Virtual She’s Geeky
Session 3 / Space D
Convener: Sarah Nerwman
Notes-taker(s): Judy Tuan,
- One-two sentence introduction and what you want to get out of this meeting
- S., small business. Looking at the corporate landscape, basically the only way we’re gonna get a moral way of conducting business is workers coops instead of union structures where one person makes 200 times more than the least paid person in the company. Make sure others are aware and get their thoughts on whether this might work.
- E.devops/SRE/genentech. Husband did a writeup before. The effective profiteering, whatever you input, that’s what you will take out. Curious about the topic of working from home indefinitely.
- K. (CA): year and half ago, post startup . GDC indie games summit, talks people in the game industry doing independent creative work, or had game coops. This is how i survive. trying to be a non-toxic environment. What do i want to do with my life? this is speaking to my soul right now@ i wanna learn more about it. had been looking at it through this lens of “what are some people in the indie game community doing with these successful (not like SUPER successful) but good to women etc”
- C. (Washington): i like the idea of coop companies but I don’t know how one would put it together, cuz you have to have leadership and an idea, still need people to go out and get the business and make money. I belong to a food coop, I belong to a credit union, so i like them. i don’t get my butter from a coop but land o’lakes is a coop. tryna see what’s going on =)
- Ke. (palo alto, ca): a lot of thoughts about this! i have a non-profit, we’re looking at creating a new legal construct for non-profits to be like a co-op. informing factors, three:
- 1. gave a talk at stanford to complexity group about self-managed organization. morningstar. doug kirkland patrick. no bosses, 30+_ years. 2 rules: you keep your word, and no person dominates another. that 2nd one is the heart of a coop desire. self-organize efficiently around roles and processes.
- 2. we aren’t a trad non-profit, no employees. we’ve worked with consultants, had their own gigs, partners, opt-in. amazing and powerful: when she became what she felt was an employee role really soured that relationship. so i’m interested in creating ways to not replicate that power structure/dominance relationship.
- 3. emergent coalitions of non-profits. we give to others. network peer group. not like the NGO model: target community is part of the non-profit, empowered. like in chicago, the black & brown community is part of the funding for the community, and have power.
- not a lot of difference between non-profit and profit world if you’re working on a mission.
- D. (doo – nyah, the ou is like scooby doo) (montreal, canada). Really interested in coop with friends. Had a conversation about money and how it comes down to power. Moving towards an alternative to capitalism feels so uncomfortable. This session is very related to me in terms of claiming our power and learning how to collaborate and be in relationship with a particular way.
- A.U. (bay area, ca) – very interested in creating or joining a worker cooperative. mostly salaried employee but also independent contractor. adjacent but separate topic: this idea that independent contractors can work in partnership? kind of true, but kind of not. access to healthcare and benefits, and what you can get with big corporate healthcare vs not. same power as clients. a cooperative that acts more like a firm has more power in this respect. interested in this idea that kennan articulated: no person dominates another. interested in how this translates to how we collaborate and work together.
- V. () – in addition to day job, an underfunded electric vehicle startup, working on a micro startup with 2 other people. the idea is scrape the web for some govt data, repackage it as SaaS, sell subscriptions or sell the whole company =) i’m finding out that i might be doing more work than the other people, and we may need to bring in a UI person, and how do we split it four ways, i’ve but all this other work into it… practical considerations about how is this going to work? (sarah)
- A. (Oakland, CA) – i’ve ran a coworking space, helped several coops incubate out of there. last year/covid crashed all of our plans/ talking with folks about building a journalism coop. work at twitter. how to build a worker-owned cooperative that can grow to be influential. in the last session rang a bell in my head: what is the capital that we can bring into this ? instead of a freelance union, just services exhanged, how do we builda worker cooperative that isn’t just capital, isn’t just people doing 1 thing, but a whole community including various different structures. operating agreements, how to exchange time and value, and so on.
- (S.) some people are interested in gathering information. some are like “i really want to do this, i want to get into the nuts and bolts” yes? (yes.) do we want to talk about what a worker cooperative is? sure!
- What’s a worker cooperative
- ESOP versus workers cooperative
- Representative board
- – you vote for people and those are in charge of running things (vs everybody is on the board)
- Collective board
- Legal structure, depending on what state/country you’re in. Example: there is a legal concept of a cooperative in California
- Question from Ke.: do you think a coop model is sufficient? When my son went to berkeley, they have the oldest coop in the country for housing from the 50s. Does it feel like it’s sufficient? There’s something new, and update needed, to what companies can answer to… a bit more innovative that’s needed vs a traditional coop model? I don’t know if it’s true, I just wonder about it.
- S.: What sort of updates?
- Ke.: It feels like it’s more around making explicit the innovations in self-organizing, governance models, the way that the group deals with issues and things that come up. There’s a really cool study from women faculty in the sciences where they looked at coliving communities around the world to see the constructs for the ones that were stustatingalble over many years, found they had the same lists of things. Maybe old coops, like the old Bekreley housing, are stable because they’re still around years later, but maybe make explicit these agreements.
- S.: there’s a governance document that says what you do as a company. Articles of incorporation — can write that in.
