Friday, August 30, 2013

Brazil Blossoms as Solidarity Economy Beacon

Brazil is recognized as one of the most advanced countries in terms of the development of solidarity economy though it's received little attention in the media, partly because of the Portuguese language barrier. I was lucky enough to conduct an interview through a translator that has contacts with the movement. This is an interview with Luigi Verardo, a consultant at ANTEAG (National Association of Workers in Self-managing Enterprises), translated by Miguel Hirota.

To give some context, the solidarity economy movement emerged in Brazil when the country was hit by a recession caused by the liberalization of capital markets in the late 90's. Many businesses closed and traditional employment opportunities shrank significantly. Then in 2003, the Brazilian Forum on the Solidarity Economy was established, formalizing the movement. That same year, the Network of Government Policymakers on Solidarity Economy first met and the National Secretary of Solidarity Economy was established under President Lula. In 2004, the first National Meeting of Solidarity Economy Enterprises took place. Today, there are more than 120 local solidarity economy forums and 27 state forums held on a regular basis. Working groups communicate with the forums and government and develop technical plans and operational aspects of the movement.

Values of the Solidarity Economy, as cited by the National Secretariat of Solidarity Economy of Brazil:
  1. Self-management
  2. Democratization of the economic relations
  3. Co-operation instead of forced competition
  4. Valuing diversity. Human beings are more important than profits
  5. Valuing local knowledge, constant learning and training
  6. Social justice and emancipation
  7. Protection of the environment
Many, many networks, associations, forums, governmental entities, and grassroots organizations now exist to support the development of different aspects of the solidarity economy, from community banks and microfinance to currencies, cooperatives, fair trade and nonprofit enterprises. The list is inspiring and numbers over 22,000 social enterprises, now mapped online to connect entities, promote to consumers and develop integrated solidarity economy commerce chains. A large percentage of these entities are cooperative enterprises. The architecture of the movement is large and complex, and according to local activists, emerges strongly from the grassroots (cooperatives, unions, landless workers) while incorporating elaborate government initiatives.

As part of Brazil's mission to share their experiences with the world, Brazil will be represented at the 5th International Meeting of the Social Solidarity Economy in Manila, Oct. 15-18, 2013.

What is the current state of Brazilian Solidarity Economy?
Currently Solidarity Economy is going through a redefinition process. It was built up with a social organization by the people and also with an institution (Brazilian government’s public policies). The relationship between these two entities hasn't fully matured. So there’s a need to work for autonomy and to deepen their characteristics.

What are some of the most exciting or important recent developments?
Among what has happened recently, the 5th National Plenary of Solidarity Economy (09th to 13th December 2012, at Luziânia, Goiás: see  for the final report in Portuguese) and the 2nd Solidarity Economy Social Forum (11th to 14th July 2013, at Santa Maria, Rio Grande do Sul). 

What tools do you use to strengthen Solidarity Economy?
The tools to strengthen are: holding plenaries, forum activities, communication between participants, mappings, trainings and funding.

What are its major accomplishments?
We have many accomplishments.
- Holding and broadening of forums (national forums, state-level forums all over Brazil regional and local forums).
- Having achieved, by way of the petition to the Letter to then President Lula, the National Secretary of Solidarity Economy (SENAES) and appointing the Prof. Paul Singer as its secretary.
- Linking Solidarity Economy with self-management.  Defining Solidarity Economy’s principles.
- Having set up a social network and movement beyond political parties.
- Doing activities that combine the policies of the Brazilian Solidarity Economy Forum (FBES) with that of SENAES by way of mapping existing Solidarity Economy practices in Brazil.

What are its major challenges?
We can point out, among other challenges, the problem of segmentation due to the fact that Solidarity Economy has been built up from three segments (public policymakers, different organizations and businesses) with a policy to put businesses as main players. As a perspective to get over this picture, there’s a need to deepen the characterization as a social movement with policy and culture to promote necessary autonomy for its development.

What enabled the movement in Brazil to move so fast and be so successful compared to other countries?
The movement’s organization has been developed quite quickly thanks to the following reasons:
The fact that the FBES organization was born as a fruit of the activities at the 1st World Social Forum which took place in Brazil in 2001. The fact it was held in Brazil promoted a significant impact among Brazilians who could join directly or indirectly. First of all a working group, the Brazilian Working Group of Solidarity Economy, was set up with the mission to diffuse and organize state-level forums at different regions, which turned into FBES in 2003 with representation, at that time, in almost every Brazilian state.

Solidarity Economy’s proposal found, especially in the first five years of the last decade, a fertile context - at that time there used to be a high level of unemployment, precariousness of the labor market and little social mobility.

With Lula’s election for president, at the end of 2002, there were a lot of expectations and possibilities to promote the solidarity economy within the executive power.

What role has government played? Has the government been helpful or resistant?
The government was both helpful and resistant.

There are difficulties for the government to work with social organizations. The State’s very structure is against promoting social organizations and movements. The executive power has its priorities, in the legislative power, the opposition parties created hurdles.

