Ownership Matters|Issue 27
Chordata’s Beautiful Experiments; Neighborhood Econ in Indy; a Maryland Media Cooperative
- Editorial: The Power of Neighborhood Economics
- Chordata Capital’s Beautiful Experiments
- Co-op Profile: Bloc by Block News
- Books: The Asset Economy
- May Reader Gathering — Tomorrow
- Janelle Orsi on Self-Organizing Cities
- Call for Filmmaker Submissions: Small Business Storytelling
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share this segment by right‑clicking icon to copy linkThe Power of Neighborhood Economics
I’m just back from three days in Indianapolis attending an unusual national gathering of over 100 engaged community wealth-building practitioners. It was called Neighborhood Economics, a project from SoCap founders Kevin Jones and Rosa Lee Harden, now co-founders of Faith+Finance.
The organizers asked themselves the question: what if you brought together people working on moving money from certain places (like big church endowments, impact investment funds, catalytic philanthropy) to certain other places (business transitions to worker-owned, commercial property with Black ownership, emerging ecosystems of support around these projects).
And then you let those people meet each other, talk about their work, and inspire even more work, hopefully in collaboration.
Attendees chose one of eight design labs with titles like “Catalytic Capital,” “Bridging the Racial Wealth Gap,” “Church Assets in Transition,” and “Community Equity Investments.”
This was a place to meet experienced, aligned people working locally (Downtown Crenshaw in Los Angeles), regionally (Co-op Cincy in Ohio), and nationally (Faith+Finance). And to explore how these levels could interact more successfully.
One issue addressed: the strategy of repurposing of church assets into community assets, given that as many as 100,000 of this country’s 384,000 churches are projected to close their doors over the next decade. (Sponsors related to this topic included Trinity Church Wall Street, the Episcopal Diocese of Indianapolis, and Duke Divinity School’s Ormond Center.)
Some other issues discussed: the “silver tsunami” (Boomer business owners without succession plans who could sell their companies to employees; investment funds which ignore or don’t know much about these projects; the racial wealth gap (sometimes called “the rich uncle problem”).
The group interaction, from my vantage point, was enthusiastic and even occasionally a bit intense. At one point in the schedule, the Community Equity lab (which included Downtown Crenshaw representatives, among others) seized the opportunity to stroll down the hall and drop in on a group they wanted to know better: the attendees at the Aligning Endowments with Mission lab.
The encounter resulted in a productive conversation, including an idea from the endowments group for a Neighborhood Fund which they described as “$100 million to organize social and financial capital in place-based projects (7 cities), using first-in capital, with a registry of matching funders to go 7X.”
Some other interesting ideas / projects which surfaced at the event:
- Michael Shuman pointed out the growing use of municipal bonds for a variety of purposes (clean energy, for example) — which could include the financing of projects which build community equity.
- Shalonda Ingram, a social entrepreneur and placemaker, spoke about how her work now includes the dimension of spiritual entrepreneurship.
- Marc Tognotti of Infinity Point CDFI argued for the advantages of ESOPs over co-ops (debate ensued!) via a striking proposal for “fractional” ESOPs.
- Dan Fireside described some of the new work going on with Local Code Kansas City, for which he is serving as a capital advisor.
- We had the opportunity to meet with and visit the organizers of two local Indianapolis projects, the Kheprw Institute (a Black-led creative community organization) and Big Car (an arts collective with a placekeeping focus).
The organizers are already planning another Neighborhood Economics event, so sign up at Faith+Finance for updates on what’s coming!
share this segment by right‑clicking icon to copy linkMaking Beautiful Experiments with Money
A Conversation with Chordata Capital’s Kate Poole and Tiffany Brown
Kate Poole has worked in the local investing ecosystem since 2009, and has been a member of Resource Generation since 2013. She co-founded Regenerative Finance in 2014 to organize other inheritors to shift control of capital to frontline communities. She has served on the board of the New Economy Coalition since 2018.
