Ownership Matters|Issue 29
Mike Strode on Shifting Power; Into the Pluriverse; Kinder Gentler Private Equity?
- Editorial: This Time Will Be Different
- Kola Nut Collaborative and Open Collective’s Mike Strode
- Commentary: Finding Solidarity on Maui
- Books: Pluriverse: A Post-Development Dictionary
- Solidarity Economy Principles Project
- Apis & Heritage Score Two Big Wins
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share this segment by right‑clicking icon to copy linkThis Time Will Be Different
If you read this newsletter, you’ve probably already heard the news: we have finally awakened the elephant. Meaning, employee ownership (EO) has caught the attention of the big world of private equity (PE).
Witness the April launch of Ownership Works, a consortium of 60 orgs — notable among them private equity giant KKR — which proposes to create $20 billion in wealth for workers over ten years.
Which led Marjorie Kelly and Karen Kahn to ask, writing at Fifty by Fifty, “Is Private Equity about to Co-opt Employee Ownership?” To answer the question, they compiled an excellent series of short essays, along with Kelly and Kahn’s related Fast Company article. A big door is opening here.
You could describe it as a nearly $6 trillion dollar door into an industry (here’s an interesting overview, and here’s another) where top execs make over $100 million annually. And the corporate taxes are low (the famous “carried interest loophole”).
And we should remember that private equity isn’t new: it has a history which Kelly and Kahn invoke in the title of their article, “Are the Barbarians at the Gate?” For you younger readers, it’s a reference to a famous business book from 1989 (and a TV film from 1993) which captured the frat party atmosphere of the leveraged buyout boom of the 1980s through the case of RJR Nabisco, an epic takeover battle eventually won by KKR. (Wikipedia: “. . . almost every major Wall Street firm involved in M & A launched frenzied, literal last-minute bids in a fog of incomplete or misleading information.”)
So how has KKR partner Pete Stavros attempted to operate differently in recent years from his firm’s earlier track record? According to a Reuters article, his decade of work on increasing employee ownership has impacted over 45,000 non-management employees across 25 KKR-backed companies.
Of course, that won’t help the former employees of KKR’s over-leveraged list: Toys R Us, Hertz, Payless Shoes, J. Crew.
So what can Stavros accomplish here? Are greater amounts of shared equity an attractive way for KKR to simply make more money? If the standard 3- to 5-year exit does not change in this strategy, then no actual EO is created and no employees have a say in any outcomes. Possibly Ownership Works is planning to work from a new equity model — but we don’t know that as yet.
While we’re waiting for further developments, we might note the Tale of Two Guitar Companies — the buyout of Gibson Guitars with KKR vs. the 100% EO trust managed by the Canadian group Social Capital Partners, as described last year in Corporate Knights magazine.
And in the meanwhile, we should deal with this new breed of PE folks just like their own big investors do — by first asking a lot of questions.
share this segment by right‑clicking icon to copy linkShifting Power in Chicago
A Conversation with Mike Strode of the Kola Nut Collaborative and Open Collective
Mike Strode, a program officer with the Open Collective, is a writer, cyclist, IT consultant, facilitator, and solidarity economy organizer residing in southeast Chicago whose community engagement work has included ride leadership with the Chicago chapter of Red, Bike & Green; editorial and archival oversight for Fultonia; and co-facilitation of Cooperation for Liberation Study & Working Group. He is founding coordinator of the Kola Nut Collaborative, a time-based service and skills trading platform which promotes timebanking throughout Chicago. He also serves as a current board member for Dill Pickle Food Co-op.
Great to have you here, Mike. You have a long list of organizations you’ve worked with or founded. How about we start with your founding of the Kola Nut Collaborative in Chicago?
Sure. I was trying to figure out what were the possibilities for timebanking in Chicago. I was coming off of the heels of my work with the Healthy Food Hub in the food justice and food sovereignty space. The Kola Nut Collaborative was a discovery point, along with the 2018 Cooperative Economy Summit in Chicago and the discovery of the solidarity economy.
