Are You Seeing What We’re Seeing? (issue 1)

• 7 min read
Are You Seeing What We’re Seeing? (issue 1)
by Elias Crim, Editor
image: marneejill (altered). license: cc by-saIt takes a developed eye to see a natural ecosystem in all its relational richness and density. Our newsletter is about another kind of ecosystem — one just now becoming visible for many.

🎺 Announcing the launch of Ownership Matters!

In these dark economic times for so many people, we need to start talking more about the innovation which matters. Not the endless stream of trivial products coming from Silicon Valley, most of them tinkering with the same old tech.

Instead it’s the grassroots experimentation around new forms of business with explicit social goals that deserves our attention — and reporting.

In the aftermath of last year’s cascading crises (the pandemic, its economic fallout, the global uprising in support of racial justice), we are seeing a sharpened focus on “social returns” (usually meaning, non-market benefits) on the part of investors, whether angels, investment funds, foundations, or corporations. The ocean of capital known as impact investing has tributaries looking for greater impact, to be more “catalytic,” more transformative.

On the other side of the table, both startup entrepreneurs and established business owners are looking for help financing non-conventional models of business — worker ownership being a primary example — that can help take us into a more equitable, distributed, and racially diverse economy.

Is this an economic shift or a moral/social shift we see underway? Surely it is both.

It’s exciting — but often confusing — to watch. Who are the players here? Who’s succeeding and why or why not? Could this emerging ecosystem be pushing the outward boundaries of conventional investment returns and metrics?

As an example of pushing the boundaries, there’s the idea of “non-extractive financing,” pioneered by Brendan Martin, founder of Seed Commons. It’s a fancy term for simply saying: Don’t take out more value than you leave in. See more from Brendan Martin in this issue’s Fund Profile below.

Ownership Matters aims to be your biweekly nuts-and-bolts guide to this emerging movement toward building inclusive equity and economic democracy.

Each issue of Ownership Matters contains original content (interviews with founders, profiles of funders, opinion pieces, case studies), plus curated links to relevant news, events, and resources.

🎁 Please consider this free copy of the premiere issue of Ownership Matters an invitation to join us in an important new system change effort.

Our masthead:

How much does ownership matter? We agree with author Marjorie Kelly:

Ownership is the gravitational field that holds our economy in its orbit, locking us all into behaviors that lead to financial excess and ecological overshoot. — Marjorie Kelly, Owning Our Future

Our newsletter team thus has a goal: to report on the emerging ecosystem around the concept of shared, inclusive ownership. (Which also means not just owning but membership, participation.)

💰 OK, let’s talk about how to make more people owners

Ownership Matters is the name of our newsletter and it’s also our mantra here.

It describes our focus on communicating about the various business matters — all that practical stuff — when you attempt to create and operate successfully a worker-owned enterprise. Or an ESOP. Or a community grocery store. Or a community bank.

What kinds of practical stuff?

Funding

We’re in a time of innovation and testing in funding models, as discussed in this Fund Profile interview by senior contributor Kevin Jones with Seed Commons founder Brendan Martin. (The topic of funding will receive a substantial amount of coverage here in future issues.)

Business Networks

Zebras Unite is a founder-led network of over 7,000 members globally, as well as a co-op, an investment fund, and a non-profit. It is the creation of several very talented women, most of them women of color, and with a wonderful flair for communicating transformative ideas. Zebras, in this case, should be understood as the actually-existing opposite of the unicorns from VC fantasyland. They are black and white — i.e., profitable, but also generating community benefit. Here’s the Zebras’ latest manifesto:

Labor & Delivery: Birthing the New Economy
“Her birth did not go as planned.” This is how Zebras Unite co-founder, Aniyia Williams, and her husband Marco, describe their daughter Noemi’s unexpected arrival in her father’s hands, at home, in…

Incubators / Accelerators

Now on its second annual cohort of co-op businesses, Start.coop is an important asset in building up its graduates for success. In this new podcast episode from Rework, you can catch the accelerator's co-directors Greg Brodsky and Jessica Mason, discussing some of the amazing co-ops they’ve worked with and the story behind their Equitable Economy Fund:

Coops: The Next Generation
Imagine if gig workers like rideshare drivers or grocery shoppers were compensated for their labor through ownership stakes in the Lyfts and Instacarts of the world. Imagine if companies distributed profits not just to founders and investors, but to their employees and customers. Start.coop is an...