- A.: if you’re looking for examples, housing coop in oakland. orgs in europe, very large, very old worker owned cooperative businesses where they have farms, factories, sophisticated business that are collaboratively owned.
- (K.) I think this is a link to a coop model for nursing in the Netherlands: https://www.bbc.com/news/health-22450482
- (A) This is really interesting – the Mondragon corporation, w which is a federation of worker cooperatives in Spain: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mondragon_Corporation
- (J.) food coop in Amsterdam:
- Why a worker cooperative
- Better working conditions
- Positive effects on productivity
- Patronage: amount of money you get is number of hours you worked
- Hard to measure “hours of work” vs “idea” and “industry connections” … keep in mind “no person dominates another” … and sometimes p
- Active vs passive work. Power questions all come up with this governance issue.
- How do we prevent somebody getting the sthort end of the stick?
- Difference between management as bosses vs management to ensure success? Some of the work someone put sin might be management of the capital or whatever it is, but doesn’t imply an heirrachral relationship in this scenario.
- Sort of facilitator (is that a better term than management?)
- Supervisors as managers who are supervising the work that you’re doing
- Weather economic downturns better
- A.: was initially put off by bureaucracy generated. looking for models to track value. track contributions. track equity (your thing is gonna need dollars) vs someone that puts in time? if you restrict the inputs to money only (50 thousand dollars to buy an apartment) is different from joining at a certain level of membership so not putting in money but time, different voting structure? these are the kinds of
- A.: do you have an example of operating agreements?
- S.: yeah, added a link to the coop law site. example bylaws on their website. google docs. example with represenative board with community investors; in california you can take $1000/person investment from the community. another example: everybody is on the board adn you have no community investors. example articles of incorporation and bylaws.
- S. organization of cooperatives in the bay area
- S.: i did a survey of tech cooperatives and i’m not sure if i saw one above 15 people. they seem small. personally i’d like to be working at a really large cooperative, but i don’t know. the other people, do they want them and their friends/ would you want something bigger?
- A.: 100 people? the difference between 4 friends and 150 people is daunting.
- S.: yeah, i’ve been thinking about that too. the first step is actually getting the coop, and the second is how do you handle bringing in employees. one thing about a cooperative is not all of the employees have to be worker-owners, just a certain percentage. how do you bring in new people? typically written into bylaws. how to growt hings from 4 to 150 company, i have no idea how to do that =)
- q: what percent?
- (the notetaker became a little overwhelmed and had to pause and just listen for a while)
- A.: Concrete example. Local news websites/local journalism, which has been in trouble for a long time because it’s basically ad-driven. Extrapolating from that… ten news websites could sustain a small publishing organization (sustain journalists, sustain local community) and also technical people who can build this infrastructure. I saw our co-op looking to get on this charity infrastructure this non-profit is organizing but if they go away we’re out on the street. Need the people with the skills to maintain all the technology infrastructure. If you could come together on that… 3-4 people doing the tech side, then generate money, pipeline for building more of these news websites, use the platform, everybody has to put in content and time and investment into this platform that we can all benefit from. Resell services on the platform.
- Q: what would the business model be? not ads, but a new subscription service?
- A.: yes. consumers can subscribe, like existing journalism entities. there’s a way for someone to share (someone could make money off of that content). shared outside that network, and you’d get money from outside the network coming back to your network. initially the technology folks might be putting in some investment to putting the platform together, or maybe there’s already a platform, then you resell the hosting to people who are outside the coop. you could also sell and promote marketing services, writing, etc from the journalism side. so you have people with very different skills supporting two different products that evolve to sustain each other: the publishing platform, and the community that grows not at facebook company, but grow to sustain 20-30 people for 100 years.
- K.: it’s like things that can’t exist on their own but you can combine them, and if they’re combined, they can survive
- A.: yeah. if you’re just by yourself and you need $100,000 to do something, that’s hard. but if you’re part owner of a system, you don’t need to be the technical person who needs to build it. in the game space, could be hosted somewhere shared hosting and database, people who maintain the infrastructure all work together.
- A.: that’s where i’m at right now and i’m trying to describe it in a way that doesn’t get overly complicated. because the more complicated, the harder it is to make it happen.
- the Mondragon corporation, w which is a federation of worker cooperatives in Spain: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mondragon_Corporation
- Hope you don’t mind TED talks – this is one place where worker coops are shared https://www.ted.com/talks/margaret_heffernan_the_human_skills_we_need_in_an_unpredictable_world?language=en
- There is this coop, the “Guerrilla Media Collective”, who have put online all of their governance docs, including e.g. how they do value accounting: https://wiki.guerrillamediacollective.org/index.php/Distributed_Cooperative_Organization_(DisCO)_Governance_Model_V_3.0
- https://www.guerrillatranslation.org/ is an interesting coop… their also thinking about care work
- A local version of that, @Dounia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BerkShares
- slicingpie.com Mike Moyer talks about fair startup equity split
- An interesting org in this space (not a coop, more like a network of small consulting pods?) is Enspiral: https://enspiral.com/ They write about their various experiments with different models
- https://www.theselc.org/ sustainable economies law center
- https://www.co-oplaw.org/finances-tax/patronage/ patronage
(California) https://nobawc.org/ Network of Bay Area Worker Cooperatives – includes conflict mediation