I came to realize it’s hard to tell the story of what timebanking can be outside of a larger shift in thinking about economic ecosystems. That’s when the Kola Nut Collaborative began its initial partnerships, trying to figure out if we can seed timebanking into cooperatives.
It turned out to be very difficult work to sell that message — until the world turned, right? Until the pandemic shift, where suddenly everybody was pod mapping, everybody was timebanking, everybody was engaging in mutual aid.
If I draw a lesson from that period between 2017 and 2020, it’s the same lesson that I drew from the Healthy Food Hub. Be consistent and show up, be where you say you’re going to be every Saturday, with the food, and then people will eventually begin to appreciate the space for what it is, which is more than just food.
And similarly with the timebank. Be consistent and show up, just keep seeding the earth. Because ultimately, there is a moment of social rupture, where the opening for the story that you’ve been hoping to tell is made much broader. And that was what occurred during the period of 2020.
I might have anticipated that people might move in the direction of the timebank platform. But by that time, I had realized the platform was not as important as the practice. And that leads me to another part of the Kola Nut Collaborative work, which is this process called the Offers and Needs Market (OANM), which I learned from the Post Growth Institute, Donnie Maclurcan and Crystal Arnold. And it was right around 2019, when I started using that practice as part of our timebanking member orientations or member meetings.
How does the OANM work?
It’s a strategy which is situated well within an asset-based community development framework. Effectively, you’re taking people through a reflective process to discover the capacities, the skills that they can offer to their own communities. You take those down and then ask people, what are the things that you need from your community? What do you need the support of other people to do? And you write those down.
In two different rounds, an offers round and a needs round, you’re just going around the circle. And eventually what happens is you start to get some matchmaking happening in the room. Ultimately, you begin to see the web of resources, assets, connections that we have surfaced in this space.
And now you could put some of that stuff in the timebank. We don’t always have to meet up to do it — that’s what the timebank is for. So the work post-2020 for the Kola Nut Collaborative has really been seeding that practice. And specifically the big project in 2021 was the Offers and Needs Market Facilitator Network in Chicago, which was moving a number of organizers and other folks in the community through a facilitator training for OANM and then seeding the ground with this practice.
I’m happy to report that we hosted a training last year and recently wrapped up another five week training cycle in 2022. There were between 20 and 25 people in that training which means that multiple organizations and multiple communities will benefit from taking up this OANM practice. While our timebank is still at about the same membership of 200 members, OANM is now being used throughout the city.
Amazing, amazing. Where has this new work led you to?
At the wrap-up of this last OANM training, I was talking to the group about my facilitation lineage. Which includes the Rogers Park Community Peace Circle and Jennifer Viets. After attending several circles, Jennifer invited me to facilitate one, my first time doing that. Then there’s our Cooperation for Liberation Study and Working Group, where I ended up co-facilitating. I had also done some board facilitation with our local Dill Pickle Co-op and with Co-op Power.
Currently I’m in the fellowship or in the apprenticeship for AORTA, or Anti-Oppression Resource and Training Alliance. But my experience with OANM is now squarely situated as a practice I’m committed to carrying nearly everywhere I go.
I’m seeding it into the New Economy Coalition, the U.S. Solidarity Economy Network, and with Timebanks.org where I’m currently serving on the board as well.
And it’s a low lift practice, right? There are lots of solidarity economy practices like cooperative development, housing co-ops, worker co-ops, food co-ops, those are very hard lifts, they take a long time.
But OANM is a small, cultural organizing social practice that we can implement in an hour. And it will change the way that we organize our resources and organize our community assets. So yeah, that’s the important thing for me.
share this segment by right‑clicking icon to copy linkFinding Solidarity on Maui
Kipuka Olowalu’s Quest for a New Kind of Tourism on the Island
Júlia Martins Rodrigues
Our desire to spend time away from home for leisure drives an entire economic sector. The tourism industry is an umbrella that carries multiple other industries by including all the visitors’ direct or indirect activities at their destination, such as lodging, transport, meals, and local attractions. Even though tourism history and cultural importance began long before social media and globalization, air travel became more widely accessible, and online life has created a growing culture of pleasure-seekers, emphasizing trendy destinations and experiences.