Tiffany Brown worked in the non-profit sector for over a decade before transitioning into her work in finance. Her career has ranged from being Co-Director at YES!, Board member at Common Fire Foundation, founding advisor to Kindle Project Foundation, to directing national leadership retreats at Resource Generation, and serving on the Finance Committee for Haymarket People’s Fund. Most of her work has been focused on working with young people with wealth.
It’s a pleasure to meet you both and hear more about this unusual business. What’s your origin story?
Tiffany and I first met each other in 2013 through Resource Generation. And then we launched Chordata in 2017. We were seeing that there were these radical and wealthy young people that wanted to invest in the solidarity economy.
But when they learned about certain kinds of [socially just] projects or funds, their investment advisors told them it was too risky. Or that they could only move a $5,000 investment out of a $50 million portfolio, so the resources just weren’t flowing.
So we saw an opportunity to walk that path with people and say, if you’re committed to wealth redistribution, investing in racial justice, in order to shift wealth and power, we can help you do that, we can shift your investment portfolio.
And that’s what Chordata is. We support people through investment advising and we have a 9-month cohort program.
This is a fascinating new world to me. I just talked to an investment advisor with a group of clients that she said are just basically into anti-capitalist investing, which I thought was hilarious.
It’s just been amazing to me to discover that there are people with assets that are so committed to a new vision. This turns the world upside down. I can imagine going to a conventional financial advisor, often an older white guy, and just announcing, Hey, I’ve been thinking about it and I’m pulling everything out.
It’s pretty counter-cultural, but there are plenty of people that want to do just that. I think what we’re trying to do with our work is to put a beacon out there and say, if you want to walk this radical path, we can support you in doing it. I think a lot of traditional investment advisors are afraid of these kinds of investments as taking on more risk or investing in experiments that aren’t proven. But if that’s what wealth holders want to do with their money — to get into experiments, beautiful experiments in the solidarity economy — then you can have a role as an investment advisor and support them in following that path.
Tiffany, I noticed you’re a UC Santa Cruz grad. I’m an old UC Berkeley grad student dropout and I remember Santa Cruz, also a radical place back then. Is that where your interest in social justice began?
Yes, my first week in school, there was this protest against the way Mumia Abu Jamal had been falsely incarcerated. And I was like, Whoa, political prisoners. That scared the crap out of me, that somebody could be set up for speaking their truth.
And then I got into anti-racist politics and got really radicalized. It set me up to then go to Atlanta to do an internship with the NAACP, and that just set everything else up after that.
What happens when you say to your clients that you are about community control, or you want to get to community control investing?
I think part of the heart of our work together is Kate and I coming out of donor organizing, and all of these social justice principles that surround how people think about the politics of giving. So instead of thinking that wealthy people know how to fix all of the world’s problems, it’s about impacted communities which have the answers to address whatever issues they’re facing.
And so we just use that same lens of social justice principles with investing. And community control can look a lot of different ways. One of the most inspiring examples is the Boston Ujima Project.
For sure. And hopefully, Downtown Crenshaw, right?
I want to ask about what you might call the cult of the solo entrepreneur. Don’t we need to reinvent this word, entrepreneur? And also the concept of what risk taking means. What do you folks think about that?
I think part of what we’re trying to push towards is this shift from individualized thinking to taking responsibility and being a part of a community. To move from the individualism of centering your own ideas to supporting communities in their economic self determination.
A lot of the work that we’re seeing is people bringing their heart and the values they want to see in the world. Centering interconnectedness and interdependence. We explore how those values can be a part of the businesses or investments that we’re doing together.
In thinking about what kinds of values an entrepreneur should have, I think we’re trying to push towards a sense of collective care. Another piece that Tiffany and I talk a lot about in doing this work, across difference and across class and across race, is that we need each other. And we really believe that, as we’re building an economy that works for everyone, we need to practice working together across differences. And we need to build new economic infrastructure that brings everyone in, and values everyone’s labor.
share this segment by right‑clicking icon to copy linkWho Tells the Untold Stories?
