Ownership Matters|Issue 9
Purposeful Investing in Practice; Economy Shift & NPQ; Now More than Ever, CLTs
- Felipe Witchger: My Investing Journey — Part 2
- Break Room: Steve Dubb of Non Profit Quarterly — Part 1
- Book Review: On Common Ground — on Community Land Trusts
- Art.coop’s Study-into-Action Fridays — September 3
- NCBA / CLUSA 2021 Cooperative IMPACT Conference
- New Orleans’ Black Liberation Cooperative Academy
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My Investing Journey (Part Two)
An earlier version of this two-part article appeared in June as a post on Ownership Matters publisher Felipe Witchger’s personal blog.
Read part one, if you haven’t yet, here.
I’ve begun shifting more and more of my money into funds and enterprises where their governance and ownership structures give the decision-makers a chance to consider the environment, worker dignity, and community needs as part of their internal capital allocation and planning.
I want CEOs and Boards of Directors to consider my returns expectations right alongside the social mission of their business. If it means lowering my return from 13% to 11% to not go around regulators to dump toxic waste, I’d like CEOs to find a way to clean up the pollution and not push that off on an unlucky poor community or future generations.
If a board has to lower the returns on my money from 11% to 8% to be able to give some equity, profit sharing and a living wage to each worker and contractor that productively contributed, then I’d prefer everybody make a decent family sustaining wage versus a wage that also forces them to rely on food stamps or disability.
And if the board and executive team also think they need a budget for strategic initiatives to be inclusive in the workplace, to listen to community and facilitate participatory decision-making at every level appropriate, then I’m happy to have the CEO tell me that’s what lowered my return from 8% to 5%.
I’ve chosen to allocate the largest portion of my retirement savings to Kachuwa Impact Fund. Kachuwa is a mix between an impact real estate and impact company investments. Read about their strategy here.
Holdings include: Organic Valley, Equal Exchange, Namaste Solar, SJF Ventures, The Working World, LEAF, BlocPower, and others you can read about here.
I’ve also chosen to invest my time to directly helping:
- Apis & Heritage Capital Partners — helps business owners sell their businesses in a way that allows workers to buy it over time as the business grows in value. Their focus is on communities of color.
- Equitable Economy Fund — helps early stage co-ops get vital catalytic capital and introduces them to a community of co-op friendly investors.
The sad part is that because I have less than $1 million (!) in assets, the Securities and Exchange Commission (the SEC) labels me an “unaccredited” investor. And because I’m unaccredited, most small funds (like Apis & Heritage and the Equitable Economy Fund) can’t directly offer a way for me to invest in them without taking on pretty burdensome and costly legal work. This 1933 rule was set up to prevent people from selling “snake oil” investments to less sophisticated investors. The result is that it essentially prohibits me and 99% of America from investing in equitable governance and ownership structures.
The Break Room: Informal Conversations about Work
A Conversation with Steve Dubb of Nonprofit Quarterly (Part One)
Steve Dubb is a senior editor at Nonprofit Quarterly (NPQ), where he directs NPQ’s economic justice program, including its Economy Remix column. Steve has worked with cooperatives and nonprofits for over two decades, including twelve years at The Democracy Collaborative and three years as executive director of NASCO (North American Students of Cooperation). He was also one of the originators of the concept of community wealth building.
Steve, I’m very happy to connect with you. I find your Economy Remix column to be one of the best things going these days.
Thanks, happy to speak with you also — I’m a reader of Ownership Matters.
Thanks. I want to start with a striking and very rich piece you published a few weeks ago on the Biden agenda and whether it can reshape this country’s social contract. By which term, I think you mean our shared national understanding of where and how we are all in this together — or not.
In this relatively short article — which is a great short-form primer on the recent history of government spending on social programs — you explain that the Biden proposals are significant, even if they fall far short — and you show this in the numbers — of making up for longstanding infrastructure and social support gaps.
You note the most important measures besides infrastructure and a greener economy are the child tax credit, universal pre-K, paid family leave, and tuition-free community college.
