one community company can breakthrough in a single market.

Secondly, a key part of the Uber/Lyft plan works on ignoring liability insurance. This falls on the individual drivers (although there are umbrella plans provided through these companies, the insurance only kicks in if the driver’s insurance is exhausted). However, as far as I know, most insurance companies will not cover pay-for-service transportation on individual plans, which means that the drivers and passengers are completely at risk. Uber and Lyft have a phalanx of lawyers, lobbyists, and a mountain of cash to change laws (as they did in Wisconsin and Virginia) and fight lawsuits.

As to why the platform co-op model shouldn’t re-create Uber, the first act of this company, and others like it, in most cities was to break local ordinances on public transportation (in many cities, such as Madison, taxicabs are considered a “public conveyance”). Most importantly, they effectively red line the ridership based on their ability to own a smartphone, access to either a credit or debit card, and physical abilities. This simple act eliminates a huge percentage of people who need curb to curb transportation. They pretended to have no control over the drivers, even though they do through the software, and this allows drivers to red line their service area for other reasons. These are not cooperative values or cooperative ways of conducting business. Whatever drivers do to collectively challenge the Uber model, they must not copy it.

Taxi cab companies serve their communities and are generally tied to the community. The platform driver model allows a driver with no ties to the community to swoop in and cherry pick rides during peak events. With no connection to the community, there is no responsibility to the community. Co-ops have the ethical values of social responsibility and caring for others. The 7th Principle of Cooperation is Concern for Communities.

Taxi co-ops tend to operate on the co-op values of self-help, self-responsibility, solidarity, and many others. I point out these three, because a connection exists between the drivers of a taxi co-op that enables drivers and staff of the co-op to protect each other, help each other, and provide the education, information, and training that is fundamental to cooperation and a democratic community. A few years ago, I had the opportunity to interview some of the members of Union Taxi in Denver. They pointed out that with the co-op, their lease dropped by $500/week ($26,000 a year). This meant having weekends to spend with their children. At the same time, they still made more than the Uber drivers, had the support of their peers, and access to material support (maintenance, group purchasing, etc.).

A platform transportation co-op that I could get behind would be a secondary or tertiary co-op that provides technical support for the 7-8 taxi co-ops in the country that would offer multi-city support for consumers, provide dispatch and management software for the taxi co-ops, and help start new taxi co-ops. The individual co-ops would be members of the app co-op, pay dues and service fees, help build the co-op community, and have a national narrative about licensed, trained, and safe drivers. They could message the co-op difference about creating safe working conditions, decent pay and benefits, and being a part of the communities that they serve. The could even encourage passengers to add to a co-op development fund as part of the fare (over the tip, of course).

Posted in Human Relations, Platform Coops, Worker Rights | Tagged | 1 Comment

Social.Coop: A New Year’s Resolution for You

If you are looking to connect with the co-op world on-line there are a number of resources. However, a unique one is social.coop. This is a cooperative owned and managed social network site through Open Collective. There is no cost to join or participate; however, if you want to be a voting member, that level of participation starts at $1 per month. Participation includes being involved in decision-making using Loomio and there are also workgroups helping to manage the site. You aren’t obligated to participate, but everyone is welcome.

You might see some familiar names and people. Some folks cross post on other formats as well (I tend to post a link to my page).

It doesn’t have the flashiness or functionality of reddit or facebook. The interface reminds me a bit of tweetdeck, but it is our place in the internet within the Mastadon world.

Come join us in 2020!

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New Belgium Brewery Goes Flat

A couple of weeks ago, a tremor ran through the “employee ownership” establishment when New Belgium Brewing announced that it had sold itself to Kirin, a Japanese conglomerate with international holdings. New Belgium was a highly touted ESOP (Employee Stock Ownership Plan) that boasted 100% “employee ownership”. The workers will receive an average $100,000 payout. Kirin’s subsidiary, Little World Beverages, which is the official buyer says that everyone keeps their job and everything will remain the same.