In Maryland and D.C., Bloc by Block News Is Building Cooperative Local Media
Júlia Martins Rodrigues
In this new series, Ownership Matters will offer occasional profiles of cooperatives based in the U.S. and beyond to tell values-driven stories of entrepreneurship and collaboration. Each co-op we profile will be unique on its own contours; altogether they are an invitation to creativity with no recipe nor rigid formulations, healing market pains and enticing transformative change. Why are these organizations created? What mission do they embrace? Who are their founders and funders? We hope to raise awareness from thriving stories of cooperation, showing there is no one-size-fits-all in the co-op ecosystem.
Thanks to Kevon Paynter, founder of Bloc By Block News, for his assistance with this article.
The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story. — Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, an acclaimed Nigerian writer, warned us of The Danger of a Single Story, highlighting how the media and literature we consume — often contaminated with stereotypes and bias — comes from an incomplete understanding of peoples’ reality. Our misconceptions about the world come from accepting one experience or one narrow version of reality as the whole truth, reducing someone (or entire groups) to a single story, generalizing complex phenomenons, and jumping to defective conclusions. The author emphasizes how Africa has been historically reduced to a single tale of catastrophe due to how media generically portrays that entire continent.
The same process happens systematically to African-American communities when the media underrepresent their voices and show an incomplete narrative of their stories and struggles. Aware of the storytelling bias against people of color, the journalist and entrepreneur Kevon Paynter founded Bloc By Block News.
Since his early studies as a bachelor’s student of communication and media studies, Kevon started questioning the portrayal of people of color in the media landscape. Along the way, during his master’s studies in journalism at Georgetown University, he envisioned Bloc by Block as a channel for credible news accessibility, amplifying the people’s contact with what happens in their communities.
In the past, discriminatory New Deal-era redlining policies implemented by the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation (HOLC) and the Federal Housing Administration created segregated Black or mixed-race neighborhoods. The consequences of redlining remain in many counties nationwide. These areas with low-income, BIPOC families and devalued properties tend to become media deserts, where people have limited access to local news and information.
To tap into this systematic pain, Kevon deployed the old and gold “think globally, act locally” approach. Launching in Baltimore, Maryland, the founders conceived Bloc by Block as a media cooperative to change the local reporting landscape and consolidate a hub of local news written by journalists from diverse backgrounds.
share this segment by right‑clicking icon to copy linkHow We Got Locked Out of the Asset-Owning Economy
The Asset Economy: Property Ownership and the New Logic of Inequality (2020) by Lisa Adkins, Melinda Cooper, Martijn Konings
If you are a millennial or know many people in that generation, this grim but clear-eyed analysis by three Australian academics will give you a new window into their lived reality. And into the macroeconomic transition which has so dramatically shifted the ground underneath them.
The thesis here is that the key element in shaping inequality is no longer the employment relationship — i.e., the implicit social promise that your wages will eventually accumulate savings in order to build a bridge into stable wealth. The history of wage stagnation in recent decades has gradually closed that door for most of an entire generation. Instead, the new challenge — one which most younger people cannot meet — is whether you are able to buy assets that appreciate at a faster rate than both inflation and wages.
In all our major cities, the betrayal of this promise is evident in the way housing assets have played a specific and major role in the creation of inequality.
The authors push back on Thomas Piketty’s emphasis on the top 1% and the notion that this phenomenon is due to a new Gilded Age: they locate the shift’s origins as far back as the post-New Deal era.
Historically, the key data point here is the long-term divergence between wages and assets values. They create a fascinating portrait of the Reaganite supply-side answer to this trend in the hugely favorable treatment of capital gains under that administration. The policy was couched as an invitation to participate in the asset economy (housing and the stock market) while ignoring the decline in wages. With cheap and abundant credit, anyone could buy their way into the asset economy via private housing, the traditional democratic generator of wealth.
Related to policies around this underlying divergence was the “information economy” vision in which knowledge became viewed as a source of value as much as owning a home or owning a stock. All this occurring at the expense, of course, of serious public investment.