Though sometimes we forget this simple fact, owning your job — rare as that may be in today’s economy — is an asset. Many readers here already get this: we’re talking about worker cooperatives, certain kinds of employee stock ownership plans (ESOPs), perpetual trusts, steward ownership, and other tools.

A great story of employee ownership is ChiFresh Kitchen in Chicago, an eighteen-month-old food service startup owned by returning women (and one man) of color.

image: ChiFresh KitchenThe member-owner ChiFresh Kitchen team.

They are making news with their model.

How does worker ownership happen? You become part of something, especially part of a business in which there are no or few employees — there are predominantly member-owners.

Note: If you’re new to the idea of employee ownership generally, there are resources like BecomingEmployeeOwned.org to get you up to speed quickly.

You may have heard of Cooperative Principle 6: cooperation among co-ops. Mondragon was built on this idea. It’s one of the principles which clearly separates cooperatives from other forms of business enterprise and it’s a key part of the authentic co-op identity.

So how often in the real world do you find a food co-op partnered with a worker co-op. Or a credit union partnering up with an ag co-op or a housing co-op? Our lack of data about these kinds of cross-sector collaborations is typical in the co-op universe — and that’s a problem.

Luckily Mike Mercer, editor of the excellent COOPR8 newsletter, is working with NCBA CLUSA and the National Cooperative Bank to collect examples of collaboration with their Principle 6 Project (P6P). Over the next several weeks, Mike and team are inviting submissions to be uploaded here. There’s multiple kinds of new business and social opportunity here, if we can identify, describe and document it!

Update: Reflections of Fr. Josemaria Arizmendi, the visionary of Mondragon

A book which “belongs in the back pocket of every aspiring cooperator,” as Nathan Schneider puts it.

Translated from the Spanish by the Interpreters’ Cooperative of Madison and published by Solidarity Hall, this collection of short musings on the dignity of worker and the worker, solidarity, and the dynamics of cooperativism has never before been commercially available in English. This new edition contains a foreword by Nathan and afterword by historian Jessica Gordon Nembhard.

Our goal is to have this important new book in print by late summer this year.

Some examples of his thought:

  • All economic, political, and social problems can ultimately be reduced to the human problem.
  • We aspire to economic development not as an end, but a means.
  • The cooperative ideal is to make people more human.
  • Before we dream of making leaders, we have to think about making people. Before teaching them public relations and manners, we have to get them used to forgetting about themselves.

On April 22, Solidarity Hall held a global book launch and reading of Reflections (co-sponsored by Zebras Unite). The Crowdcast event recording is here.

If you’d like to join attendees of that event in receiving a pre-print-edition PDF of the new book, simply send a request to info@solidarityhall.org.

Coming in Issue 2, May 18

  • Felipe Witchger on mapping the co-op ecosystem
  • “The Break Room” — worker-members talking about the joys and challenges in their own workplaces
  • Danny Spitzberg on lessons from Loconomics

Article ideas? Submissions? Helpful suggestions?
Contact the editor: ecrim@ownershipmatters.net.

Disclaimer: The content of Ownership Matters is for informational purposes only. Such information should not be construed as legal, tax, investment, financial, or other advice. Nothing contained in these materials constitutes a solicitation, recommendation, or offer to buy, or a solicitation of an offer to sell, any securities. Subscribers/readers agree not to hold the authors, their affiliates or any third party service provider liable for any possible claim for damages arising from any decision made based on information published here.

← Fund Profile: Community Equity Fund of Asheville, NC
Fund Profile: Seed Commons Founder Brendan Martin →

Subscribe to Ownership Matters

Subscribe to the newsletter and unlock access to member-only content.

You've successfully subscribed to Ownership Matters
Welcome! You are now a Ownership Matters subscriber.
Welcome back! You've successfully signed in.
Success! You are now a paying member and have access to all content.
Success! Your billing info is updated.
Billing info update failed.