For more details on the organizational structure of Brazil's Solidarity Economy see this brief.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Communities Self-insure for Cooperative Healthcare

May Day at Sandhill Farm, an egalitarian community
Obamacare is changing the game of private health insurance, but private health insurers are still in it to make profit. And while they are in the game, they will do their best to rig the game in their favor. Ask anyone who has had a significant health problem. So why do we continue to give control over health care and our money away to companies that don't have our interests at heart in a matter that is literally life and death?
I wanted to look at alternative, community-based models and see if they actually work. One model is the Ithaca Health Fund, operated by the Ithaca Health Alliance since 1997. This nonprofit, inspired by the Canadian health system and the Amish Church Aid self-insurance program, runs several health-related programs. The Ithaca Health Fund reimburses medical costs for certain categories of preventive and emergency health care and its free clinic provides conventional and complementary primary care visits to the uninsured, as well as classes and a newsletter on preventative medicine. They rely on member fees and grants for funding and local college students to fill the many needed volunteer roles.
Ithaca Health Alliance
Ithaca Health Alliance
The Ithaca Health Fund was challenged by the New York State government as an noncompliant health insurance provider but restructured to work around the laws partly by making “grants” to uninsured patients, rather than reimbursements and restricting their boundaries to New York State. They are still struggling to get official nonprofit status from the federal government even though they are a charitable organization that depends significantly on grants to meet the needs of its low income clients while maintaining fee levels that they can still afford.
Even more intriguing was my encounter with PEACH (Preservation of Equity Accessible for Community Health) at Sandhill Farm in rural Missouri. On a visit there, I asked the residents of this intentional community how they made it without health insurance and they glowed about the benefits and low cost of PEACH. I recently interviewed PEACH's initiator, Laird Schaub, about this little known program to get the inside scoop.
Read more here

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Potential and Limits of Social and Solidarity Economy

Note this event is looking for a post-event follow up intern. See announcement here.

Date: 6 - 8 May 2013
Time: 09.00 - 17.45
Location: GB Room and Room II, International Labour Office, Geneva, Switzerland
Counterpart(s): ILO, UN-NGLS, Hivos
Project Title: Potential and Limits of Social and Solidarity Economy
This event is open to the public.

SSE conference flyerAs interest in alternative production, finance and consumption grows in the face of global crises, this conference will explore the potential and limits of Social and Solidarity Economy (SSE) — organizations such as cooperatives, women’s self-help groups, social enterprise and associations of informal workers that have explicit social and economic objectives, and involve various forms of cooperation and solidarity.

Through this event UNRISD aims to raise the visibility of debates about SSE within the United Nations system and beyond, and contribute to thinking in international policy circles about a post-2015 development agenda.
This conference is being co-organized with the ILO in collaboration with UN-NGLS.

Key questions

  • Can SSE make a real difference to food security, rural development, gender equality and decent work?
  • What is the role of governments, civil society and the private sector?
  • Can SSE expand while remaining integrative and rights-based?

Sessions include

  • Conceptualizing SSE
  • SSE, Welfare Regimes and Social Service Provisioning
  • SSE and Local Development
  • Poster Session for PhD Candidates
  • SSE, Public Policy and Law
  • SSE and Gender Dynamics
  • Political Economy of SSE and Collective Action
  • Scaling up SSE through the Market
  • SSE, Resilience and Sustainability
  • Priorities for Research, Policy and Action

More information

Register now

To register for the conference, please use the online registration link provided on the top right of this page.

Registration for this conference is free of charge. We are unfortunately unable to offer conference participants funding for travel and accommodation.

Related events

  • UN-NGLS (UN Non-Governmental Liaison Service) will be organizing a special session on alternative finance and complementary currencies during the afternoon of 8 May 2013 following the end of this conference.
  • From 8-12 April 2013, the International Labour Organization is holding the third edition of the Academy on Social and Solidarity Economy in Agadir, Morocco. For more information please see the website.
  • International Journal of Labour Research Seminar: "Trade unions and cooperatives: Challenges and Perspectives", taking place on 9 May at the ILO in Geneva. For more information please contact Pierre Laliberté at laliberte (a) ilo . org.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

How to Make Better Decisions Together

Photo by Maurice from Zoetermeer, Netherlands

Learning how to make decisions together is a crucial element of getting along and getting things done with others. It’s wise for your group to learn how to steer your boat together with collective decision-making before you have a sinking ship on your hands. I’ve learned these skills through workshops, readings and from living and working in cooperatives and they have been incredibly valuable to the success of these projects.

Collective decision-making has innumerable rewards. If group members affected by the decision are involved, less conflict will result. If folks implementing the decision are involved, decisions are more likely to be implemented with hard work and enthusiasm, and empowered decision-makers are likely to stick around for the long haul. Team spirit is cultivated by collaborative problem-solving and listening to other's perspectives.

A strong example of collective decision-making is participatory budgeting which often leads to less contentious, more inclusive budgetary decisions – not an easy challenge. Residents, assisted by city administrators, create proposals through a collaborative process and present their projects. Everyone (including youth and immigrants) votes on their top choices using ballots or dotmocracy - a rank-choice voting system using dots as votes.

NYC participatory budgeting, courtesy of the Participatory Budgeting Project
Collective decision-making isn't as much about how we vote on decisions as it is about the process of hearing and incorporating all sides. This process often involves:
  • A well-facilitated discussion of the issue or problem
  • Open brainstorming of proposed solutions
  • Developing refined proposals
  • Identifying concerns about proposals and checking for initial agreement
  • Modifying and making amendments to proposals through compromise
  • Voting to assess unity, concerns or to make further modifications
  • Implementing and evaluating the success of the proposal
Consensus flowchart by Grant Horwood
There are 3 key ingredients to effective collective decision-making:
1) The ability to trust the wisdom and consider the well-being of the group while setting aside personal agendas.
2) Selection of an appropriate process that your group agrees on and get training in the  facilitation of the process.
3) A comfortable and accepting group environment, so that individuals freely share their ideas, thoughts, emotions and experiences without retribution or oppression. Participants should feel their contributions are fairly and equally considered, even though they might not be part of the final solution. Troubleshooting guides listed in the Resources section below encourage full, fair and safe participation.

