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Worker Cooperators Win Grant From the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation to Study Coop Development

Abby Scher, Ph.D, a part-time faculty member in Sociology at Brooklyn College and a worker-owner of the cooperative Research|Action, was awarded a $218,000 3-year grant from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation to compare entrepreneur support organizations that support worker cooperatives and single founder businesses to identify the most effective approaches to aiding the firms and what they might learn from one another. The grant was awarded through the CUNY Research Foundation. Dr. Scher is joined as primary investigator by Dr. Biko Koenig, Assistant Professor of Political Science at Franklin and Marshall College, who is also a worker-owner of Research|Action.  

Worker cooperatives are businesses owned and governed by their employees. The research will focus on worker cooperative development in New York City, and explore municipal policy and the local cooperative ecosystem which includes 91 worker cooperatives, many owned by workers of color. New York City has funded worker cooperative development since 2015, the first municipality in the country to do so. The research will also compare how individualist versus cooperative support organizations conceive of entrepreneurship, including metrics of success and failure, and conduct a national survey of worker cooperative developers to further explore best practices. 

Despite their benefits for stabilizing the lives and income of their member-owners, and their potential for strengthening a local economy, establishing worker cooperatives is challenging.  As is well documented, it is hard to secure capital in a financial system that is not designed for worker cooperatives and with Small Business Administration-backed loans ill-fitted for these firms and their frequently lower income owners. It can be hard for new owners to navigate conflict and an unfamiliar ownership culture. Small businesses in general have a high failure rate and the consequences of failure on lower income owners of a worker cooperative can be devastating. It is important to get it right and position these companies and their owners for growth and success. Supporting that is the primary goal of the research.

Jessica Looze, the Kauffman Foundation’s Director of Knowledge Creation and Research, said this project “will help us better understand the systems and structures needed to support inclusive prosperity.”
The Kauffman Knowledge Challenge is a biannual program that aims at improving our basic understanding of entrepreneurs and the levers, tools, and methods that can advance entrepreneurship in the United States. The goal of the Knowledge Challenge is to produce tangible insights for entrepreneurs, entrepreneurship program and policy design, ecosystem leaders, and researchers. The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation is based in Kansas City, MO. A full list of Knowledge Challenge recipients is here.

For any questions, contact info@researchaction.net.

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Research|Action Supports Cooperatives in Ukraine

The members of Research|Action are horrified about the recent events in Ukraine. We have donated to the Cooperative Development Foundation’s solidarity fund to support cooperatives and “the immediate and ongoing needs of Ukrainian cooperators.”

Donations will be distributed through COOP Ukraine. “COOP Ukraine, which includes 15,000 enterprises, 3,000 restaurants, seven hotels, 300 manufacturing businesses and shops, and 300 markets throughout Ukraine, is working to maintain operations so member-owners can continue to rely on co-op goods and services.”

We encourage everyone to find ways to help Ukrainians at this time.

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Research|Action 2021 Year in Review

Research|Action just had its fifth full year of operation! We had three major projects last year, the same as in 2020, so let’s review. We concluded a project that started in 2019, working with a cooperative legal group on evaluating a number of their programs. We hope to have a blog post soon on how we do program evaluation work.

We also continued a project with the Bronx Cooperative Development Initiative’s Economic Democracy Learning Center, which is creating a curriculum and approach to nurturing cooperative values in schools and youth groups. The community-based nonprofit sees education at all levels as an essential part of the movement to build an equitable, sustainable, and democratic local economy that creates wealth and ownership for low-income people of color.

We also have worked for two years with the Central Brooklyn Food Democracy Project, which seeks to create good jobs and access to healthy food for Central Brooklyn residents through a consumer owned, Black-led cooperative grocery store and worker owned food enterprises. Research|Action is serving as project evaluators through 2023, and contributing collaboratively developed research that creates opportunities for organizational learning.

And unexpectedly, we were contacted by the Georgia Working Families Party which wanted to draw on some of our earlier research on an Atlanta City Council member who opposed criminal justice reform. The WFP set up a website using our research.

At the end of the year, as always, after accounting for all income and expenses, we democratically discussed what to do with our surplus. We retained some of it for expected expenses next year, and the rest was paid out to the members. This  included an extra payment to one of our members to assist with their health care costs. This reflects our values of democratic decision making, equity and “to each according to their need.”

Please see our Projects page for more information about our work. If anyone wants to discuss a potential project, please let us know. Moreover, we always want to help others think about forming their own research collectives, and we’re happy to discuss how we started and run ours, so let us know if you want to talk!

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Research|Action Contributes to Campaign to Close the Atlanta Jail

A new website Out on Bond was launched by the Georgia Working Families Party with information about Atlanta City Council member Michael Julian Bond. This was based partly on research done by Research|Action in cooperation with community groups in Atlanta. They are concerned that Bond has been an obstacle to criminal justice reform and that he opposes closing and repurposing the Atlanta City Detention Center. Also check out the video.

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Research|Action Supports the Poor People’s Campaign

Every year we make a solidarity donation to a group that fights for a better world. This year Research|Action is supporting the Poor People’s Campaign, which is a national effort to confront the “interlocking evils of systemic racism, poverty, ecological devastation, militarism and the war economy, and the distorted moral narrative of religious nationalism.”

