Annual Reporting: (2012-2013) Madison, Wisconsin

I visited Madison, Wisconsin three times over the past year, with two different purposes: to train as a “cooperative developer,” and to study the practice of “coproduction.”

Cooperatives

The first purpose for my visit to Madison was the CooperationWorks! Cooperative Business Development training. This program consisted of three intensive week-long training sessions that explored the history, principles and practices of cooperative development. Continue Reading →

06. January 2014 by greg.bloom@gmail.com
Categories: Annual Reporting | Tags: , , , | 1 comment

Annual Reporting: (2013) Residency in DC

For much of 2013, I traveled to sites where I could learn firsthand about cooperative organization, co-productive labor, and the commons. Some of this work was through formal ‘residency’ programming designed to support social research and creative practice. Some of these travels were ‘residencies’ only inasmuch as my work was being supported by generous people who shared their time, homes, and insight; in exchange, I offered them what skills I could in terms of facilitation, research, and strategic analysis.

Provisions Library: COPY RIGHTS

My first and most formal residency of 2013 actually took place right at home. I participated in the COPY RIGHTS fellowship at Provisions Library, a center for arts and social justice based at George Mason University. During this three week residency, I had access to a wealth of knowledge about digital justice matters, among Provisions’ network of advisors and my awesome fellow residents. Continue Reading →

04. January 2014 by greg.bloom@gmail.com
Categories: Annual Reporting, Community Resource Data, DC | Tags: , , , , , , | 3 comments

Annual Reporting: (2012) Digital Justice in the District

Throughout most of 2012, I worked on a couple of projects that I’d started while at Bread for the City. (I left Bread in March of 2012, but in both of these projects I saw the promise of opportunity to develop powerful information technologies for marginalized communities in the District of Columbia. It seemed like a good opportunity, so I did what I could — which was unfortunately just not sufficient. But through failure, I learned.

In this work, the framework of ‘digital justice’ shaped my perspective.

Continue Reading →

04. January 2014 by greg.bloom@gmail.com
Categories: Annual Reporting, Community Resource Data, DC | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 comment

Annual Reporting: Two Years of Useful Unemployment

In my professional life, I wrote Annual Reports. It was one of my primary responsibilities. Continue Reading →

03. January 2014 by greg.bloom@gmail.com
Categories: Annual Reporting | Tags: , , | 4 comments

Case Studies of Cooperative Development: New Vision Renewable Energy

 I just posted a series of reflections on the CooperationWorks! co-op development training, and I’ll wrap up here by sharing a series of case studies on different kinds of cooperatives in development. During this research, I found the array of models and issues to be fascinating — yet the challenges appear to be quite similar.

 This one actually isn’t technically a cooperative: New Vision has members with rights and responsibilities, but they do not participate in the governance of the organization. However, I think the model is interesting enough to be considered alongside other more formal cooperative models. 

To my delight, this case study (which I’m cross-posting from the Community Power Network) was featured by David Bollier on his blog.

About New Vision

Renewable energy is far from common in West Virginia. But in the heart of coal country, low-income residents often struggle with utility bills that (at about 10 cents / kwh) can sometimes add up to be almost as costly as rent itself. One church in Philippi, WV has recently mobilized its community to meet its own need for alternatives, through a radical experiment in grassroots greening.

“God provided minerals, water, wind, and sunshine all to be used in a healthy balance,” says Ruston Seaman, pastor of Philippi’s People’s Chapel Church, and co-founder of New Vision Renewable Energy. Through New Vision, Ruston and his cohort are applying that same holistic sensibility to the development of green energy: by rallying the many human resources in their community, they’re building and installing their own solar arrays.  Continue Reading →

17. December 2013 by greg.bloom@gmail.com
Categories: Cooperative development | Leave a comment

Case studies of Cooperative Development: Food Hubs

 I just posted a series of reflections on the CooperationWorks! co-op development training, and I’ll wrap up here by sharing a series of case studies on different kinds of cooperatives in development. During this research, I found the array of models and issues to be fascinating — yet the challenges appear to be quite similar.

This one’s about food hubs.

 

Introduction

Last September, I attended the CooperationWorks! cooperative development training in Madison, Wisconsin. It was a great workshop that I recommend to anyone interested in developing cooperative enterprises. One of the training’s strengths was the presentation of a variety of real-life examples that illustrate the many different possibilities for cooperative solutions, and the many benefits and challenges thereof. In particular, I found a set of food cooperatives (at all different points of the chain, from growing to eating) that suggest a growing array of viable and desirable alternatives.

In the world of cooperatives, two of the most familiar models are agricultural coops and grocery coops. Even as over the last century the percentage of people employed in farming in the U.S. has shrunk dramatically, the cooperative share of the agriculture economy holds strong, and today is estimated at about a third of all inputs and sales. Cooperative grocery stores experienced a boom in the 70s (which saw an estimated 3000 cooperative stores and buying clubs in North America); by the 90s those numbers were decimated, but in the past decade that trend has swung back into rapid growth.

However, E.B. Nadeau notes in The Cooperative Solution that these agricultural and retail components of the cooperative food system have historically been separated from each other, and that they even “sometimes work at cross-purposes.”

Much can be gained from strategies that integrate different branches of the food system, from production to distribution to retail, etc. In the course of the CooperationWorks! workshop, we saw several exciting examples of new cooperative models that bring together multiple stakeholders from across a food system, organize resources and actions around clearly defined needs, and work in solidarity for mutual benefit. Continue Reading →

16. December 2013 by greg.bloom@gmail.com
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Case studies of Cooperative Development: Free Geek

 I just posted a series of reflections on the CooperationWorks! co-op development training, and I’ll wrap up here by sharing a series of case studies on different kinds of cooperatives in development. During this research, I found the array of models and issues to be fascinating — yet the challenges appear to be quite similar.