Group Mind
A group should have some common ground to hold it together during conflict, such as values, vision and goals. Common ground serves as a reference for whether or not a good decision is being made. Knowing whether you like warm or cold weather will help you figure out whether to sail your boat North or South. If you don’t know your common ground, it’s good to find it before you set sail so you don’t have folks steering you in different directions. Large groups that have factions can form subgroups that come back together for discussion, like spokescouncils, as activist groups like Occupy have done. Diverse stakeholder decisions are an exception, where common ground may be naturally lacking, and consensus can be challenging though still worthwhile.

Cooperative Attitude
Cooperative attitude can be learned through cooperative experience and requires developing a sense of group unity, caring and respect amongst members.  Have positive experiences together like group projects and shared meals to help create unity – the glue that gets the group through stormy meetings without unraveling. To a certain degree, participants must surrender forcing their own personal agenda in order to make decisions as a group, while still being clear about where they are coming from. Developing communication and listening skills and to make compromises comes with maturity and practice, though there are tools to help accelerate learning, like the Connection Action Project's guide below.

Decision-making Process
Get trained in a process -- research guidebooks or hire a consultant to teach the process to your group. Every new person who comes into your group should be trained, as one unskilled decision-maker could steer you off course. The larger your group, the more structured process you will likely need. A consultant can also help you pick your process and tailor it to your group's needs and culture. Consensus is often thought of as the ideal collective decision-making process, but other models are helpful for large, diverse groups: Dynamic Facilitation, Spokescouncils, Crowd-wise and Consensus-Oriented Decision-making.

Consensus State of Mind flowchart by the Rhizome Coop
Your boat will need a crew trained in all the key roles so that your meetings stay on course. Training in facilitation can be basic, like learning meeting roles such as note-taker, facilitator, vibe watcher and time keeper. Or it can be more elaborate training in conflict resolution, creating group agreements, techniques to break up mental gridlock, or anti-oppression tools. Take turns with facilitating and other roles for power balancing and group skill-building. Create group agreements/rules for every meeting. Look out for hidden power dynamics, which can sabotage authentic collective process.

Listening and Communication
These are essential,  yet often overlooked, elements of effective group process - participants must be able to voice themselves and be heard. There are many communication styles, some more emotional or nonverbal, and some people are able to speak their mind more than others due to conditioning or personality. Nonviolent communication is popular, but be careful about imposing one tool on unwilling participants; have varied tools available for different folks and contexts. Cues such as "step up" and "step back" direct members who are over- or under- participating. Take a break (use a "T" hand sign) to move through emotions in the middle of a heated discussion and calm the energy for clearer communication. "Safe space" is one of my favorites to incorporate into a meeting - it's where anyone can voice any concerns without response. Personal development practices like meditation or counseling may help members come to the table with a clearer mind that less is attached or triggered and more open to hearing others.

Read more and see resource links here.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

How to Map the New Economy in Your City

By Mira Luna 
Groups all over the world are resisting the status quo of profit maximization by putting society's happiness, health and the Earth first. This work, though, is often overshadowed by big business with its bloated advertising budgets and economic monopolization, which makes alternatives seem insubstantial if not nonexistent.

New economy projects are mostly unconnected, so each one struggles alone rather than supporting each other. One result of this is that awareness remains low.  The US Solidarity Economy Network (USSEN) and its international counterpart, RIPESS, are working to change this by implementing a mapping and economic integration tool to connect groups with one another to build a cooperative, just and sustainable economy.

Mapping your community helps demonstrate that “Another World” is not only possible, it already exists. Mapping also can become a community organizing tool - uncovering a reservoir of social assets even in the poorest neighborhoods, which may seed mutual aid and cooperative business ideas - as it did for the Jersey Shore Neighborhood Cooperative. USSEN has a list of communities that have done independent mapping projects, each using its own methodology, criteria, platform and map name.

When developing a map, a challenging question comes up,“who's in?” Some generally agreed upon principles for solidarity economy (SE) are: solidarity, mutualism, cooperation, equity (race, ethnicity, nationality, class, gender, LGBTQ, ability), social and environmental prioritization, democracy, pluralism, and grassroots driven. Most groups will not meet all these criteria. The line can become fuzzy if you don't have lots of local entities to choose from to populate the map. These principles leave something to aspire and work towards. You may want to do the mapping with local organizations to get a broader perspective and to encourage participation.

Functions of mapping
  • Make projects more visible to each other and the public -- free advertising!
  • Movement and regional community-building by connecting SE entities, social movements, and activists through social networking for developing mutual support and common infrastructure.
  • Facilitate the creation of viable solidarity economy supply chains that link SE producers, distributors, and finance.
  • Foundation for research to make the case for allocating resources and policies to support the solidarity economy.
Brazil's solidarity economy map and directory
Brazil has an elaborate, government funded Solidarity Economy Map of over 20,000 collectively run enterprises throughout the country, which enables consumers to find SE goods and services and develops SE supply chains. The map's social networking function is supported by a separate platform called Cirandas where enterprises, organizations, networks and individuals can create their own information page. ZOES is a platform in Italy that links mapping and social networking and allows entities to self-map after being vouched for by someone already in the ZOES network.
Within the US, there are many examples of simple maps, some just beginning:

How to Make a Map
Sometimes mapping starts with a curious individual. However, it's best if the map involve the broader community at some point. A community survey can collect information to populate the map in a balanced and diverse way. This may help you figure out what your geographic boundaries are, who to include in the map, as well as what to name it.

