Ownership Matters|Issue 23
Real Power-Sharing; Paths to E.O.; Ukraine, Russia, and Cooperatives
- Editorial: Cooperatives amid the War
- Interview: VT Employee Ownership Center’s Matt Cropp
- Books: Michael Menser’s We Decide!
- You Can Now Support OM on a Monthly Basis
- OM Reader Gathering — Tues. Mar. 29
- NPQ Event: Democracy Design — Thurs. Apr. 14
- Philadelphia Media Founders Exchange Launched
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share this segment by right‑clicking icon to copy linkRemembering the Cooperatives as War Returns to Eastern Europe
First, with an eye on the tragic scenes in Ukraine, let’s note that NCBA / CLUSA is standing in solidarity with the co-op sector in that country. Partnering with the National Co+op Grocers (NCG) and the Cooperative Development Foundation, the organization has created a Disaster Recovery Fund to enable direct donations to these businesses.
Ukraine’s co-op sector includes an estimated 15,000 enterprises, 3,000 restaurants, seven hotels, 300 manufacturing businesses and shops, and 300 markets throughout Ukraine, all attempting to maintain operations so member-owners can continue to rely on co-op goods and services.
The NCG is further offering a 100% match on donations of up to $100,000 made by the food co-op retail system.
Second, for those co-op history buffs among our readers, an update to the snippet of Russian history from the 1980s in last issue’s editorial, when Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev was boosting independent, legally-recognized cooperatives as part of his vision of perestroika (economic restructuring).
Instead, events overtook Gorby, who was ousted amidst the political earthquake that ended the U.S.S.R. as a state and replaced it with Boris Yeltsin’s free-market jamboree of asset-stripping. The ensuing catastrophe was the backdrop for the arrival of former KGB Col. Vladimir Putin in 2000, elected partly because he promised to restore at least some of the collapsed social safety net.
Turns out there’s a bit more to this story of a lost opening for economic democracy. An important figure in the U.S. co-op scene was the late John Logue, a political science professor at Kent State University and a co-founder of the Ohio Employee Ownership Center, who died tragically of cancer in 2009.
With inspiration and assistance from Logue, the OEOC pioneered the employee ownership transition process and created the coalition behind the Evergreen Cooperatives in Cleveland.
Logue’s obituary notes one other detail about the OEOC’s outreach:
Kent State and the Ohio Employee Ownership Center hosted international visitors and collaborated on international exchanges to further the work in employee ownership. In 1991, a technical exchange agreement was established between Kent State University and leaders of Russia’s economic reform initiative to adapt the U.S. experience to their privatization efforts, which eventually supported business development centers at state universities in several regions of Russia.
The International Labor Organization estimates (there are no official figures from the Russian government) that as much as one-third the population in Russia today belongs to a cooperative of some kind.
In which case, we may be mistaken in saying Russian cooperativism was “a road not taken.” We will inquire further.
share this segment by right‑clicking icon to copy linkThe Four Paths to Employee Ownership
A Conversation with Vermont Employee Ownership Center’s Matt Cropp
Matt is the executive director of the Vermont Employee Ownership Center, which he joined in 2014. With deep expertise in employee ownership models, he coordinates the Center’s work with a national network of employee ownership practitioners and providers. Matt received his M.A. in History from the University of Vermont in 2011 and is a self-described “renegade credit union historian.”
I want to ask about what you are seeing and hearing from your vantage point with the VEOC in Vermont. But before we do that, give us a little bit of your background at the center and your path in getting there.
During the financial crisis of 2008, I was finishing my undergrad and about to go into a very bad job market. I discovered the credit union model in the context of the financial crisis. This idea of a bank that’s run by its customers, so it isn’t incentivized to behave in a predatory way — that was an aha moment for me.
So my path into this was really around cooperative finance. I went back and got my master’s degree in history, did my thesis on the founding and first 25 years of the Vermont State Employees Credit Union, looking at how the concept of a common bond [legal requirement of a geographical or occupational bond among credit union members] played out and how that evolved over time in the credit union space.
I caught the co-op bug more generally but was wondering: do I want to start a co-op, how do I want to engage in this stuff? And in terms of opportunities for learning more about co-ops in a formal way, there were very few when I was in grad school.
I did a couple of Skype calls with the late Ian MacPherson, a credit union historian in British Columbia but he was basically the only person I could find who knew anything about the history of credit unions. I think it’s gotten a little bit better now.