But then the gaps, as you also point out, are underinvestment in addressing the climate emergency, no increase in minimum wage, no student loan forgiveness, no expansion of public health insurance, certainly no UBI or reparations.
Then you add “What is clear at this point is that the U.S. regime of neoliberalism that has dominated public policy for the past 40 years has been dislodged. What remains less clear is what will replace it.” You say we’re leaving behind neoliberalism, which was a kind of public (or anti-public?) philosophy: tell us a bit about this big word and its history.
If you go back to the end of the Second World War, unemployment fell to a low of 2%, which set the stage for the growth that followed through the late 1960s. But by the early 1970s, corporate profits were declining. From a corporate perspective, this was a problem. The corporate neoliberal “solution” involved restoring profits by knocking down the place of labor in what had been thought of as the New Deal, Keynesian order.
This policy shift was thoroughly bipartisan. It was, after all, President Carter who signed into law a bill that lowered capital gains tax rates and who deregulated trucking and airlines. Reagan’s policies, such as lowering individual income tax rates and attacking labor (such as by firing air traffic controllers) consolidated this shift.
So now we are going through another shift in the social contract, as faith in this kind of capitalism declines.
Yes, although it remains to be seen what the next stage looks like. It might be reform within capitalism, but we might also find a way to transcend the existing economy, in part because the condition of the planet might require it.
You mentioned the New Deal, which has gotten a new relevance in some ways, of course. Sarah Horowitz, in her new book Mutualism, argues that, in the early days of the New Deal, it was not particularly a kind of top-down plan hatched out in paneled rooms in D.C. but rather built on models already underway around the country. Models of various kinds of mutual aid, cooperativism, friendly societies, in New York, California, and elsewhere. The idea was basically to replicate them and then scale them up.
So this is her answer to the debate over whether the solidarity economy we want is going to emerge at the grassroots level or the federal level. Her pitch is that it’s sequential: it needs to begin bottom-up in order to can reach the federal level, through the same process that we saw in the 1930s. What’s your thoughts on her argument?
You know, I haven't read her book, but I am certainly familiar with the argument that the New Deal had state and local precedents. I did a lot of research myself at one point regarding this. For example, there were pension systems at the state level in the 1910s and 1920s that were rudimentary forms of what would become social security. There was unemployment Insurance built off of things like workers compensation, which came in the aftermath of the horrible 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in New York City. Yes, you can go through the New Deal and find state and local precedents. So that much of the argument is true.
And what are we seeing today? You're seeing efforts at the state and local level to create public banks. The last public bank in this country was created in 1919 and it’s still around: the Bank of North Dakota.
At the Intersection of Property, Power, and Place: Community Land Trusts
A review of On Common Ground: International Perspectives on the Community Land Trust, Center for CLT Innovation, 2021, edited by John Emmeus Davis, Line Algoed, and Maria E. Hernandez-Torrales. This article was originally published at Front Porch Republic.
“We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect.” — Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac
Leopold’s statement in his iconic 1949 essay collection (one of Wendell Berry’s top six books on environmental protection) is visionary but not utopian, as I hope to show here. While Leopold’s land ethic focuses on our relationship with the biotic community, there is also the land ethic of the human community, now also endangered and at a global scale.
On Common Ground, the book under review here, is partly a collection of case studies of local solutions to the land crisis for human settlement, specifically through the use of community-led solutions called community land trusts (CLTs). These legal structures could be said to represent “the intersection of property, power, and place.”
Published by the Center for CLT Innovation and edited by John Emmeus Davis, Line Algoed, and Maria E. Hernandez-Torrales, this is an anthology of pieces by 42 authors, with sections covering the origins of CLTs, the shift from models to a movement, regional seedbeds (in Latin America and Africa), urban applications (including urban agriculture), and critical perspectives.
Some initial distinctions. The CLT model could be seen as the center of a Venn ñdiagram in which the three elements of community, land, and an organization acting in trust (usually a non-profit, rarely a literal real estate trust) overlap. (“Trust” in this context refers to how the CLT operates, not how it’s organized.)
Notice also that “community” here does not merely equal “public,” even though local governments are usually needed as partners.