Read the rest on how to map here.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Extreme Wealth Inequality in America

This timely myth-shattering video is spreading across the web, using powerful infographics to make the case that not only is wealth distributed unevenly, but that it is much, much worse than we think. Just in time for the sequestration...Also, check out this film on Netflix about the Koch Brothers, multi-billionaires that pull all kinds of political strings to avoid taxes and grow their already extreme wealth.


Thursday, February 14, 2013

Self-management and Work as Alternatives to the Global Economic Crisis

Self-management and Work as Alternatives to the Global Economic Crisis

July 9-12, 2013
Joao Pessoa, Brazil

In an international context where the global capitalist crisis is increasingly affecting European countries, especially along the Mediterranean, the only response from governments has been to implement the usual austerity measures. These austerity measures,tried and tested in other parts of the world, have, yet again, not only failed to regenerate economies, but have led to further impoverishment, structural unemployment, marginalization and insecurity for the majority of who must work to earn a living. In response, large protest movements have begun to emerge in the “developed” countries that are feeling the effects of the crisis the most, reinforcing the need for changes in the management of the economy that not only contemplate the welfare of workers, but also assure that its management rest in their hands..

In the so-called “developing” countries, particularly in Latin America, social movements, people’s organizations and labor movements have been developing self-managed organizations at a grassroots level. Such is the case of the worker-recuperated enterprises in various South American countries, and other forms of workers’ control, both urban and rural. In some instances, these movements have gained some recognition and support at a governmental level, bringing into question the role of the state and the relationship between state power and the autonomy of popular movements: on the one hand the state can be a potential facilitator of the processes of workers’ control, but on the other hand it can be seen as an antagonistic instrument of traditional power with the potential to limit the autonomy of self-managed organizations.

The Fourth International Gathering of “The Workers’ Economy” seeks to explore these and other questions relating workers’ struggles from different perspectives and national contexts. It seeks to provide space for discussion and debate using the experiences of workers’ control and self-management as a point of departure, bringing together academics, social activists, and workers. Together with worker-recuperated enterprises, cooperatives, labor movements and organizations, social movements, political groups, and academics, among others, we have been co-developing the International Gathering and its themes
with representatives from over 20 countries that have participated in our previous three gatherings. We reiterate here what we emphasized in previous encuentros: while in uneven ways perhaps, workers are undoubtedly inventing alternatives that are not only limited to the economic, but that extend out into wider cultural processes as well. Based on non-capitalist relations of production, these processes have increasingly been opening up spaces for prefigurative politics. Moreover, these alternative economic institutions are affording workers room for discussing issues such as internal power and gender structures, as well as the relationship between workers, workplaces, and their surrounding communities. These processes, visible for example in the recuperated factories, workers’ cooperatives, and micro-enterprises of the world, although still incipient, show that workers can indeed self-manage a more humane and sustainable alternative than what is offered by corporate globalization.

The Fourth International Gathering will be held in the town of João Pessoa in the state of Paraíba in northeastern Brazil, and hosted by the Incubator for Social Enterprises (INCUBES), at the Universidade Federal da Paraiba, and the Programa Facultad Abierta (Open Faculty Program) of the University of Buenos Aires.

History of the International Gathering of “The Workers’ Economy”

The International Gathering of “The Workers’ Economy,” had is its first encuentro in Buenos Aires in July 2007 under the theme “Self-management and Distribution of wealth.” It was organized by the Open Faculty Program of the Faculty of Philosophy and Letters, University of Buenos Aires, in conjunction with academic institutions, social organizations, and workers in Argentina and around the world. The International Gatherings, have emerged into a forum for the exchange of ideas and experiences between academics, activists, and workers. These ideas center on the possibilities and challenges of self-management; the regeneration of a political, economic, and social project by the working class and social movements; as well as critical discussion and analyses of the practices of academic research focusing on self-management and the workers’ economy..

The Argentine experience of workers’ control and self-management provided a solid basis for discussion for the first encuentro in 2007. These discussions took on an international nature by the second and third encuentros (held in Buenos Aires in 2009, and in Mexico City in 2011) which explored, and learned from, the different experiences of the working class and social movements around the world. As an ultimate objective, they contemplated on an alternative economic, social and political project from that which neoliberal global capitalism presents. In this sense the themes and discussion topics of the International Gatherings became more diverse with each new encuentro, expanding to different areas of social struggle and critical thinking, yet still remaining true to the spirit suggested by the title of the International Gatherings: how to think about, debate and construct an economy emerging from workers themselves and encompassing workers’ self-management.

Thematic areas:

Proposals for panels and paper presentations may include, but are certainly not limited to, the following thematic areas:

1.         Analysis of capitalist management of the economy and proposals for self-management
2.         The new crisis of global capitalism: Analysis from the perspective of the workers’ economy
3.         The historical trajectory of self-management: From traditional communities to labor movements
4.         Actual practices of self-management today: Possibilities and challenges. (Including, but not limited to: worker-recuperated enterprises, cooperatives, and attempts at self-management by indigenous communities, peasants and social movements)
5.         Self-management and gender: Creating democracy
6.         Analysis of the socialist experience: Past and future
7.         The challenges of trade union experiences in neoliberal global capitalism.
8.         Informal, precarious, and degrading employment: Social exclusion or reconfiguration of labor in global capitalism?
9.         New movements in response to the global economic crisis: Perspectives from the struggle for self-management
10.       Challenges facing popular governments in the social management of the economy and the state
11.       The university, workers, and social movements: Debates over methodologies and practices of mutual construction

