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Insights from New Economic Thinkers
Insight from October panelists working to advance worker-ownership
The Schumacher Center is convening a monthly series featuring New Economic thinkers, builders, and activists from a range of fields. This month's theme is Rethinking Ownership & Work: Shared Responsibility & Reward. October’s panelists include those who are advancing forms of worker ownership. The virtual call features John Abrams, Co-Founder of Abrams+ Angell, President Emeritus of worker-owned South Mountain Company. Julian McKinley, Co-Executive director of the Democracy at Work Institute, and Beth Spong, CEO of work-owned Dean’s Beans Organic Coffee Company.
Here is a short summary of the call that took place on October 19th!
After a short introduction by Alice Maggio, the conversation shifted to commentary from Julian McKinley. McKinley introduces Democracy at Work Institute (DAWI) which is the national think and do tank dedicated to expanding the worker ownership model. They do their work through research, business innovation, education, advocacy, and others.
Schumacher says that high profits are either fortuitous or the achievement of a whole organization, and therefore should be shared among all members of that organization. It is unjust if they are appropriated by the owner alone.
Julian McKinley: Highlights the pandemic and how the pandemic revealed that our economy was not designed to support the essential workers who make our local economies go. Things like workplace safety, worker pay, and scheduling were all exposed and have been overlooked by both businesses and workers. McKinley goes on to answer a commonly asked question: Is there a particular industry that worker cooperatives are best suited for? His answer: No, there is not a particular industry, he says worker co-ops actually experience success across industries, however, some industries such as the service industries have adopted the practice at a higher rate than others.
John Abrams: Talks about the mission of business owners which is to keep their organizations vital, healthy, and independent beyond personal leadership, all while employees are looking for workspaces that are humane and inclusive. He says business owners, their advisors, and their employees must understand and successfully call for transitions or successions to new forms of ownership. This includes transitions from sole proprietorship and partnerships to widely shared ownership, from original founder to next-generation leadership, from hierarchical control to participatory democratic management, and from unprotected mission to perpetually preserved purpose. Abrams also talks about Perpetual Purpose Trusts (PPTs) and highlights it being relatively unusual but widespread in Great Britain. He includes Patagonia, Zingerman, and The Organically Grown Company as some of the current 40 in the US that have high profiles. Abrams further explains that underlying this current era of purpose-driven businesses is the B Corp movement, with more than 7,300 companies in 89 countries having undergone the rigorous process of certification to earn the recognition. His main message is to make businesses a force for good.
Beth Spong: The CEO of Dean’s Beans Organic Coffee Company introduces the company. The company was founded in 1993 by Dean Cycon and they roast about 700,000 pounds of coffee a year, which makes them larger than 90% of the business in that industry, while still being considered a small business. The purpose behind the company is social economic and environmental justice. In 2018, the company became a benefit corporation and is always looking for ways to reduce, reuse, and recycle. Spong explains that since June of this year, they have begun their journey as a worker-owned cooperative following Cayon’s retirement and the subsequent purchase of the company by its employees. She says ownership is an invitation to learn the communication and decision-making skills that will allow them to live up to their mission and values!
If you’re looking to watch the full call to hear questions from the audience, click down below!