I’ve been wondering when the craft beer market would begin consolidating. A few years ago, shockwaves went through the Cascadia craft beer community when 10 Barrels sold to Anheuser-Busch and worse, Full Sail sold to an investment company. New Belgium, around that time, also acknowledged that they would be open to a seller. There was another ESOP brewery in Oregon that sold as well, but I can’t remember the name. It was notable because, as with Full Sail, the trustees were the founders. At this brewery, the couple that were trustees also had a majority share. They said that they wanted the workers to vote on the sale so that they could “feel like owners.” ugh.

Fifty by Fifty created a great discussion about the sale and what it means to employee ownership. I mainly come down in the same commentary of Sonja Novkovic and Erbin Crowell (which shouldn’t surprise too many people). In addition, I would add that, as I mentioned in my previous post, the point of worker ownership goes deeper than creating decent paying jobs (just like the point of labor unions is more than wages and benefits). Ultimately, worker ownership must be about human development and human dignity not only in the workplace but in the community served by the workplace. If human dignity and development isn’t centered in the project, it only offers a few pennies in return for maintaining a larger system aimed at using up people and the planet.

What I found interesting in the commentary was the lack of information about the sale. I held off writing about this because I have more questions than anything. I wonder how the voting went. Was it a unanimous decision such as with Good Vibrations? What is a majority of shareholders? With Full Sail, it was “near unanimous” for the sale (the trustees held 42%). What constituted a majority of shareholders (a minority of actual workers for instance could hold a majority of shares). The reported payout of $100,000 per worker was not reported as either an average or a median number. I think that it would be useful to see a breakdown of how the sale price is distributed to the workers.

That said, $100,000 isn’t a lot of money today. By comparison, Burley Bikes, a co-op in economic crisis, sold in 2005 or so and the workers averaged $30,000 (about $40k in today’s dollars). It will certainly be life-changing for some but will the trade-off be worth it. How does it compare to the wages of these workers? I know that Kirin claims that no jobs will be lost, but there isn’t a guarantee (and if the workers haven’t unionized, it would be a good idea to do so in my opinion). Eventually, Kirin’s shareholders will expect a return on their investment and this will either come from wages, expanded growth in a market that is already saturated, or a sale to a larger company (Miller SAB, AB, etc).

The constant drumbeat of the established worker co-op movement has been how to “get to scale” for several years now. But when companies get to scale, the pressure to sell out becomes even greater. There are ways of “getting to scale” that can still center the individual human in the equation: Rainbow Grocery, Union Cab, Equal Exchange come to mind. Other larger co-ops,such as Cooperative Home Care NY, use labor unions to help keep the social purpose of worker ownership alive. The idea of using a retirement plan in lieu of true worker ownership or real social change has always seemed flawed to me.

I can see using ESOPs as an aspect of a worker co-op, but agree with others that we need to quit calling ESOPs worker owned. Perhaps we should just refer to ESOPS as Worker RVs (retirement vehicles). An ESOP paired with a worker co-op (though a Limited Co-op Association) would allow the best of both worlds, but I don’t know of an example. However, the workers need to democratically control of the business or it will always be investor focused which is inherently pro-capital and anti-labor.

If worker ownership centers only on maximizing wealth for the employees, it will ultimately do little more than create marketplaces for the real capitalists to exploit. Our movement needs to be about more than making the marketplace great for investors again. To paraphrase an old adage: we don’t need to sell ropes to the bosses to hang us with.

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Worker co-ops are not the solution, but a vehicle (and a sturdy one at that).

“We do not aspire to economic development as an end  but as a means.”-– Don José María Arizmendiarietta (029)*

In early December, I attended a workshop in Post Falls, Idaho for Reimagining the Rural West. This initiative of the Western Governors Association includes several workshops and the Post Falls event included a panel discussion on the power of cooperation. It was convened by the Governor of Idaho Brad Little.

During the discussion on cooperatives and their role in rural communities, a state lawmaker from Idaho made a comment about the importance of agency among individuals. She expressed concern about seeing cooperatives as a solution and a flawed history of professionals coming into communities with empty promises.

