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The Eastern Conference for Workplace Democracy is now taking registrations!

Participants in a workshop at an earlier ECWD.

What is the Eastern Conference for Workplace Democracy? Well, glad you asked.

The ECWD, founded in 2002, is a conference that builds awareness of worker-owned businesses while strengthening existing worker co-ops. For 17 years, the ECWD has forged relationships between democratically-owned businesses, labor institutions, and cooperative resource organizations to expand workplace democracy. The ECWD has been convened every two years in the Eastern United States, and was last hosted by Baltimore in 2011. As a signal of our growing alignment, this will be the first year that the program is organized directly by the US Federation of Worker Co-ops, this country’s national grassroots membership organization for worker-owned cooperatives.

October 18-20
Baltimore, Maryland
University of Baltimore School of Law
See the full program here

MCDC is sending both our staffers, and our collaborator at the public libraries, Martin Alvarado, is going as well. We hope to see you there!

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We’ve updated our CBO grant application guidelines

A sign in Berlin. Credits. CC-BY-SA.

As some of you may recall, MCDC has grants available for local non-profits, which we like to call “community-based organizations,” or CBOs, for short. We’ve already given out two over the last year.

As of now, the most recent version of the guidelines to apply for the grant is up on our website. By far, the most interesting change is that fact that the maximum amount CBOs can apply for has increased to $30,000.

http://www.mcdcmadison.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/08/CBO-grant-application-ES.pdf

So, what kinds of things might a CBO do with this money? Here are some examples…

  • Support for community organizing to identify potential worker-owned cooperative groups
  • Workshop and education program development around the worker cooperative model
  • Support for integrating the cooperative model into existing business or entrepreneurship training programs.
  • Support for staff training and capacity building to help organize cooperatives
  • Support for providing assistance to cooperative start-up groups.

And there may be still other ideas we haven’t thought of. If any of these sound like something your non-profit would like to do, download the guidelines and take a look. If you like these ideas but don’t have much experience implementing them, we understand. Not many people do, and we’re looking to change that. We’ll work with you.

The deadline to apply for the grant is September 13th. We hope to hear from you by then!

As always, you can write us with your thoughts or questions at steve@social.coop.

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Help out Soaring Independent by taking their survey

Here’s something concrete you can do to help Soaring Independent Co-op. They are doing a market survey to better understand their potential clientele. It’ll only take you a few minutes, and it would mean a lot to them. Just click the link and answer a few brief questions. Thanks!

https://bit.ly/2y9KBF0

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MCDC is on the air!

We were very pleased to be invited on Madison’s own WORT twice in the same week! I (Steve) was on the 8:00 Buzz on Monday along with Martin Alvarado, being interviewed by Brian Standing, and again on Wednesday, interviewed by Jan Miyasaki. To listen, visit the archives and look for July 8 and 10.  

A big part of what we talked about is our series of Co-ops 101 presentations. Speaking of which, the next one is coming right up!

Worker Cooperatives 101: Equitable Economic Development

Join us at the Goodman South Madison Library – 2222 S Park St.

Tuesday July 16, 12-1:30 pm

A light lunch will be provided.

Interpretation into Spanish will be provided.

RSVP helpful but not necessary.

Worker Cooperatives 101 is a program of the Madison Cooperative Development Coalition and Madison Public Library to promote awareness for equitable economic development through worker cooperatives in Madison.

This monthly series provides essential education about worker co-ops and available resources provided by MCDC, such as technical assistance, connections to local and national experts, and support grants. 

We will be joined by Georgia Allen, co-founder of Soaring Independent Cooperative. SIC is a worker-owned business led by women of color who are experienced caregivers  As they see it, empowering themselves and taking better care of their clients go hand in hand.

  • Worker cooperatives create meaningful change for communities affected by inequality.
  • Worker co-ops are designed to improve low-wage jobs and build wealth in communities.
  • Worker co-ops help build skills, earning potential, household income, and assets.

Where: Goodman South Madison Library

2222 South Park St

July 16, noon to 1:30.

More information about starting a worker cooperative is at www.mcdcmadison.org

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Two ideas — one quite specific, the other, not so much

Both this week’s co-op ideas are very local, but the similarity ends there.