This one’s about Free Geek.
Freegeeklogo

Introduction

Free Geek is a worker-managed non-profit organization that recycles, refurbishes and redistributes computers and open source technology to people and organizations in need.

Launched in 2000, the original Free Geek in Portland (aka “the Mothership”) currently employs 32 paid staff members (some part-time) — and counts as many as 700 active volunteers in a given month.

There are three primary components of the Free Geek model:

  • Reusing computers and technology by giving them away in exchange for community service

  • Recycling computers that do not get reused in an environmentally responsible way.

  • Providing education and training in the use of computers and technology.

Mid-way through its lifespan, the original Free Geek reported that its income was largely revenue-based, from sales and recycling and disposal fees; just about a quarter of revenue was from traditional fundraising (private donations, grants, events). (The main Free Geek wiki only posts financial reports up through 2005.)

Free Geek has also ‘open sourced’ its model, providing extensive documentation and a roadmap for communities who are interested in starting their own organizations. As a result, ‘Free Geek Intergalactic’ contains as many as a dozen organizations throughout the US and Canada.

Continue Reading →

15. December 2013 by greg.bloom@gmail.com
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Notes on Cooperative Development (p3)

In 2013, I participated in the CooperationWorks! Cooperative Development training, and even got certified as a cooperative developer (woo!). This was in the midst of a lot of reading and travel to visit various kinds of cooperative enterprises in person, so I took a bunch of notes and wrote it up and eventually came back and broke it into less-unreasonably long blog-ish chunks, and here it is. This is part 3; here is part 1 and part 2

So let’s take a moment to reflect. The entire second half of the post above — about developing a Feasibility Study and Business Plan for your cooperative — was concentrated entirely within Day Two of the CooperationWorks! workshop’s five days.

It was a grueling day. I walked out bedraggled and daunted. In the brief time available for an evening outing, I gauged the temperature of my fellow trainees: my feeling seemed to be shared, especially among the lone rangers (the people who’d been sent by organizations seemed to be taking it more in stride). Several folks who’d had cooperative development experience already under their belt acknowledged that we’d just been shown a whole mountain of knowledge via fly-by, and they were quick to point out that we (the would-be cooperative developers) weren’t supposed to be the ones to do all that work. We were just cracking the whips or herding the cats or patching the quilt or whatever other metaphor might be most appropriate.

I get that. I’m game for that. And look, I believe in People Power. The agents who should be most active in the process of meeting a community’s needs are the members of that community itself. But let’s be real, what we’d heard that day entailed primary research (surveys and focus groups and interviews), secondary research (demographics and census data; industry standards; with as much granular specificity to your local environment as possible), disciplined analysis thereof, legal expertise, and management skills. “Don’t forget accounting,” someone reminded me. Right, accounting. Ugh.

In any given community group you may have people with some of these skills; and I also believe that any given group of people can eventually learn the stuff above. But how can you create that learning opportunity if this all has to be figured out up-front just to launch?

To this question, I got the following answer: Continue Reading →

13. December 2013 by greg.bloom@gmail.com
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Notes on Cooperative Development (p2)

In 2013, I participated in the CooperationWorks! Cooperative Development training, and even got certified as a cooperative developer (woo!). This was in the midst of a lot of reading and travel to visit various kinds of cooperative enterprises in person, so I took a bunch of notes and wrote it up and eventually came back and broke it into less-unreasonably long blog-ish chunks, and here it is. This is part 2. Here is part 1 and here is part 3.

CooperationWorks! at work, cooperatively

CooperationWorks! is a cooperative of cooperative developers; all of its members are ‘on the board,’ it’s entirely cooperatively managed. The organization provides training, capacity building, and advocacy for cooperative projects across the country. Its professional development training has three parts, and was described to me by a freelance cooperative developer as the premiere training program in the country.

So, sign me up! Being unemployed, I searched around for local DC institutions to sponsor my attendance — no dice. Fortunately, I found financial support to be readily available from both the Co.Bank and the Ralph Morris Foundation. (In fact I felt like was almost too easy for me to get this support from them. These trainings should be packed, and there should be lots of clamoring for aid to attend, from people who have even more need for support than I do myself. Of course, I’m grateful! I hope to make good on the support in some small way.)

The CooperationWorks! training brought participants into direct and substantive contact with a broad range of cooperative developers. Together we walked through the history, principles, practices, precedents, challenges and new frontiers of cooperatives.

And I learned a lot just listening to my fellow workshop attendees, who came from all over the country with all kinds of objectives. Continue Reading →

11. December 2013 by greg.bloom@gmail.com
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Notes on Cooperative Development (p1)

In 2013, I participated in the CooperationWorks! Cooperative Development training, and even got certified as a cooperative developer (woo!). This was in the midst of a lot of reading and travel to visit various kinds of cooperative enterprises in person, so I took a bunch of notes and wrote it up and eventually came back and broke it into less-unreasonably long blog-ish chunks, and here it is. This is part 1; here is part 2 and part 3

Cooperative enterprise in America began (as did so much else) with Benjamin Franklin. Franklin had witnessed more than a few fires while growing up amid the huddled wooden stocks of Philadelphia, and in the 1730s he started researching various fire-fighting techniques. When in 1736 Franklin started the Union Fire company, it wasn’t like the first time anyone had formed an all-volunteer community association — but it was the first such fire brigade that committed to fighting fires not just on the properties of the brigade’s members, but on any property within their community. Continue Reading →

10. December 2013 by greg.bloom@gmail.com
Categories: Cooperative development | Leave a comment

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