But at that time, the late 2000s, early 2010s, not so much. One organization which was around back then the Vermont Employee Ownership Center (VEOC) that offered a track of its annual conference on worker co-ops.
And so I bought a $25 student ticket to the one day conference, sat in on some sessions, and then I was in the orbit. I was working on some other co-op movement projects, and doing some social work day jobs just to pay the bills. When a part-time position opened up, I threw my hat in the ring, and then in 2014, joined VEOC as a half-time communications person at this two person, tiny nonprofit organization.
I became the assistant director as we’ve been growing and then became Executive Director around a year and a half ago. One of the founders, Don Jameson, has been around for 20 years now, still working part-time with us. And we brought in a new fulltime person in the last six months.
I want to ask you about some Vermont history, specifically the credit union movement. When did it get going there?
Vermont was actually a late comer to credit unions specifically, because credit unions early on tended to be more of an urban phenomenon. With some exceptions, like the Quebec area, but for the most part it was built around industrial employment. You’d have a factory or a large employer, and the credit union would be formed with the common bond being people who work at that large employer. The first credit union in Vermont was formed at a rendering plant — so its members were all folks who worked at the plant.
share this segment by right‑clicking icon to copy linkHow to Disarticulate the State
Michael Menser’s We Decide! Theories and Cases in Participatory Democracy (2018)
Way back in 2009, my skepticism about meaningful change in my adopted city of Chicago was disrupted when I read that an alderman, Joe Moore, had become the first public official in the U.S. to use a participatory budgeting (or PB) process to allocate public money.
Inspired by the example of citizens in Porto Alegre, Brazil, residents of the 49th Ward worked together to decide how to spend $1 million of Moore’s annual discretionary capital budget — the aldermanic “menu money.” Residents identified hundreds of project ideas, developed dozens of these ideas into full proposals, and then voted to fund street and sidewalk repairs, bike lanes, playground and park improvements, street lights, new trees, murals, and many more community projects.
Participatory budgeting — now a feature of civic life in 2,700 governments at various levels worldwide — is a key pillar in Michael Menser’s valuable guide to the remarkable practices (and the theories) of participatory democracy (PD).
Menser, who teaches at Brooklyn College and The Graduate Center, CUNY, explains that he has written a book of philosophy and of action, placing a focus on power and equality (via collective determination) in contrast with approaches which focus on happiness, rights, or conventional politics. His motto: We must disarticulate the state!
My translation of the latter: we must shift key functions of the state, transferring them with appropriate funding to self-governing civil and social groups. (Another motto of Menser’s: Democracy is not about having a voice — it’s about sharing power!)
In his focus on PD and its related strategy of PB, the author does not take up universal solutions or endorse a single model. But his detailed case studies of PB in Brazil and New York City, cooperativism inside Mondragon Corporation, democratic social production in the Seikatsu Club women-led consumer co-op in Japan, and more, point toward a new vision of social relations emergent from these experiments.
His four scenarios in which PD could proliferate include: 1) a “checkerboard” strategy that remakes local jurisdictions and then inter-connects them; 2) economic crisis and major state policy change; 3) civil crisis and massive social movement action; and 4) the ecological crisis and a cross-sector multicultural climate justice movement. At the moment, I’m leaning toward #2.
You can watch / listen to a 2020 discussion of Porto Alegre’s history and practice of participatory budgeting in wider solidarity-economy context, part of an economic democracy course led by Michael Menser, via CUNY School of Labor and Urban Studies’ offerings on YouTube.
In Case You Missed It . . .
From our first issue’s interview with Seed Commons founder Brendan Martin:
“Because the loans have no set date when they come due, the relationship between Seed Commons and a lender is a lot more like an equity investor.” Martin apparently came up with the phrase “non-extractive financing” while making a presentation. It’s since become widely used as a baseline metric for investors, meaning: Don’t take out more value than you leave in.
Seed Commons doesn’t take collateral nor do they securitize or resell the loans. “We are on the hook to make it work from the income stream, so we want to make sure the project pays off. If they don’t make a profit, we’re not going to repossess their house. If they don’t make a profit, we don’t get paid.”
share this segment by right‑clicking icon to copy linkYou Can Now Support Ownership Matters with a Recurring Donation
A bit of perestroika for Ownership Matters! We’re enabling monthly donations for our newsletter (it’s a non-profit).
