Jul 3, 2017

Bay Area Nonprofit Transforms Businesses Into Worker-Owned Cooperatives

By Cat Johnson / shareable.net
Bay Area Nonprofit Transforms Businesses Into Worker-Owned Cooperatives

There's been a lot of talk about where the Baby Boomer generation will live as they age. Several interesting, sharing-based housing alternatives such cohousing and senior villages have emerged as potential options. But what about all the businesses that Baby Boomers own? What happens to those companies when they retire? 

Project Equity, a nonprofit based in Oakland, California, wants to help those businesses transition to a worker-owned model. According to the organization, "The vast majority (over 85 percent) of business owners do not have a succession plan in place, and increasingly, many are finding it hard to find a buyer when they are ready to sell." This means they'll either fold or fall in the hands of larger companies. 

The group, which was co-founded by Alison Lingane and Hilary Abell in 2014, wants businesses to avoid that fate by turning them into cooperatives. "Good decisions are built into worker cooperatives from the inside out," Lingane told LIFT Economy.

Take the example of Arizmendi Association of Cooperatives, which develops cooperatively-owned bakeries in the Bay Area. The democratic model of the bakeries has not only proved to be sustainable (the Association has been in operation for more than 20 years), it's also helped create a more collaborative workplace. 

"Here we have people who approach the bakery with craft," Tim Huet, one of the association's founder, told Shareable. "If they come up with innovative things, they share. It's not a race to the top."

So how does Project Equity plan to support businesses transitioning to the worker-owned model? Here are some of its strategies, outlined on its website:

  • Raise awareness of the employee ownership model
  • Partner with business networks, cities, and regional organizations to provide information about how employee ownership works as a succession planning strategy
  • Help selling business owners assess the fit between their business goals and this approach
  • Work with the owner and employees to structure and operationalize a successful transition to employee ownership and an effective ownership culture

Listen to the full interview with Lingane on the perks of worker-ownership on the LIFT Economy podcast.

Header graphic of Bay Area Baby Boomer business ownership courtesy of Project Equity

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