Here is the full panel the discussion:

On the way back to the airport, I kept thinking about those sentiments and how the co-op movement in unique in community development in that it uses professionals to facilitate the discussion and share experiences, but the actual development and organization has its foundation in the people of the community. Even when a top-down model operates, it quickly gives way to the members of the cooperative.

“The human person that proceeds to cultivate his or her abilities with the only objective of being productive, insensibly and fatally becomes a slave to the productive machine.”— Don José María Arizmendiarietta (030)*

Co-ops aren’t a solution to the community’s problem. The solution resides within the commitment and energy of the people. Co-ops offer a vehicle in which everyone’s agency remains intact through a shared purpose and democratic structure. More importantly, the very act of cooperation is reciprocal, especially in a worker cooperative.

Co-ops that only engage in commercial activity don’t reach their full potential. The real power of cooperation is the development of the individual as a human being. Co-op developers generally only come into a community when asked by the founding members of a co-op. They don’t bring empty promises or gimmicks, they bring experience, advice, and tools, but it is always the members of the co-op that create the vision and work to fulfill it.

Arizmendiarietta speaks eloquently of the role of co-operatives in human development. I’ve heard many worker co-op members also speak eloquently of how their experience in a co-op helped them gain new understandings and uncover latent talents and skills. The “co-op”, at least for worker co-ops, is never an outside actor coming into to “save” a community. Worker co-ops are the community and its members are working to build a better world at the local level. In the process , but the members and the community mutually benefit–the definition of mutual self-help.

 

*Arizmendiarietta, J.M, Pensiamentos translated by Cherie Herrera, Cristina Herrera, David Herrera, Teresita Lorenzo, and Virgil Lorenzo. Otalora Management Institute.

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Willy St: Co-op for Consumers, Union for the Workers

Beatrix Potter ( who with her husband Sidney Webb led the Fabian Socialists (predecessors to the Labour Party in the UK) generally opposed the notion of worker co-ops. The argument went something along the lines that all humans share the status of “consumers”. A worker co-op would create a tyranny over the consumer. For this, and many other reasons, the co-op movement in the UK has largely focused on consumer co-ops (until recently that is). However, the Fabians also supported labor unions and helped form the Labour Party (and to some extent the Co-operative Party). The Labor and Co-op Party run as sister parties in the UK and right now, I believe that the Co-op Party has a record number of candidates (50) for the current election. For many years then, the operating rule has been “co-op for consumers, unions for workers”.

Of course, that this the UK experience. In the modern US experience, consumer co-ops have generally only been friendly to labor unions in competing businesses, not their own. Right now, a historic effort is underway in Madison, Wisconsin to negotiate a contract between the Williamson Street Grocery Co-op and United Electrical Workers. UE won an election among the workers with a staggering 80% of the voting workers in support of representation by UE.

Willy St. Management, while claiming to be pro-union, hired a firm that specializes in helping companies undermine labor unions and sent out a 1950’s era management letter attacking the union right before the vote. Nevertheless, at this point, everyone seems to be negotiating in good faith.

The Union has been engaging the consumer-owners of the co-op as allies (and I am a former member). This short video provides a very concise argument for why anyone who supports cooperation should also support labor unions:

My take has always been that, in a consumer co-op, the consumers are joining together democratically to speak with one voice in the marketplace to meet their needs. Likewise, the workers should also be able to come together in a democratic fashion and speak with one voice. We need to disabuse ourselves of the idea that just being a co-op makes a group of 35,000 people a “good employer” especially when almost all of the power of ownership is concentrated into the single person of a General Manager.

If the idea that consumers can band together to get a stronger voice in the market, why shouldn’t workers also band together to get a stronger voice in negotiating working conditions and compensation.

As Carl notes in the video, the wealth created by the Willy St. Co-op didn’t just happen or fall out of the sky. It came from the hard work of over 450 employees of the cooperative.

The co-op movement has always been about social justice. The Rochdale Pioneers started out as a means to gain universal suffrage, create a fair marketplace, and overturn the social injustices of the Industrial Revolution. The Co-op Movement and the Labor Movement began hand-in-hand in Manchester, UK. The board of the Willy St. Co-op and its management should be embracing the union, not fighting against it.