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Research|Action Year in Review

R|A just had its fourth full year of operation and overall we feel it was successful. Of course 2020 was the year of the COVID-19 pandemic, and we acknowledge the disruption to all of our lives. One consequence is that we were unable to meet for our two customary in-person retreats. We really missed being together.

We had three major projects this year, so let’s review. One was the continuation of a project that started last year working with a cooperative legal group on evaluating a number of their programs. This multi-year project will last through 2021.

We also continued on a project with the Bronx Cooperative Development Initiative’s Economic Democracy Learning Center, which is creating a curriculum and approach to nurturing cooperative values in schools and youth groups. The community-based nonprofit sees education at all levels as an essential part of the movement to build an equitable, sustainable, and democratic local economy that creates wealth and ownership for low-income people of color.

We are also working with the Central Brooklyn Food Democracy Project, which seeks to create good jobs and access to healthy food for Central Brooklyn residents through a consumer owned, Black-led cooperative grocery store and worker owned food enterprises. Research|Action is serving as project evaluators and contributing collaboratively developed research that creates opportunities for organizational learning.

At the end of the year, as always, after accounting for all income and expenses, we democratically discussed what to do with our surplus. We’ll retain some of it for expected expenses next year, and the rest will be paid out to the members. This will include an extra payment to one of our members to assist with their health care costs. This reflects our values of democratic decision making, equity and “to each according to their need.”

Please see our Projects page for more information about our work. If anyone wants to discuss a potential project, please let us know. Moreover, we always want to help others think about forming their own research collectives, and we’re happy to discuss how we started and run ours, so let us know if you want to talk.  We’ll see you all in 2021!

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Black Lives Matter!

The Black Lives Matter movement is forcing the country to face how government policy, the economy, the police and other American institutions perpetuate racism and support white supremacy. Research needs to be part of the fight for the lives of people of color, and for justice and equality.

At Research|Action, we’ve worked with organizers developing alternatives to policing and mass incarceration in Atlanta. Most recently, we’ve conducted research in support of the closure and repurposing of the Atlanta City Detention Center.

We fully support the Black Lives Matter fight.

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Research|Action Supports Honor the Earth

Every year we make a solidarity donation to a group that fights for a better world. This year Research|Action is supporting Honor the Earth in Minnesota for its determined fight against oil pipelines, for renewable energy, for just human relationships, and for the earth. “Change comes, it’s a question of who controls the change,” Honor the Earth tells us. In a season of darkness, Honor the Earth shares wisdom from Crazy Horse that we all can learn from:

How Long are we going to let others determine the future for our children. Are we not warriors?  When our ancestors went into battle they did not know what the consequences were going to be. All they knew was that if they did nothing, things would not go well for their children. Do not operate out of a place of fear, operate from a place of hope. With hope everything is possible. The time is now.”

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Research|Action 2019 Year in Review

R|A just held its 6th semi-annual retreat in Atlanta to review the past year and plan for the future. This was our third full year of operations, and overall we felt it was really successful. Let’s review.

We had two major projects this year that provided most of the income and also a few smaller ones. One of the large projects involved helping a food justice organization develop new strategies to grow in the future as they reassess their mission. We may continue working with them next year to further develop some of these ideas. The other principal project was working with a cooperative legal group on evaluating a number of their programs, and this is a multi-year project through 2021.

The other projects included continuing to work with our allies in Atlanta on the campaign to close and repurpose the Atlanta City Detention Center. This year the city agreed to close the jail and stakeholder discussions are ongoing about the future of the facility. We also continued to work with the Union Cooperative Council of the U.S. Federation of Worker Cooperatives, and we updated our Union Coops pamphlet. Another project we just started, which hopefully will find funding and continue next year, is the development of cooperative education curriculum for students. Some of this work was done pro-bono as we always donate some time for worthwhile projects with groups that don’t have much funding.

We’re also proud to have been members this year of the U.S. Federation of Worker Cooperatives and the New York City Network of Worker Cooperatives.  We want to make more connections throughout the solidarity economy.

Finally, at our retreat, after accounting for all expenses, we democratically discussed what to do with our surplus at the end of this year. We’ll retain some of it for expected expenses next year, and the rest will be paid out to the members. This will include a larger payment to one of our members to assist with their health care costs. This reflects our values of fairness, equity and “to each according to their need.”

Please see our Projects page for more information about our work. If anyone wants to discuss a potential project, please let us know. Moreover, we always want to help others think about forming their own research collectives, and we’re happy to discuss how we started and run ours, so let us know if you want to talk.  We’ll see you all in 2020!

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Research|Action Publishes Updated Union Coops Pamphlet

Unions and cooperatives are part of one big movement but we don’t always know it. That’s why Research|Action has been working with the Union Cooperatives Council and other groups over the past few years to help educate the labor movement and cooperative world about how we can work better together.

In Madison, WI, that meant the local federation of labor backed a new municipal project to train and support worker cooperatives. In Denver, it means a major taxi cooperative is a “union coop” — a member of Communication Workers of America. Unions can play a supportive role in converting existing businesses to worker cooperatives, as SEIU is actively doing in NYC. More workers in food cooperatives, which are generally only owned by their shoppers, are organizing unions, as in Bloomington, Indiana or western Massachusetts. In the past, unions used their pension funds to invest in cooperative housing.

Research|Action crafted a pamphlet for the Union Cooperative Council to use in education two years ago but a lot has changed and grown in the movement. So we updated our brochure this fall.

To increase worker power and build a better world, these movements need each other!  Feel free to contact us for more information.