The new Democracy Collaborative report, Worker Cooperatives: Pathways to Scale, aims to help build the field of U.S. worker co-op development by providing a current view of the cooperative landscape and by analyzing factors that inhibit or promote cooperative development. The report is authored by Hilary Abell, the former director of the WAGES network of immigrant women cleaning cooperatives, and currently the co-founder of Project Equity, a project to build support for democratic workplaces as an effective path towards economic inclusion for traditionally marginalized communities in the SF Bay Area.
Public interest in cooperatives has surged since the global financial crisis, as people cry out for an alternative to business-as-usual. In spite of their many benefits for individuals, businesses, and society, however, cooperatives are not well understood in the United States. The field of worker co-op development is just beginning to create the infrastructure and knowledge base needed to increase its scale and impact, and this new report highlights important lessons learned from leading practitioners in the field.
The report's findings include the following:
- Worker cooperatives start through worker initiatives, the conversion of existing businesses, or explicit development efforts. This paper presents a typology of four common origin stories: two initiated by workers themselves, one by owners or employees of existing businesses, and one by co-op developers.
- Five distinct but sometimes overlapping models of co-op development are seen in the United States:
- a hybrid “industry transformation” strategy;
- “single-industry replication” efforts;
- “place-based clusters” of co-ops in diverse industries;
- an “institutional engagement” strategy targeting anchor institutions; and
- “educational incubators,” often known as “co-op academies.”
- Worker cooperatives provide a variety of benefits. For worker members, benefits include better paying jobs, wealth and skill building, and enhanced control over their work lives. For businesses, benefits include reduced employee turnover and increased profitability and longevity. For society in general, worker cooperatives foster social innovation, expand access to business ownership, and train people in democratic practice. Cooperatives are also positively correlated with health and other social benefits.
- Developing a successful worker cooperative requires overcoming barriers related to culture and education, business expertise, partnerships, financing, management and leadership, entrepreneurship, and organizational democracy.
The report can be downloaded at http://community-wealth.org/workercoops.
To contact Hilary Abell for an interview, please email the Democracy Collaborative's John Duda at firstname.lastname@example.org.
About Hilary Abell:
Hilary Abell is co-founder of Project Equity, a San Francisco Bay Area initiative with a mission to build economic resiliency in low-income communities by increasing worker ownership. She has worked in nonprofit organizations and cooperatives for more than twenty years, advancing co-op development, fair trade, and community empowerment. As executive director of Women’s Action to Gain Economic Security (WAGES) from 2003 to 2011, Hilary led the organization through a period of major growth, resulting in a network of five worker-owned green cleaning businesses that sustain 100 high quality jobs in Bay Area communities. While launching Project Equity, Hilary is pursuing her MBA at Presidio Graduate School and continues her consulting practice. Her clients include leading cooperative developers, such as the Evergreen Cooperative Initiative, and local nonprofits.
About the Democracy Collaborative:
Since 1999, The Democracy Collaborative has worked to build the deep knowledge, theoretical analysis, practical tools, network of relationships and innovative models representing a new paradigm of economic development in the United States: community wealth building. The hallmarks of this new approach include refocusing public and private resources to expand individual and family assets, broadening ownership over capital, restoring community banks and other local economic institutions, and returning wealth to communities as an essential strategy to end generational poverty, create quality jobs with family-supporting wages, stabilize communities and their environment, and address our nation’s growing wealth inequality.