 

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Sociocracy: The Worker Co-op Operating System

Over the last couple of years, I have had the incredible opportunity to work with Sociocracy For All (SoFA). This organization has worked diligently to bring the concepts of sociocracy out of the “best kept secret” category and into the mainstream of organizational culture. I sit on the Co-op Circle for SoFA which meets about every four weeks to discuss the aspects of building sociocratic practices in the co-op community.

Sociocracy offers a form of governance and management that operates on the fundamentals of inclusion, transparency, and consent of the governed. In the US, it has been referred to as Dynamic Governance due to the tradition of red-baiting in the US. The method, however, seems like a perfect model for worker-owned and operated businesses.

If this is the first time that you have heard the term, I would invite you to visit SoFA’s website and watch a few of the intro videos. Essentially, it was a system of interlinked work groups (called circles) that are based on the primary aim of the circle. For instance the board of directors might be called the “mission circle” and it job would be that of any board: create policies that enhance the mission and review other circles in terms of their ability to enhance the mission.

In this sense, Sociocracy offers a different form of hierarchy. The format is often considered a “hierarchy of work, not a hierarchy of power.” It turns out, that worker co-ops create this concept even if they don’t follow all the standard formats. Two large co-ops, Union Cab of Madison and Rainbow Grocery Co-op both use a systems of autonomous management groups linked to a steering committee or team. Again, Rainbow and Union don’t use “Sociocracy”, but one can easily see the connection between these organic co-op structures and the official format of Sociocracy.

There are better posts and video about the ins-and-outs of sociocracy. The aspect of Sociocracy hat doesn’t always get discussed or understood is that it challenges the notion that “governance” and “management” are separate things. In a worker co-op, in my opinion, they simply aren’t separate. The same people making governance decisions make management decisions and often the line between the two is fuzzy. In a traditional organization based on the capitalist mode, Governance is designed to protect the equity of the owners against labor while management is designed to control labor in the furtherance of protecting that equity. When worker co-ops adopt this model, they fundamentally undermine their missions. The very aspect of a traditional hierarchy privileges capital over labor (see Kathy Ferguson’s Feminist Case Against Bureaucracy).

Worker co-ops need a different governance model. The Collective/Consensus model works as long as the co-op is small, but it can also be difficult to change once the organization gets too big to effectively manage as a collective and can also be rife with informal hierarchy and soft power. Sociocracy allows small co-ops to learn strong transparent governance/management practices in a system that grows with the organization.

Sociocracy, of course, doesn’t automatically remove soft power and informal hierarchies, but it does create a place where those aspects can be contained, exposed, and reduced in power. When I first learned about it, I realized that Union Cab effectively stumbled its way into a sociocracy-like model. It seems to be an Operating System for cooperation in general, but for worker co-ops in particular.

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The Worker Co-op Movement in 2040: Revisited

Ten years ago, when I was blogging much more regularly, I wrote a series on envisioning the worker co-op movement in 2040. You can read them here. As the Co-op Decade comes to a conclusion over the next couple of weeks, where should the co-op movement in general and the worker co-op movement in particular set its sights?

There is an effort by the Democracy Collaborative to create 50 million worker-owners by 2050. However, this includes worker co-ops (ownership and control of the means of production) as one of several tools. ESOPs will likely be the major driver. As I mentioned in my initial post on this topic in 2010, I will be 76 years old in 2040 and likely not working (although I hope that I am still engaged and writing about co-ops).

I imagined, in 2010, a goal of tripling the number of worker co-ops each decade (I’m nothing if not an optimist). It is always hard to count the number of co-ops in existence, and I am hopeful to see better statistics in this area soon. Olympia definitely met that goal, but on the whole, I am guessing that worker co-ops increased by 50% over the last 10 years, which is still an achievement. I am hoping that the efforts to secure new generations of ownership through the co-op model increase the rate of worker co-op development, and maybe with some of the new plans for capitalization it will ramp up the pace.