We hope this will allow us to commission more articles, do a better job of marketing, and offer a more satisfying reading (and interacting!) experience for our readers. Subscriptions will remain free.
Upcoming : Tuesday, March 29
share this segment by right‑clicking icon to copy linkOM Reader Gathering: Zebras Unite’s Kate “Sassy” Sassoon
If you haven’t seen the amazing Sassy Sassoon, Zebra Unite’s Director of Cooperative Membership, in action, your chance is coming. She’s our guest at the next Reader Gathering, Tuesday, March 29, 1–2 PM ET. (That’s one week from this issue’s date of publication.)
Sassy grew up in a cooperative-minded family before attending U.C. Berkeley (degrees in both theater and ecological science), followed by an MBA from LIFT Economy. She is a founding advisory board member and core faculty member of the California Cooperative Conference. She is also the founder and principal of Sassy Facilitation, providing consulting and coaching services — including facilitation, training, and organizational systems design — to innovative organizations. She loves tackling the joys and challenges of equitable and efficient co-ownership with humor and deep authenticity.
We hope you’ll take a moment to let us know if you hope to join us next Tuesday
Whether you expect to be part of the live gathering or not, by the way, you can leave a note for us there of thoughts or questions to sharpen our conversation with Sassy. We want your input!
Upcoming : Thursday, April 14
share this segment by right‑clicking icon to copy linkHow to Design Democratic Management
A Nonprofit Quarterly Remaking the Economy Event
Here’s a chance to hear three worker-owners talk about the joys and challenges of managing (co-op) workplaces democratically.
Co-sponsored by NPQ and the Democracy at Work Institute, this conversation, moderated by NPQ’s senior editor Steve Dubb, features three panelists discussing the issues of participation, management, and governance:
- Nicole Koch is a member-owner and cofounder of Technicians for Sustainability, a solar installation cooperative in Tucson, Arizona that converted to employee ownership in 2017 and has 23 employee-owners.
- Yarissa Soriano is training and education manager at the Democracy at Work Institute. Previously, at Paraprofessional Healthcare Institute, she supported Cooperative Home Care Associates, the nation’s largest worker co-op.
- Anj Talley is general manager of Mandela Food Co-op, a Black-owned worker grocery cooperative in the West Oakland neighborhood of Oakland, California that was founded in 2009 and has nine worker-owners.
This event is scheduled for 2 PM ET, Thursday, April 14, and will be recorded. Sign up at the NPQ site to attend or receive further information.
share this segment by right‑clicking icon to copy linkMedia Founders Exchange Launches in Philadelphia
As of last month, Philadelphia-area BIPOC media entrepreneurs have a community-grounded accelerator program which will provide grant funding, one-on-one coaching and training.
A project created by the Lenfest Institute for Journalism, the Knight-Lenfest Local News Transformation Fund, and the Independence Public Media Foundation, the Philadelphia Media Founders Exchange was developed and is led by the Zebras Unite cooperative in partnership with Black & Brown Founders.
Self-identified media makers whose businesses are beyond the concept stage of development are encouraged to apply. The program is open to both entrepreneurs and “intrapreneurs,” those working inside of news and media organizations with enterprising endeavors.
Participating businesses each receive $10,000 in funding as well as training in community-power journalism, branding and marketing, audience and partnership growth, financial modeling, capital raising, leadership, and more.
Questions about the program, the application process, or ways to further support or become involved with the Philadelphia Media Founders Exchange can be directed to email@example.com.
Coming in Issue 24, April 5
- Interview: CUNY Community and Worker Ownership Project’s Rebecca Lurie
- Books: John Restakis’ Civilizing the State
Article ideas? Submissions? Helpful suggestions?
Contact the editor: firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Elias Crim, Editor
founder, Solidarity Hall; former business journalist and publishing consultant
- Júlia Martins Rodrigues, Managing Editor
attorney (Brazil); visiting scholar, law, University of Colorado Boulder; PhD candidate, civil and constitutional law, University of Camerino
- Daniel Fireside, Contributing Editor
founder, Uncommon Capital Solutions; board member, Namaste Solar; capital coordinator, Downtown Crenshaw Rising
- Zoe Crim, Editorial Assistant
B.A., linguistics, Indiana University Bloomington; co-founder Fair Trade group
- Paul Bowman, Design / Content Mgr.
- Felipe Witchger, Publisher
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.