Organizational structure for the IV International Meeting “The Economy of the Workers”
The IV International Meeting will take place 9th-12th July, 2013 with morning and afternoon sessions, and will be open to the public.  There will be plenary sessions and workshops with the presentation of papers, videoconferencing, and a final plenary session with discussion and conclusions

Organizing Committee:
Incubator for Social Enterprises (INCUBES) Fedeal University of Paraíba, João Pessoa, Brazil; Department of Social Relations of the Autonomous Metropolitan University-Xochimilco, Mexico; Programa Facultad Abierta (Open Faculty Program), Faculty of Philosophy and Letters, University of Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Abstract submission deadline for papers: 22 April 2013
Notification of approved presentations: 2 May 2013
Final papers submission deadline: 30 June 2013

Please send abstracts for presentations to the following emails:

English: - Marcelo Vieta (Research Fellow, European Research Institute on Cooperative and Social Enterprises (EURICSE), Trento, Italy, and York University, Toronto, Canada)                   
Portuguese: - Mauricio Sardá (Coordinator of the Incubadora de Empreendimentos Solidários, Universidade Federal da Paraiba, Brazil)
centrodoc@gmailcom - Documentation Centre of Worker-Recuperated Enterprises, Open Faculty Program, University of Buenos Aires, Argentina - Andrés Ruggeri (Director, Open Faculty Program) - Marco Augusto Gómez Solórzano (Director, Labor Studies, UAM-Xochimilco, Mexico)

For more information on the International Gathering of the Workers’ Economy, including previous meetings in 2007, 2009 and 2011:

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Mayor to take salary in Bristol pounds

Mayor to take salary in Bristol pounds

George Ferguson, Bristol mayor
George Ferguson on election night. Photograph: Rod Minchin/PA
On his first day in office the new independent mayor of Bristol rebranded the Council House, scrapped a parking measure brought in only a few weeks ago and announced he would take his salary in the city's local currency.
George Ferguson, who beat 14 candidates to become mayor, also revealed on Monday that the hole in the city council's budget was £32m – £4m greater than he had expected. Ferguson said he would work with anybody who could come up with a clever way of finding the savings needed without harming services.
Ferguson's first decision of his three-and-a-half year tenure was to scrap the name Council House and replace it with City Hall. At his swearing-in ceremony at Temple Meads station, he said the new name showed that the building and the work that went on inside it belonged to the people of Bristol, not to the mayor or the councillors.
Ferguson, wearing his trademark bright red trousers, also revealed that he was scrapping charges for on-street parking on Sundays. He said that from next year he would look at making parts of the city traffic-free on the first Sunday of every month, as happens in Bristol's twin city, Bordeaux.
To applause, Ferguson said he wanted to move fast. He did not want to commission expensive surveys or report on initiatives. "Let's just do it and see how it turns out," he said.
Of his salary – currently £51,000, though the figure could change – Ferguson said he would take it in Bristol pounds, a currency introduced this year and proving a success.
Thanking the voters for entrusting him with the "ultimate project", Ferguson said Bristol had a minor link to London but a more important link to the rest of the world. "We are a proud provincial city," he said. "We are pretty self-contained and we are independent."
Ferguson will try to form a rainbow cabinet with councillors from the political parties he defeated in last week's elections. He said he had already had positive talks with the leaders of all four parties on the city council.
He accepted there would be tough times ahead and revealed that at his first meeting on Monday he was told the hole in the budget was up to £32m. "We've got to be really clever," he said. "I will work with anybody who can find ways to deliver the services. I come with absolutely no dogma about how we do it. What matters is that we do it."
Ferguson completed his speech by asking everyone present to join him as he took the oath made by young men of Athens when they became citizens: "I shall not leave this city any less but rather greater than I found it."

Friday, February 8, 2013

A New Era: From Occupation to Workers' Control

02.06.13, 9:44am 
Republic Windows and Doors workers celebrate their first victorious occupation in 2008

This week, Strike Debt tweeted out triumphantly: “It’s a new era. First machine fired up at worker owned factory. #NewEraWindowsandDoors”. For those of us who’ve been following news about the Chicago factory formerly known as Republic Windows and Doors, this was the culmination of years of struggle. It’s an exciting moment, and a victory which hopefully can inspire other factories across the country.

Though the factory had been making windows and doors since 1965, our story starts in 2008 with the financial crisis and the actions of Bank of America. Despite having received billions in tax dollars, Bank of America (and other major banks) spent much of 2008 cutting off struggling small businesses or businesses with low returns—not because they couldn’t afford to lend to them, but to improve their balance sheets. Republic Windows and Doors lost their credit line in late 2008 (just a few days after BOA received $25 billion in bailout money) and summarily fired their 250 workers in three days, without either the 60 days notice or the 60 days severance required by the WARN act.

A common story, perhaps, but at Republic Windows and Doors the workers didn’t acquiesce. Instead, in December of 2008, they occupied the factory for six days, bringing major national news coverage, and won their severance. It’s important to remember that in 2008, occupation was seen more as a labor action from the 30s then a common tactic for protest on the left.

In February 2009, the plant was purchased by Serious Energy, and reopened, with many of the workers returning to their previous union contracts. It seemed like a major victory, and things went well at the factory for a time. But then, in February of 2012, sudden closure was again announced, this time by the new bosses. Once again, workers rallied to the factory, this time with a big wave of support from Occupy Chicago, and though their occupation only lasted 11 hours, they won fair severance pay once more.

