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.

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