I also suggested this crazy (but I think attainable goal):

  • Worker co-operatives will exist in each of the top 150 MSAs in the United States.
  • Worker Co-operatives will account for between 0.5% and 5% of the GDP for the each MSA
  • Worker Co-operatives will be part of the planning documents for the regional and municipal planning departments in at least 1/2 of the top 150 MSA and in all of the MSA’s in which co-ops already existed in 2010.

Although perhaps it would be smarter (and more attainable) to include the Combined Statistical Area that would include a lot more communities such as Olympia and Port Townsend that otherwise would not register high enough as their own MSA. As you might have guessed, I’m still really into “SMART” goals.

Capturing and reporting this data would be, in my opinion, much more valuable than the annual report trumpeting the top 100 co-ops in the country based on revenue. This data would point directly to local community impact. It would help us learn from successful communities and where to put resources more effectively.

I also argued about making cooperatives part of the electoral discussion and we did that in Madison in 2011. It paid off for co-ops and Madison joined the select cities that see worker co-ops as a pathway towards a resilient local economy.

I am glad to see it happening at the presidential level in 2020 and hope that more local and statewide elections start seeing co-op development as a real (and non-partisan) campaign topic. Building local economies through cooperatives is a efficient use of tax payer dollars compared to corporate tax breaks that create a race to the bottom in the attempt to lure “job creators” to the community. Policy makers should create the jobs that will never leave through a worker co-op.

We should all be working to help 50 by 50 meet its goal and to help as many of those organizations either be worker co-ops or democratically worker-controlled as well as worker-owned organizations.

I close with a quote from Don José María Arizmendiarrieta: “The future is never as uncertain as it is believed to be and is more conditioned than may seem to us, not as much for what we lose our interest in as for what we try to adopt and improve according to our taste.” We build the road as we travel and the first step of achieving our goals is to state them.

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The Quest for Capital

The final goal for the Blueprint for a Co-operative Decade focused on capital (although in a lot of ways, the other goals also touched upon capital as well). The goal states, “Secure reliable co-operative capital while guaranteeing member control”.

Starting a business still tends to draw start-up capital from the the following: friends, family, and credit cards. Although there have been changes to the landscape over the last ten years, most notably investor co-ops, the means of getting start-up capital for co-op ventures remains difficult.

This isn’t to say that there aren’t options and plans for the future. Shared Capital does everything that it can to support the co-op movement and definitely assists in conversions and other co-op development projects. The National Co-op Bank continues its efforts at this as well. But, as with co-op development, the demand for capital far outpaces the supply of capital.

Some exciting projects in the works include Co-op Exchange in the UK that will allow anyone in the world to invest in cooperative projects. The exchange promises to allow microinvesting by people at any economic level and this, in turn, can create a huge fund for co-ops. If the 1.3 billion co-op members each contribute just 1 penny (US), that $130 million for co-op capitalization.

Start.coop has also created a business accelerator model. This takes a cohort of co-ops through a process and helps them message to and find social impact investors. It is still in its infancy with the first cohort, but offers an exciting opportunity.

I believe that there is also an investment co-op program being formed in California, but I cannot remember its name and my attempts at searching on-line have not yielded any information.

Ultimately, though, the existing co-ops need to find a way to divert some of their member equity to funding new co-ops and helping existing co-ops expand. This is difficult, but the infrastructure already exists through the NCB, Shared Capital, and CDFIs. As I mentioned a couple of days ago, the economic power of the existing co-ops could fundamentally change the local economies where they are concentrated and this, in turn, would change the policy maker discussion about sustainable economic development. It is a fundamental part of the value of solidarity and the 6th principle of cooperatives.

I am hopeful that as we turn the page on the Blueprint for a Co-op Decade, the formulating strategies will come to fruition, but we also need to the leadership of existing co-ops to commit to investing in the co-op economy through development and solidarity funds. As has been pointed out a couple of times this week, the aggregate economic power of co-ops and their members could really “move the needle” on co-op development in the US and world-wide.

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