Hops!
Source. CC BY-SA 3.0

The first, as the picture above has probably already revealed, is hops. Hops are one of the primary ingredients in beer, and (as I happen to know from personal experience) are not particularly difficult to grow. There’s a bit more to growing them and marketing them at scale than there is to growing a plant or two in the backyard, but it’s nothing a co-op couldn’t handle. And there’s pretty clearly a market.

The second idea requires a bit more context. If you’ve read through the co-op ideas, you’ve probably noticed that many of them focus on environmental sustainability, and even regeneration. This idea falls squarely into that category, but it doesn’t have a convenient title, beyond “sustainable energy storage.” Most of us are familiar with sustainable energy generation, such as the ever-increasing number of homes, businesses, and other buildings with solar panels on them. That’s good news… sort of. There’s a dark side to the current state of renewables that isn’t as renewable as it sounds, such as mining materials like cobalt and lithium (for rechargeable batteries) under conditions that are socially and/or environmentally deplorable. Additionally, there are other obscure but important materials that are simply too rare to keep up with demand.

So, the idea is a research and development co-op to seek out forms of energy storage that could store renewably-generated energy at scale, using cheap, common, local materials.

This sort of challenge isn’t for everyone, but if it’s for you, write to steve@social.coop and say so. If you have a challenge that’s a better fit for you, write in and say that. Either way, we look forward to hearing from you.

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Solstice (almost)

Friday is the longest day of the year. Of course, if the rain continues, it might be hard to tell.

Source

It might also be hard to tell what’s happening at MCDC, because we don’t talk a lot about what’s happening behind the scenes. Without delving too far into the details, I can say that we’re talking with nearly a dozen co-ops in development, some of which are still at the idea stage. We’re also investigating new funding sources for both our co-ops and for MCDC itself. Additionally, we’ve had discussions with people from Baltimore and Chicago looking to draw ideas from our model to use in their own settings.

And, of course, we’re actively maintaining the co-op ideas page. Just in the last week, we’ve added two new ideas. The first is a 3D printing co-op, which could also tie in with the Precious Plastic model of retrieving plastic from the wastestream.

The second is a bit of a departure for us, but in a good way. We’ve been talking with a group of programmers who go by the name Rootstock. They are proposing an alternative to the venture-capitalist-driven model of software development. In this model, VCs invest large sums of money in various projects in return for equity, hoping that one will be a big enough success to cover their losses on the rest. What Rootstock proposes is to invest labor, in the form of coding, rather than capital, so we’re calling this model “venture cooperativism.”

If this sounds like something you’d like to be a part of — or if you have a completely different idea you want to share — write us at steve@social.coop and let us know.

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Co-ops 101 is now at the South Madison Library

Worker Cooperatives 101: Equitable Economic Development

Join us at the Goodman South Madison Library – 2222 S Park St.
Tuesday, June 18 at 12-1:30 pm

Light lunch will be provided. RSVP helpful but not necessary.

Worker Cooperatives 101 is a program of the Madison Cooperative Development Coalition and Madison Public Library to promote awareness for equitable economic development through worker cooperatives in Madison.

The Madison Cooperative Development Coalition and Madison Public Library continue our monthly Co-op 101 events. This monthly series provides essential education about worker co-ops and available resources provided by MCDC, such as technical assistance, connections to local and national experts, and support grants.

We will be joined by Georgia Allen, co-founder of Soaring Independent Cooperative. SIC is a worker-owned business led by women of color who are experienced caregivers  As they see it, empowering themselves and taking better care of their clients go hand in hand.

  • Worker cooperatives create meaningful change for communities affected by inequality
  • Worker co-ops are designed to improve low-wage jobs and build wealth in communities.
  • Worker co-ops help build skills, earning potential, household income, and assets.

Even if you’ve attended MCDC events before, I encourage you to join us!

More information about starting a worker cooperative at www.mcdcmadison.org

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Montreal

ACEIRECUSCASC conference 2019

Longueuil, Quebec (a suburb of Montreal)

I consider this conference a big success. Every session was good, and a number were outstanding. Two of them were so useful that I wrote them up in detail: converting businesses to worker co-ops y addressing power dynamics. Additionally, we made many new contacts and renewed some old friendships. (If you don’t see the captions on the photos, click here.)

At the end of the conference, the organizers took participants on tours of the solidarity economy in Montreal. This building, known simply as Building 7, houses a print shop, a darkroom, a space with two 3D printers, a woodworking shop, a metalworking shop, a pottery workshop, a silkscreening workshop, a small grocery store, a coffeehouse/brewpub (brewing is done on site), a bike workshop, a car workshop, an assortment of meeting rooms, dedicated space for teens, dedicated space for very young children, and a storage area. And all that only takes up about a quarter of the building.
Photo by the author.

