"There are many different expressions of cooperation and mutual aid in Philadelphia, among very diverse groups of people," explains Caitlin Quigley of the Philadelphia Area Cooperative Alliance
(PACA). Now, thanks to a $146,000 award from the national Knight Cities Challenge (check out our peek at the four Philly winners here
), the organization hopes to expand interest in co-ops citywide.
PACA’s Knight-funded 20 Book Clubs, 20 Cooperative Businesses
initiative aims to gather learning groups of six to 12 people from a variety of Philly neighborhoods. The organization will help guide the book clubs through a tailored process to master the building blocks of building a cooperatively-run business of any type, based on the community’s interests and needs.
So what exactly is a "co-op"?
A cooperative grocery store (like Philly’s Weavers Way or Mariposa), for example, "is a business you own with your neighbors," explains Quigley. "You make decisions about the products that are on the shelves, how the co-op should treat its workers; how the co-op should decide how to be in the community.”
The latter includes things like representation at events, education and outreach, and making donations.
"You and your fellow co-owners can decide how you want that business to serve you," she adds.
And while grocery stores might be the most prominent local example, PACA is a consortium of all kinds of co-ops across many industries. These range from banks to housing to community gardens, green space, or land trusts, or child-care or artist co-ops.
The 20 Book Clubs, 20 Cooperative Businesses project, operating on a year-long grant cycle from April 2016 to April 2017, will continue outreach this summer, with the goal of organizing project participants by September. Each group will meet twice a month for six months, with guidance from PACA staffers and volunteers, and a comprehensive curriculum of suggested learning materials, from books and comics to field trips and podcasts.
Author Dr. Jessica Gordon Nembhard, whose book Collective Courage
is a major inspiration for the project, is collaborating with PACA on the study guide.
In March of next year, participating groups will convene at a large event that will include cooperative business pitches. Beyond that, PACA hopes to support interested groups in more intensive business planning, such as drafting articles of incorporation and writing bylaws.
"Not all of the groups that do the book clubs are going to necessarily decide to move onto this phase," says Quigley, but that’s ok. "Even if it doesn’t happen right now…They have a new set of tools and perspectives that they can bring to anything they do in their communities from then on." Ultimately, it’s about building "a strong movement around a just and inclusive economy, with all of these different sectors of cooperatives and their members."
Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Caitlin Quigley, Philadelphia Area Cooperative Alliance