Mapping the Ecosystem (issue 2)

• 6 min read
Mapping the Ecosystem (issue 2)
by Elias Crim, Editor

This issue:

  • Felipe’s Ecosystem Mindmap
  • the “Rich Uncle Problem”
  • Loconomics Lessons from Danny Spitzberg
  • Public Banks
  • Lean Coop

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image: Felipe WitchgerWhat’s your mental map of the emerging landscape of shared ownership in the U.S.?

Using pretty much his entire whiteboard, Ownership Matters publisher Felipe Witchger recently took a shot at sketching out a mindmap of the many actors in the emerging U.S. shared ownership ecosystem.

He then made two videos about the map. The first is a 3-minute overview with a bit of ecosystem history, and the second is an eloquent 13-minute personal commentary on the participants — i.e., the movement builders, the funders, the founders.

Felipe also talks about how we investors — yes, even us, we small-time members of a local food co-op, not just those fancy VC people — can participate in overcoming the violence and extraction in what he calls here our system of “capital supremacy.” And moving toward “livable future investing.”

From Felipe’s blog:

I believe a livable future is bound up in hundreds of thousands of people re-setting their expectations around their investing. If we continue to allow conventional finance to dominate our thinking when we look at our retirement portfolios, our college savings, I think we are doomed.

I know conventional finance will continue to set our expectations at 8–10% consistent annualized returns.

For those of us that have walked with front-line communities that have experienced the extraction that these firms bring about, we have the visceral experience in our bones that tells us we can’t continue to allow that paradigm to win. We need Livable Future Investing. We need a new consciousness that helps us re-frame these questions.

Fund Profile: Community Equity Fund

Addressing the “Rich Uncle Problem” with Venture Philanthropy

Stephanie Swepson-Twitty and Kevin Jones are North Carolina-based veteran social entrepreneurs. And they are doing just what such folks love to do: filling a gap they spotted in how the world works.

The two make a powerful combination. Swepson-Twitty is the CEO of Eagle Market Streets Community Development Corporation in Asheville, NC. Her neighbor in the region, Kevin Jones, is the co-founder of the Faith+Finance network, GatherLab, and the SOCAP Conferences.

The duo just secured a $700,000 commitment from Buncombe County (Asheville area) which takes them to a $1 million raise for their new fund, actually a form of “venture philanthropy,” and aimed at addressing a particular problem.

Read our full profile of the Community Equity Fund, and listen to a conversation we recorded with Jones and Swepson-Twitty about it, here.

Danny Spitzberg: More Lessons Learned from the Demise of Loconomics

A self-describing “user researcher for a cooperative economy,” Danny is currently developing a model for worker-led research with Turning Basin Labs, a staffing and training co-op. If you missed his excellent April 28 article for STIR Magazine, you can also read it at his Medium blog. (We’ll wait right here until you come back.)

In an interview with Danny last week, we first recapped Loconomics co-founder Joshua Danielson’s list of things he wishes he’d done differently:

  • Avoided over-marketing the co-op model — lots of people didn’t get it;
  • Addressed earlier the lack of funding or the ability to generate demand on both sides of the services marketplace;
  • Embraced earlier the decision to pivot to a tools membership model.

There’s a lot here to ponder, but Danny, a champion for Loconomics all along the way, adds some further thoughts from his own vantage point as a long-time participant in the co-op movement:

“I’ve become an advocate of plain language for cooperative organizing. Co-op organizers have so much to gain by avoiding what you can call co-op smugness — and that means prioritizing plain language, especially in early conversations about the fundamental benefits of co-ops and shared ownership.”

He points out that there are many large collectives and organizations in the working world which are far ahead of coops in terms of creating democratic workplaces, building consensus, delivering member services, and the thing he cites as his own focus today: worker power in the modern business setting.

“If the answer is co-ops, what’s the question?” He suggests it’s about connecting all folks who today are outside of coops or unions or lending circles.

In the article, Joshua says he now wishes he had hired a labor organizer. Danny picks up on this:

“Exactly — we have to avoid this tone that coops are better than unions, this scarcity mentality that there’s only so much economic solidarity to go around. We want to build relationships that become so strong that people are willing to take harmonious, coordinated action together.”

Do some people get too focused on the coop form, almost in a cultish way?

Danny’s advice: “Don’t use the word co-op until you have to, until after the services and the mechanics behind how it’s delivered. Just keep holding more happy hours, more potlucks, and building solidarity. Finally you get to ownership, control, accountable systems, and so on.”

Chicago’s Amara Enyia on Public Banks

One of the most important forms of ownership is public ownership, of course. As in the form of public banks (here’s a famous example if you haven’t heard of these).

For a great conversation about public banking, you should catch the Democracy Policy Network’s recent podcast episode with Amara Enyia, policy wonk-turned-Chicago mayoral candidate who ran on the idea of turning her town into a “cooperative city.”

And while you’re on the DPN site, take a look around at this great project aimed at deepening democracy (including the economic kind) at the statehouse level around the country. Its co-founder is Pete Davis, author of a new book that is making waves — entirely good ones, in our view.

Thanks to, there’s now a way to get a well-informed overview of the coop startup process: Lean Coop. It’s a free, six-module online course which the organizers note “combines the best of values-aligned cooperative ownership with the lean start-up approach.”

Another new podcast: from ROC USA, a remarkable non-profit social venture which specializes in scaling up resident ownership of manufactured housing communities (now up to 270 of them, in 20 states) since 2008. Its network includes 12 regional affiliates and its own CDFI lending facility, ROC USA Capital.

Their podcast is called “Ownership Matters” (they actually beat us to it!) and its hosts are Paul Bradley and Mike Bullard. “Conversations with people at the heart of the resident ownership movement.”

Coop conversions may sound like a dry topic, but this six-minute video about the scene at Ward Lumber in upstate New York is terrific. This is what CEO succession planning should look like!

Among Ward’s partners on taking this 130-year old company to worker ownership is the Cooperative Fund of New England, an organization we’ll be coming back to in a coming issue.

It’s not often you get a global view of the cooperative movement. Or get to hear how it relates to the community development funds coming from the Biden administration’s American Rescue Plan.

But that’s what’s coming on May 26 with the International Evidence Summit 2021, from the U.S. Overseas Cooperative Development Council (OCDC) and the International Cooperative Research Group (ICRG). Registration is here.

Coming in Issue 3, June 1

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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: Main Street Phoenix Project
Fund Profile: Community Equity Fund of Asheville, NC →

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