Among several lessons the authors draw from this history: “Ultimately it is impossible to create a new middle class of highly paid knowledge workers while also enacting the rule of generalized wage suppression and public spending austerity.”
And they emphasize another element in the rise of the asset economy and the breaking of the generational contract: intergenerational transfers of wealth, a key indicator of class and a sign that that term needs updating beyond the old markers of work and occupation merely. In determining your life chances today, the latter transfers combine “the hyper-capitalist logics of financialization with the feudal logics of inheritance,” as the authors put it.
Increasingly, life in the asset economy means managing and planning asset-driven lives “ordered by the logic of asset appreciation, shaped profoundly by the dynamics of appreciation, and the struggle for liquidity.”
The future of the asset economy is a social question, in the authors’ view. The future of the current generation is perceived as having been stolen by the previous generations. The gates have closed to the newcomers, due to a combination of inflated capital gains and deflated wages. At this point, there are, they conclude, no easy ways out.
In Case You Missed It . . .
From our fifth issue, part one of a look at the problem of adapting investment to cooperatives’ needs, from Start.coop’s Greg Brodsky:
Our theory is that without access to outside financing, fewer cooperative startups succeed, cooperatives are less able to compete well in their respective verticals, and expansion plans can go unfunded.
Having access to only outside debt, is like if we limited each carpenter to only one tool in their tool belt. Maybe the carpenter might make it work, but tremendous efficiency is lost, and some projects never get finished at all.
The reality is that we need different tools for different projects, and more often than not we need more than one tool on the same project! Is it any wonder then that we don’t see more cooperatives at scale, when they don’t have access to the same robust financial tools as other entrepreneurs?
Upcoming : Wednesday, May 18 (Tomorrow)
share this segment by right‑clicking icon to copy linkOM Reader Gathering: Laura Granja and Júlia Martins Rodrigues on Solidarity Cities
May’s Reader Gathering, to be held tomorrow, May 18 at 12 PM ET, is an opportunity to expand on the discussion Laura Granja and Júlia Martins Rodrigues took up in their article “Solidarity Cities” in the last issue of the newsletter. Against the “geography of dispossession,” community land trusts and housing cooperatives are tools proven to offer at least some buffering against these powerful forces. You’re invited to join the authors in conversation as they consider the challenges and possibilities.
Subscribers can expect an email with a link for joining live ahead of tomorrow’s call. (If you’re reading this on the 18th, you’ve likely already received it.)
share this segment by right‑clicking icon to copy linkJanelle Orsi on Moving from the Failed Paradigm of the City Planners to Urban Self-Organization
Co-founder and staff attorney Janelle Orsi of the Sustainable Economies Law Center has a new, mind-expanding piece that is filled with insights and great links. The Law Center now has 15 years of experience giving legal advice to over 2,300 grassroots groups, microenterprises, and cooperatives. That, along with the Center’s various experiments with its own self-organization over the years, led her to think about how those lessons could be applied to an entire city — namely, Oakland CA, the SELC’s home base. The result is a fascinating critique of conventional top-down city planning.
share this segment by right‑clicking icon to copy linkSolidarity-Minded Filmmakers! — Call for Submissions
Deadline Extended to Friday, May 20
Is there a great, BIPOC-owned business (maybe a co-op?) in your community that has a great story you could tell in a 3 – 5 minute video? If you get in your application by May 20, you could win $5,000 in a global contest sponsored by Silver Lining. Winners announced on June 24, with works to be submitted by August 15. Check out the awards program at smallbizsilverlining.com/artists.
Coming in Issue 28, May 31
- Interview: Shareable’s Neal Gorenflo
- Books: White Philanthropy by Maribel Morey
Article ideas? Submissions? Helpful suggestions?
Contact the editor: email@example.com.
- Elias Crim, Editor
founder, Solidarity Hall; former business journalist and publishing consultant
- Júlia Martins Rodrigues, Contributing 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.