Tourist arrivals in popular locations have increasingly become a double-edged sword regarding local impact. On the one hand, tourism triggers major foreign exchange and employment generation, injecting essential resources into the local economy. On the other hand, the excessive focus on tourism without appropriate policies protecting the local communities and natural resources has created tensions and clashes amongst visitors and domestic life in overcrowded tourist destinations.
With less than 50 thousand residents and more than 23 million tourists a year, Venice policymakers are pushing for paid reservations to enter the famous Italian city. Residents in tourism hotspots, such as New York, Paris, and Barcelona, have long suffered the effect of tourism on the housing market, facing the process of urban gentrification. To accommodate the volume of visitors, the construction of luxurious resorts in protected areas of Bahia, Brazil, especially in places of sea turtle reproduction, has left true environmental crimes behind.
In Maui, Hawaii, the story is not different. Its unique biodiversity and natural beauty in the core of the Pacific ocean attract visitors from around the world. Many tourists step into the island hoping to drink coconut water on the beach and taste the island’s flavors at local fruit stands, watching the famous rainbow over the mountains.
Once in the resort area in Lahaina — the past royal capital of Maui — the actual experience vastly contrasts with the most common expectations. Visitors find obtrusive buildings over ten stories high blocking any sight of the coast, their lawns replacing the beach sand; “private property” signs everywhere; a Louis Vuitton store and other luxurious brands barely a step from the famous Black Rock beach; grayish (i.e., unhealthy) coral reefs; landscaping instead of nature; an avalanche of made-in-China souvenirs and few local crafts.
The island’s Polynesian roots often supply names for the local resorts and live entertainment, but most of it felt like plastic and cultural appropriation at the service of capital rather than legitimate value and respect to the local communities. That entire side of Maui is a loud scene of overdevelopment and savage capitalism, overshadowing the natural beauty and cultural commonwealth that should sustain the island.
share this segment by right‑clicking icon to copy linkOther Worlds Are Possible
Pluriverse: A Post-Development Dictionary (2019), eds. Ashish Kothari, Ariel Salleh, Arturo Escobar, Federico Demaria, and Alberto Acosta
In the second half of the twentieth century, writes Wolfgang Sachs in the foreword to this “global tapestry of alternatives,” the idea of development — and its partner concept, “underdevelopment” — prepared the path for Western imperial power around the world. It proved to be a cul-de-sac, “the consequences of which would hit us in the form of injustice, cultural turmoil, and ecological decline.” (See contributing editor Julia Martins Rodrigues’ commentary on this same topic in our previous issue.)
Sachs argues that three narratives are fueling a new fear of the future: fortress thinking (neo-nationalism’s dream of restoring a glorious past), globalism (the deregulated, free trade world), and solidarity (cosmopolitan localism).
The third narrative includes human rights — collective and individual — and ecological principles. Market forces are merely a means to an end. The herald of this solidarity, Sachs suggests, is Pope Francis, especially in the Laudato Si’ encyclical (“That is why the time has come to accept degrowth in some parts of the world, in order to provide resources for other places to experience healthy growth,” ¶ 193).
One good definition of the pluriverse is the Zapatistas’ phrase “a world where many worlds fit.” The notion of the pluriverse questions the very concept of universality that is central to Eurocentric modernity. It also underpins an ideal of communality present in today’s global movements towards communing or la comunalidad.
This dictionary — actually a collection of essays prefacing a dazzling compendium of worldviews and practices, each only a couple of pages in length — consists of three sections. The first is a group of commentaries from leading scholar-activists from each continent reflecting on the political urgency of reassessing development activities.
The second section — Universalizing the Earth: Reformist Solutions — looks at and critiques a range of innovations, mostly from the global North and promoted as progressive solutions. The latter range from “climate-smart agriculture” and “earth system governance” to “neo-extractivism,” “smart cities,” and “transhumanism.”