But now, rather than wait for another boss to just repeat the cycle, the workers are taking control of the factory. In May of 2012, they incorporated as a democratically run worker-owned cooperative, and they’ve begun purchasing the machinery in the factory bit by bit. They have the support of their union, the United Electrical Workers, as well as the micro-finance solidarity economy organization Working World.

Read more here:

Job Opportunity: COLORS Co-Op Academy Coordinator

COLORS Co-Op Academy Coordinator
Location: Detroit, MI
Type of Job: Full-Time, Permanent

The Restaurant Opportunities Center of Michigan (ROC-Michigan) seeks a dynamic and entrepreneurial individual with deep ties to the food justice and worker cooperative movements who can play a leadership role in founding a COLORS Co-Op Academy for emerging, worker-owned good food businesses in Detroit. The COLORS Co-Op Academy is an intensive learning experience designed to cultivate new worker-owned good food businesses rooted in principles of democracy, sustainability, and justice. The COLORS Co-Op Academy will serve as a model to inform the launch of similar COLORS cooperative incubators around the country. We envision a community-based economy in which all people are contributing with dignity, respect, and ownership. We work towards this vision by developing worker cooperatives grounded in the leadership, resources, and needs of communities most affected by social and economic injustice. By linking our actions with movements for worker, food, and racial justice, we collectively re-imagine and transform our workplaces, communities, and local economies.

Organizational Background:
Founded in 2008 and based in Detroit, MI, the Restaurant Opportunities Center of Michigan (ROC-Michigan) is a non-profit, membership-based organization of over 1,000 restaurant workers. We are an affiliate of Restaurant Opportunities Centers United (ROC-United), a national restaurant workers’ organization founded in New York City by restaurant workers displaced by the 9/11 World Trade Center tragedy. We are dedicated to improving working conditions and increasing opportunities for advancement in restaurants nationwide for the collective benefit of workers, employers, and consumers. We take a three-pronged approach to achieving change in the restaurant industry that includes: (1) campaigning for workplace justice; (2) conducting community-based research and policy work, and (3) promoting the ‘high-road’ to profitability through innovative employer partnerships, workforce development programs, and our family of COLORS Restaurant social enterprises. In ten years, ROC has become the nation’s leading restaurant worker organization. More information can be found at: and

Job Responsibilities Include:
Leading the COLORS Co-Op Academy
o Developing and ensuring continuous improvement of a COLORS Co-Op Academy curriculum developed in partnership with Cooperation Texas, an Austin-based cooperative incubator program;
o Conducting outreach with community-based partners and allies to recruit Co-Op Academy participants;
o Facilitating Co-Op Academy participant workshops in workplace democracy, food justice, and business development, as well as peer-to-peer learning sessions;
o Coordinating support services for participants, including legal and marketing assistance, mentoring
opportunities, post-graduation coaching, and micro-loans

Supporting overall organizational and program growth
o Developing and maintaining relationships with key Co-Op Academy local and national partners including: ROC-United, Cooperation Texas, Community Food Empowerment Directive (CoFED), Fair Food Network, the Urban Communities Clinic, local community colleges, and Jackie Victor, co-founder of Avalon International Breads;
o Planning and implementing program communications and marketing;

Attending cooperative conferences and building relationships with movement leaders;
Participating in a formal evaluation to identify best practices for scaling the local model nationally;
Innovating programs to leverage and/or create organizational synergies between the Co-Op Academy
and our non-profit COLORS Restaurants

Intensively coaching and supporting the development of worker-owned, good food enterprises in Detroit
o Providing intensive cooperative and business consultation, based on the developmental stage of each incubated cooperative, to up to three student teams who will be enrolled in the Co-Op Academy per year, as well as providing post-graduation coaching services;
o Playing a leading role in working with local and national staff and allies to assess the feasibility and
possible launch of a COLORS Co-Op Academy ‘teaching enterprise’ that would incorporate cooperative leadership principles

Required Skills and Qualifications:
-Willingness and motivation to play a founding role in launching a good food cooperative incubator that will be shaping the development of a national program;
- Strong background in worker-cooperative business development or the equivalent;
- Management experience in a food enterprise or the equivalent;
- Excellent verbal and written communication, including proficiency with Microsoft Word, Excel, Email, Internet and social media;
- Ability to work effectively with diverse populations, including Academy participants, customers, and allies;
- Ability to work flexible hours, including evenings and weekends based on Academy participants’ schedules;
- Strong commitment to movement-building and social, racial, economic, and food justice

Desired Qualifications:
- Knowledge of and/or experience with popular education;
- A strong background or interest in worker and/or community organizing and/or economic development;
- Spanish-language proficiency;
- Culinary background and/or familiarity with food production;
- Commitment to grow with the organization

People of color and women are encouraged to apply. We are willing to consider applicants from outside Southeast Michigan who are willing to relocate to metro Detroit for this position.

Starting salary of $35,000 is negotiable based on experience. Featured benefits include generous paid time off as well as health insurance.

How to Apply:
Please send a (1) resume and (2) cover letter as soon as possible to and include “Co-Op Academy Coordinator” in the subject line of your email.

