$24m in grants given to ‘democratic employee ownership’ in US

Schemes backed by Kendeda include business succession programmes and efforts to help people of colour build community wealth

US funding institute Kendeda is giving US$24m in grants to four projects to boost ‘democratic employee ownership’.

Kendeda, based in Atlanta, Georgia, is sharing the money between going to The Fund for Employee Ownership, a new initiative at Evergreen Cooperatives in Clevland, Ohio; the ICA Group of Northampton, Massachusetts; Nexus Community Partners in St. Paul, Minnesota; and Project Equity in the San Francisco Bay Area.

The fund says it is “dedicated to exploring how human beings can build a more just and equitable world, one in which we use resources wisely and relate to one another more mindfully”.

Its website adds: “We are small, scrappy and experimental. We work hard to help our grantees fill critical gaps that are often ignored or overlooked. And we strive to change the frames that commonly distort important community issues.”

Its latest round of funding is designed to help transition local companies from private ownership to employee ownership as worker co-operatives. It expects the grant money to help enable more than 100 business transitions, and for those transitions to serve as a model for others across the country.

Evergreen – a network of co-ops at the forefront of the Cleveland model of local, people-led economic revival – launched the Fund for Employee Ownership in November 2018. It aims to buy companies from retiring owners at fair market value to ensure that jobs remain in the community and to give employees the opportunity to share in their company’s success. 

ICA Group also supports co-ops and business conversions. “We seek to create, promote, and support jobs,” it says, “while collaborating with workers to define a truly entrepreneurial, democratic, and community-minded economy.”

It has been active in the childcare and home care sectors, as well as improving conditions for temporary workers in casual employment “by connecting employment social enterprises, developing best practices, and providing technical assistance”.

And it worked with the indigenous Métis community in Seattle, Washington, to form a worker-owned and controlled construction business.

Nexus, which works in Minneapolis and St Paul, works to “build more engaged and powerful communities of colour by supporting community-building initiatives that expand community wealth and foster social and human capital”.

Initiatives include the six-month North Star Fellowship, which focuses on black American co-operative economics.

And it works with local organisers community wealth building, “promoting local and broad-based ownership; lifting up co-operative and culturally based economic practices; developing the next generation of leaders; and influencing economic policy and investment decisions”.

Project Equity works with partners around the USA to raise awareness about employee ownership as an succession option for business owners, and as an important approach for increasing employee engagement and wellbeing.

“We also provide hands on consulting and support to companies that want to transition to employee ownership, as well as to the new employee-owners to ensure that they, and their businesses, thrive after the transition,” it says.

Kendeda adviser Diane Ives said the grants have three goals: making communities “more vibrant by retaining more businesses and expanding local ownership”; improving job quality and confronting the “racial wealth gap that has long divided American communities”; and to “inspire the philanthropic and impact investment communities to see democratic employee ownership as a necessary – and profitable – strategy for business growth”.