The final section is called The People’s Pluriverse: Transformative Initiatives. This collection of short profiles is indeed a tapestry of alternatives and cosmovisions. They tend to link ancestral and contemporary knowledge in a fascinating way.
Some of these visions and practices are already known in activist and academic cirles: buen vivir, a culture of life with various names throughout South America; ubuntu, emphasizing the southern African value of human mutuality; swaraj from India, centered on self-reliance and self-governance.
A sampling of other entries in this section: Agaciro, Agdals, Agroecology, Alternative Currencies, Buddhism and Wisdom-Based Compassion, Chinese Religions, Christian Eco-Theology, Community Economies, Deep Ecology, Degrowth, Direct Democracy, Ecovillages, Gift Economy, Hurai, Ibadism, Islamic Ethics, Judaic Tikkun Olam, Latin American and Caribbean Feminisms, Nature Rights, Sea Ontologies, Tao Worldview, and Worker-Led Production.
Order a print copy of Pluriverse: A Post-Development Dictionary, or download it in PDF form without charge, from the Radical Ecological Democracy website.
In Case You Missed It . . .
From part one of our interview with Steve Dubb, senior editor at Nonprofit Quarterly, in the August 24, 2021 issue:
The idea that somehow philanthropy will save us, I think, although widely held, is fundamentally mistaken.
That said, not only are there some very good people in philanthropy, there is an actual, radical philanthropic wing. And we’re very grateful for it — it provides some of our funding. But also, far more importantly, it is supporting social movement organizing and institution building.
And I want to emphasize the latter, because ultimately independent institutions are what is needed to shift power. If you think about labor unions back in the day, they generated their own revenue from member dues. They weren’t dependent on outside funders. They were outside philanthropy. They have even at times become a source of philanthropy, like when the UAW, often a pretty flawed organization, did offer financial support to civil rights organizers in the 1960s.
Employee-owned firms also are capable of generating their own revenue, independent of philanthropy. That’s why employee ownership is so important.
share this segment by right‑clicking icon to copy linkWhat Exactly Do We Mean by the Solidarity Economy?
Solidarity economies grow from the need to create regenerative, circular and sustainable ways to produce and distribute goods and services in an effort to transition away from extractive, exploitative economic practices.— Solidarity Economy Principles Project
It’s an ongoing conversation as to what the term solidarity economy means and what are its key principles. An impressive group of activists and movement leaders have created the Solidarity Economy Principles project, in order to invite reflection and discussion in hopes of strengthening and clarifying these principles in the public mind.
Learn more at SolidarityEconomyPrinciples.org.
We also recommend checking out an excellent discussion about the project organized by Next Egg.
share this segment by right‑clicking icon to copy linkApis & Heritage Score Two Big Wins
The numbers show that two thirds of all black and brown workers retire with no savings. (Compare that with the situation of the average retiring employee in an employee-owned business, with around $147,000 in his or her ESOP account.)
What if you could identify lots of minority-owned businesses with retiring owners who wanted to sell? Even better, what if those business owners could find the financing and assistance to sell the business to their employees?
This is the challenge — or opportunity — Todd Leverette and Phil Reeves, founding partners of Apis & Heritage Capital Partners, have taken on since announcing the first close of their fund at $30 million in June last year.
A & H, which is itself Black-owned and invests in companies where at least 40% of the workforce consists of workers of color, utilizes an innovative employee-led buyout (ELBO) model. On June 6, it announced its first two transactions on June 6: it has transitioned Denver-based Apex Plumbing (50 employees) and El Paso-based Accent Landscape Contractors (120 employees) to 100% employee-owned.
The Washington DC-based fund is now embarked on a new raise of $35–$50 million. Leverette says he expects A & H to do eight to nine transactions by 2025, turning 500 or more workers into employee-owners and creating long-term savings and wealth for them and their families.
Coming in Issue 30, June 28
- Interview: Aaron Tanaka of the Center for Economic Democracy
- Books: Practicing Cooperation by Andrew Zitcer
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, 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
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