Restaurant Opportunities Center of Michigan, 311 E. Grand River Ave., Detroit, MI 48226
Attn: Minsu Longiaru, Executive Director, (313) 962-5020

Friday, January 25, 2013

Meet the Maker Space in a Church Basement

Mt. Elliot Maker Space in the Detroit Church of the Messiah basement helps youth and adults develop skills around bikes, computer, workshop tools, art, and more.
On assignment for Shareable in Detroit, I've been looking for some hope to report on beyond the devastation porn the mainstream media seems fixated on. I'd only been there one day and found plenty of it - driven by determined, creative and resilient folks.
I went to a meeting at the "World Famous" Church of the Messiah for the Detroit Community Cooperative, a worker coop business incubator and a coop of small businesses that aim to support each other. Still in it's early stages and with limited funding, this program is aspiring to develop the Mondragon of Detroit.
I showed up early and a churchgoer named Craig, bubbling with enthusiasm for what he was about to show me, brought me down to the basement of the Church, which turned out to be a maker space, called Mt. Elliot Maker Space, with a strong emphasis on youth, job skills and microenterprise development.
Youth taking apart and rebuilding electronics, courtesy of Mt. Elliot Maker Space.
Pastor Barry allowed some neighborhood folks and a community association who pitched in, to build out the space for an earn-a-bike program, a community tool  workshop space, a computer learn and build lab, screenprinting program, and more. An 11 year old girl recently learned soldering and now she's teaching other folks at the makerspace.
There is a small company blossoming there, reusing wood from abandoned Detroit houses and making them into high end furniture to provide much needed local jobs, possibly as a worker coop.
Craig said it's the only bike shop, much less community bike shop, on that side of town. Particularly helpful now the city is coming close to shutting down the majority of its bus service, even though the temperatures drop below zero in Michigan. At least people can get to work if they need to on bike. They can to come to the Church of the Messiah and learn how to fix and build their own bike.

John, who built out much of the maker space and tool workshop, photo by Mira Luna

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Young Adults: Win a Grant to Start a Sharing Project!

01.23.13, 3:24pm 
Are you interested in starting a sharing project, or know someone who is? Then you should apply for a seed grant from Shareable! This brand-new pilot program offers small grants and technical support to students and young leaders under 30 to help them catalyze a sharing project in their communities.
The program offers up to $1,000 to young leaders on college campuses and in cities to launch projects or events that strengthen their communities as platforms for sharing. Along with cash awards, Shareable will also offer media and technical support, as well as project coaching and access to our network of sharing experts.

The entire application is online and only takes a few minutes to complete. Apply now.
The deadline to apply is Valentine’s Day (February 14, 2013), so please help us spread the word to anyone you know who might be interested. 

What’s a “sharing project”?
Here are examples of projects we’d like to support: swaps (clothing exchanges, book swaps), skill shares, bike and computer kitchens, lending libraries, timebanks, free stores and free schools, sharing-themed campus club, cooperatives of all kinds, and more.

But don’t let this list limit you. Be creative! We’re totally open to ideas that aren’t on the list. We’ll also consider summits and educational events to develop project ideas, alliances and next steps for community action.

Who can apply?
All college undergraduates, graduate students, and urban leaders under 30 are eligible to apply. We encourage applications from the Midwest, the South and low income communities. The deadline to apply is February 14, 2013. We will award the grants on February 21, 2013.

How can you apply?
Since this is a pilot, we’re keeping the project requirements fairly loose though we’d like to see proposals for achievable, sharing-themed, service projects that could become permanent institutions in the community. We encourage applicants to work in teams, and to find additional support from other organizations.

If you’re a young leader, please apply here by February 14, 2013. And please share this opportunity with people who you think would be interested.

Who is Shareable?
Shareable is an online magazine about sharing. We cover the people, projects, and communities that are bringing a shareable world to life. This shareable world includes things like car sharing, clothing swaps, childcare coops, potlucks, and cohousing, to make life more fun, green, and affordable. When we share, not only is a better life possible, but so is a better world. Make sure to check out our how-tos so you can make sharing real in your life.

Why has Shareable created this pilot program?
In May 2011, Shareable hosted a one-day event called ShareSF. We invited city officials, sharing entrepreneurs, nonprofits and new economy leaders to explore how to strengthen San Francisco as a platform for sharing. ShareSF combined education with action, including a half-day unconference where leaders began collaborating. Nothing like ShareSF had ever been done before. It was an experiment.

Much to our surprise, the impact of ShareSF greatly exceeded our expectations. As a result of ShareSF, the City of San Francisco became keenly interested in the sharing economy. We helped Mayor Ed Lee launch the city’s Sharing Economy Working Group, which is working on sharing-friendly policies. We also hosted a speaking tour to educate the city about participatory budgeting, which they are piloting this year. Finally, we launched the first policy series about the sharing economy in partnership with the Sustainable Economies Law Center.

Inspired by the unexpected success of ShareSF, we tried a hands-on approach to developing sharing projects in other communities, but with mixed success. We realized that we’d have more success if we helped leaders create projects that make sense for their own communities. We believe that creating a network of local sharing leaders will have more impact than creating projects ourselves.

Don't wait, apply now online, just takes a few minutes. Click here to apply.

PB 2013 is on Fire!

 The Participatory Budgeting Project
  January 2013 Newsletter

Vote Results: Two and a Half Winning Projects in PB2

We're thrilled to announce the results of PB2 - our first organizational PB process! To practice what we preach, we asked everyone who donated to PBP last year to vote on how the donations are spent, to identify the priorities for PB in 2013. Here's the final vote tally:

1) Hire a Part-Time Development Person
2) Produce a PB Intro Video
3) Launch a Youth PB Campaign
4) Travel Funds for Conference Participants
5) Office Furniture and Equipment
6) New PB Brochures and Info Sheets

We committed to use half the money raised in donations to fund the projects with the most votes. When we started fundraising in October, our goal was to raise $6,000. But in just three months, you gave $16,834!