CLTs first appeared amidst the 1960s Civil Rights movement with the New Communities project near Albany GA, a group whose vision emphasized the ability to be rooted in place.
Other notable examples of CLTs profiled here include the Champlain Housing Trust (VT), the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative (Boston), the El Caño Martín Peña (Puerto Rico, the latter adapting the model of an informal settlement), and the Sogorea Te’ Land Trust (led by Indigenous women in the San Francisco Bay area).
Some CLTs focus less on provision of housing and more on preservation of watersheds, woodlands, and agricultural lands.
Nevertheless, CLTs today are a key strategy in community responses to the impacts of gentrification and dispossession, along with land banks, limited equity cooperatives, resident-owned communities, and community benefits agreements. They usually operate within geographic boundaries — from a single neighborhood to an entire region.
Art.coop’s Study-into-Action Public Talks Series Launches September 3
If you’re not already following the brilliant work of the team at Art.coop as they connect culture and culture bearers of all kinds with the Solidarity Economy, you’ve got a great opportunity to engage over five Fridays, beginning September 3.
Each event consists of a one-hour talk (you can RSVP here for one, several, or all), open to everyone. (Members of Art.coop’s Study-into-Action cohort then continue for a second hour in facilitated breakout sessions.)
The topics for the public series include:
9 / 3“The Way it Works”: Abuse, Alienation, and Our Current Condition as Arts & Culture Workers
9 / 10Artists Resist & Build: a history of organizing in the arts with a focus on Solidarity Economy alternatives and artist-led resistance
9 / 17Law and the Land Craft: permanent real estate cooperatives and the arts
9 / 24Solidarity Grantmaking and Investing: #landback and case studies to support grantmakers in deepening their commitment to systems-change
10 / 1Making / Meaning: a live DJ set / jam session / zine-making workshop
Art.coop’s Nati Linares and Caroline Woolard led the team which created last year’s outstanding and comprehensive report, “Solidarity Not Charity: Arts and Culture Grantmaking in the Solidarity Economy,” published with support from Grantmakers in the Arts.
NCBA / CLUSA 2021 Cooperative IMPACT Conference, October 4–8: “Embracing Our Cooperative Identity”
One of the key annual events for folks working to build up the solidarity economy / cooperative ecosystem is NCBA / CLUSA’s annual conference.
Bringing together hundreds of cooperative leaders, developers, professionals, academics and policymakers, the sessions at this year’s IMPACT 2021 event “will challenge cooperators everywhere to deepen their understanding of the values and principles that truly make cooperative enterprise unique.”
Why does cooperative identity matter? As the NCBA puts it, “whether we’re working to dismantle racism, build resilience in the face of climate change or preserve small businesses during a pandemic, last year reminded us that cooperatives have the greatest impact when cooperators live up to their values and principles.”
While details and logistics are still being finalized, most of this year’s programming will be virtual, with a few in-person sessions alongside the 2021 Cooperative Hall of Fame Banquet & Induction Ceremony at the National Press Club in Washington, DC.
Register for Cooperative IMPACT 2021 by September 31.
Black Liberation Cooperative Academy in New Orleans — Application Deadline September 6
Organized by the Cooperation New Orleans Loan Fund, the Black Liberation Cooperative Academy is a 10-session program for New Orleans’ Black workers, organizers, community leaders, entrepreneurs and families. The program lifts up Black coop history, creates economic opportunities, meets collective needs, and develops successful cooperative practices. The Black Liberation Coop Academy facilitators and participants will explore cooperative economics as a path toward black liberation in New Orleans and beyond.
The series combines virtual with in-person training in the three-hour interactive sessions. Interviews for the cohort openings will be conducted in September. Stipends of $600 will be awarded upon completion of the program. Technical assistance will also be provided.
Coming in Issue 10, September 7
- Fund profile: Mission Driven Finance, with David Lynch
- Nathan Schneider revisits his Everything for Everyone
- Rodney North on his new podcast
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- Elias Crim, Editor
- Leo Sammallahti, Europe Correspondent
- Paul Bowman, Design Mgr. / Content Mgr.
- Felipe Witchger, Publisher
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