Common themes across presentations:

  • Research on co-ops needs to continue, and increase. Research needs to be applied by cooperators and policy-makers.
  • Ongoing education of cooperators (and the general public) is very important. The co-op model is applicable across academic fields, not just business studies.
  • The co-op principles are not just an ethical standard, but a comparative advantage, as well.
  • Revenue is not the only indicator of success. There’s also embodying the co-op principles — however, this is difficult to measure. Multiple groups are experimenting with ways to do so.
  • Co-ops that address a need will succeed. Those that do not will struggle.
  • Clear, thoughtful, effective communication is a vital co-op skill.
  • Individual co-ops need to scale up, but if we cooperate between co-ops, scale is already there.
  • Growth is an important goal, to the extent it means meeting more needs, not for its own sake.

We talked with a representative of the Valley Alliance of Worker Co-ops (the equivalent of MadWorC in western Massachusetts) about their internal loan fund, and the Co-Executive Director of the Vermont Worker Ownership Center about the co-op investment club in his area. These talks are also written up in a separate document.

Another stop on my tour was a cooperative funeral home. There are 18 funeral-home co-ops in the province of Quebec, and this one has six locations in and around Montreal.
Photo by the author.

Extensive notes on the presentations are available on request.

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Post-Montreal

Every city has pigeons, but Montreal has Pigeons of Unusual Size.
Photo by the author.

If you noticed that you didn’t get a newsletter from MCDC last week, you’re very perceptive! And there’s a good reason for it. We were at the conference of the Association of Cooperative Educators in Montreal for the entire week. It was outstanding, and we plan to give you a report on it soon. It’s not ready yet, because there’s so much information to sort through.

In the meantime, there are some small but potentially important updates on the Coop Ideas page. First, there are two new ideas on the list, and both have already been tested out in other cities, so we already know they work. Second, two people have told us they want to actively pursue ideas on the page. As it turns out, they had each thought of their idea long ago, but hadn’t been able to find anyone else interested — and of course, that’s what the page is for! So, maybe you’re the person that one of them is looking for. Or maybe you know someone else who is.

Here are the updates, in an accessible and easy-to-forward format.

New ideas

  • FairBnB: Fairbnb es una alternativa transparente, democrática, y cooperativa a Airbnb.
  • Cooperativa de Inmuebles Commericiales: A co-op that deals in commercial real estate sounds like an ambitious idea — and it is — but there are multiple casos exitosos de varias partes de EEUU y Canadá, así que se puede hacer.

Ideas that need more cooperators (write to steve@social.coop to be connected):

  • Restaurant
  • Aquacultura

You might notice that these ideas are considerably more capital-intensive than the co-ops we’ve started so far. That means that we’ll have to have discussions about financing. But, that’s a newsletter article for another day.

The only thing currently missing from our Co-op Ideas page is ideas that come from you, our readers. If you see a need a worker co-op could fill, let us know! It doesn’t (necessarily) mean you’re volunteering to organize the co-op, because if you see the need, it’s likely others have seen it, too. Maybe you think Madison needs a co-op funeral home, or a co-op of sheep farmers, or a co-op of truck drivers. Maybe your dream is to manufacture medical equipment, or bowling balls, or musical instruments. Whatever it is, write to steve@social.coop and tell us.

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Cooperators wanted!

Twin pines, the symbol of cooperatives everywhere.
Photo by Christian Collins, under CC-BY-SA.

This week’s newsletter is a follow-up to a post from a couple of weeks ago, where I listed off a number of ideas for future co-ops in Madison. We’ve gotten good feedback on that list, and a solid lead for one of them. So, I’ve taken the next step to create a page on our site where anyone and everyone can peruse the list, and then get in touch with me to be connected with other people interested in that idea — or one of their own!

Here it is: http://www.mcdcmadison.org/co-op-ideas

The newsletter article was a snapshot in time, but this list will be actively maintained and updated. As ideas come in, I’ll add them (with permission, of course). There are six possibilities on it currently, and I expect it to grow over time. If you have an idea you’d like me to add, please email me at steve@social.coop, and I’ll do so right away.

I look forward to hearing from you!