Thanks to the contributions of 130 amazing supporters, we raised enough to fund the top two priority projects above. We already hired a new development associate to assist with our fundraising (see below). In just a few weeks, she’s enabled us to submit three grant application letters and develop a strong plan for raising new resources.

We also just put out a request for proposals to produce a short PB video - please spread the word. If we can raise more resources, we’re committed to moving forward on the other priorities too. And as with PB more broadly, we saw that opening up our budget process helped attract more resources – not only the monetary donations, but also computers and a printer from Google, to meet our office equipment needs!

2013 PB Conference in Chicago

Building a Democratic City

From May 3-5, 2013, Building a Democratic City: The 2nd International Conference on Participatory Budgeting in the US & Canada will take place in Chicago. Together with conference co-organizers the Great Cities Institute, we are currently accepting proposals for conference sessions. Please see the Call for Proposals and conference website for more information. The deadline for submissions is February 15, 2013.

Join us for a weekend of exciting and engaging panels, presentations, and workshops, from participants and organizers of PB initiatives from across North America and the world. Conference participants will also observe this year's final PB Chicago vote, and celebrate the announcement of its results. PB Chicago now spans four city wards, building on the first PB initiative in the US, in the city's 49th Ward.

Registration will open in February. Stay tuned for more program updates, and info on our new PB training workshop that will take place on May 3rd right before the conference!

New(ish) Faces at PBP

January has brought lots of changes at PBP:
  • Lize Mogel is joining our team as part-time Development Associate - thanks to your money and votes in PB2!
  • Ramon Quintero, our Community Engagement Assistant for PB Vallejo, unfortunately had to step down. We're sad to see him go, but glad that he'll still be helping with outreach and the Spanish-language budget delegate committee.
  • Aseem Mulji, our fantastic fall intern in Vallejo, is taking over for Ramon, as our new Vallejo Project Assistant.
  • Donata Secondo is stepping down as Project Coordinator for PBNYC, though she's staying involved with PBP as a Program Associate, to help with our conference and other projects.
  • Pam Jennings is now serving as our Project Coordinator for both PB Vallejo and PBNYC.
  • Isaac Jabola-Carolus, one of our fall interns in NYC, is joining staff as a full-time Project Assistant, working mostly on PBNYC.
  • Finally, speaking of amazing interns, we welcomed our two spring interns - José Ramón Martí and Aviva Coopersmith!
  • Whew! See our staff page for bios and more info...

Coming in 2013...

We're pretty stoked about what's in store for 2013! Some highlights:
  • PB Launches in San Francisco. The first meeting for District 3's PB process is this Saturday! We're thrilled to be working on this pilot with such fabulous partners - SF Board of Supervisors President David Chiu, the SF Controller's Office, Coleman Advocates, the Chinese Progressive Association, Chinese for Affirmative Action, and the California Civic Innovation Project.
  • Deepening PB in NYC and Chicago. We're honored to receive new funding for PBNYC and PB Chicago, together with partners Community Voices Heard and the Great Cities Institute. While we're still working toward full funding, we'll be able to roll out some upgrades thanks to generous support from the New York Women's Foundation, New York Foundation, New York Community Trust, Scherman Foundation, Field Foundation, Crown Philanthropies, and Institute for Political and Civic Engagement at UIC. Thank you!
  • New Cities. In the past few months we've had discussions with officials and community groups in over a dozen cities, including Buffalo, Greensboro, Hartford, Louisville, New Orleans, Portland (OR), Richmond (CA), San Diego, San Juan, Somerville (MA), St. Louis, and Toronto. Stay tuned for more info about speaking appearances and new PB processes!
  • New Budgets. We're working to push the frontiers of PB, testing out new processes in schools, housing authorities, and organizations.
  • New Tools. Over the next several months we're developing a new batch of PB guides, videos, presentations, and promotional materials, to better support local activists.
We look forward to your collaboration and support on these new efforts!

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Featured Video
Last November, California Forward reported on why Vallejo adopted Participatory Budgeting. Now they've produced this great video about PB Vallejo: Citizen engagement enters new phase in Vallejo participatory budgeting
California Forward Video

In the Press
The Journal of Public Deliberation released a special issue focused on PB, including several contributions from Team PBP:

PBP's Josh Lerner & Donata Secondo break down the bottom-up design approach used for PB in the US, in "By the People, For the People"

PBP Associate Gianpaolo Baiocchi and our friend Ernesto Ganuza write about PB's global travels in "The Power of Ambiguity"

PBP Advisory Board Member Celina Su describes how PBNYC is starting to expand the possibilities for who can  participate in politics, in "Whose Budget? Our Budget?"

Chicagotalks writes about PBP's Maria Hadden and the 46th Ward residents who are helping to build Participatory Budgeting Chicago: Uptown takes next step in participatory budgeting In Brooklyn, a class of 5th graders thanks City Councilmember and PBP Advisory Board Member Brad Lander for "teaching us what it means to live in a democracy"

PBP Board Chair Mike Menser writes about Superstorm Sandy and PB in "The Participatory Metropolis, or Resilience Requires Democracy"

PBP Magnets Now Available! 
For only $1 you can now adorn your fridge with a PBP magnet! Send us an email to order our beautiful PBP logo t-shirts ($17 +postage), stickers ($1), and magnets. T-shirts are available in kelley green or white. Sizes are limited.

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