In 2016 and 2017, twenty groups of people in the Philadelphia area formed community-owned and worker-owned cooperative businesses in the Philadelphia area. These groups met twice a month to learn about co-ops in study circles, a method rooted in African American and Philadelphia cooperative history. Each group chose resources like books, articles, oral history, videos, field trips, comics, and podcasts to learn how to start a business and why to do so together. Through study, reflection, and discussion, each group identified an unmet need in their community and created a shared vision of a new cooperative business to meet that need. After six months, groups that were ready to move forward with their business idea accessed training, business advice, and financing to help them open their cooperative business.
A note on language: we use the terms “book clubs” and “study circles” interchangeably.
Meet the 20 Study Circles!
Several study circles pose for a photo at one of three launch events in September.
A & Associates members are passionate about self-help and responsibility, community engagement, justice, and equity. They believe cooperative businesses are essential to building a better world and that the the prospect of blending one’s passions with one’s craft gives new meaning to the word work. By studying together about worker co-ops, they hope to start a cooperative bookkeeping company that serves Philadelphia’s cooperative businesses.
Arts Culture and Community is a group of five Black single parents who want to cooperatively be a support system, provide financial assistance and employment, build jobs, offer arts and culture education, and open hearts and eyes in their community.
Cooperativa PWA is a group of laborers who work in the building industry in Philadelphia. They seek to benefit the people of Philadelphia through their work and their services. Most group members come from other countries and want to improve their living conditions and quality of life. They are planning to study how to form their own construction cooperative.
Get Along Cooperative seeks to create a housing cooperative and cooperatively run event space for social justice minded artists, creators and entrepreneurs to live in, work in, and play in. They’d like to purchase a small apartment building or adjacent houses to form a co-housing community where members can lead private lives and also participate in a larger community.
The Kensington Tool Library study circle, facilitated by New Kensington CDC, is a group of people (fixers, artists, homeowners, makers, handymen, etc.) who call Kensington home-base and are interested in exploring the cooperative business model as a tool to lower barriers to entry for entrepreneurship, bridge community barriers, and increase affordability particularly through the lens of starting a library that lends tools instead of books for home repair projects, artists & makers, civic projects, neighborhood clean ups, gardening, informal handymen & more.
Mexcon is a group of immigrants from Mexico who work together in a construction company. They want to continue working together by formalizing as a worker-owned cooperative, where they can participate not just as workers but as members and owners.
Neighborhood Foods believes that a co-op can address the need for development of a localized food system in the Haddington neighborhood of West Philadelphia. Their desire is to shift power within the current food system, so that the community can grow and access food, free from pesticides, in their own neighborhood.
The People’s Emergency Center (PEC) has been a community empowerment and resource center for over thirty years and works with its Neighborhood Advisory Committee (comprised of local residents, elected by their neighbors, to represent their interest and work along with PEC) to address community issues from the ground level. Currently, there are limited options for healthy food shopping in the area. The development of a cooperative business that sells affordable whole food options, would provide refuge in a perpetual food desert.
The Philly Black Healers Collective believes that Black and Brown people are powerful and possess all that is needed to heal themselves; the collective creates a platform for that healing to happen. Diverse spiritual and healing-oriented services are made easily accessible to communities and individuals that have experienced or continue to experience trauma. Services focus on culturally-centered and culturally-relevant healing and wellness practices. The Philly Black Healers Collective believes that a cooperative model of business best reflects their spiritual and cultural values and allows them to be accountable to each other for continuing a journey of healing and wellness.
Plant it, Planet will be the umbrella collective entity that will replicate sustainable food models in vacant spaces in Chester, Pa. They want to create a network of sustainable systems that, 1) demonstrate the feasibility of local, walkable food sources; 2) create an intergenerational learning community; 3) use resident voice, autonomy, and sweat equity to affect change in their community; 4) develop a platform for local artists and professionals to engage the community.
Provision Vocational Training Center’s mission is to provide an array of innovative and effective services, community development, employment and entrepreneurship training to individuals who are homeless, in recovery, ex-offenders, veterans, and young adults seeking self-sufficiency. PVTC believes the cooperative economic model supports their mission and can serve the interests of their Logan community participants well.
Refugee Women’s Textile Cooperative’s goal is to use the complementary resources of PACA’s 20 Bookclubs → 20 Cooperative program and the Commerce Department’s “Start-Up PHL” grant to provide mentorship, technical support, and guidance to refugee women involved with Refugee Women’s Textile Initiative (RWTI) and Mural Arts Philadelphia at the Southeast by Southeast hub space. Partnering with PACA will support efforts to build up the knowledge and confidence of RWTI’s participants in their value as producers in the United States and give them the tools necessary to self-organize and leverage the momentum they have built to form safer, stronger, cooperative workforces.
View the March 2017 blog post on the Refugee Women’s Textile Cooperative
Website: https://www.muralarts.org/program/porch-light/sexse/ and www.culturalcommunities.org
Serenity Soular aims to start a worker-owned solar installation cooperative based in North Philadelphia and grounded in environmental justice principles and love. They imagine their business incorporating workforce development and creating jobs for people who need them.
Soil Generation is a black-led radical gardening coalition. Members of the coalition are first and foremost local residents that participate in growing food for the communities in which they work and/or live. We are working to build the cohesive, grassroots movement needed to change our food system by combining our experiences, ideas and clout to build the radical movement needed to reform city policies and address racism that affects the health of our communities. Soil Generation is looking to become a multi-stakeholder cooperative to support the environmental justice and artistic interests of their members and the community they serve.
South Philly Barbacoa is a traditional Mexican barbacoa restaurant that is considering converting to a worker-owned cooperative so that every worker, no matter their status or record, can be a part owner of their successful, growing business. South Philly Barbacoa advocates for the undocumented immigrant community through their #right2work events.
Ulises: A Not-for-Profit Bookshop will be a not-for-profit bookshop and curatorial platform presenting exhibitions, events, and independent publications on contemporary art, design, critical studies, and visual culture. They believe the cooperative model is the most viable structure for their bookshop because they are each invested creatively in the project and want to lend their help and vision collectively and democratically towards its completion.
VietLead works to build capacities of the Vietnamese and Southeast Asian community to be active, influential, and “participatory” agents of this (d)emocracy in all possible realms, particularly at the local level. Cooperative businesses can be the location of developing these capacities while meeting economic sustainability needs of youth, adults, and elders who are generally marginalized from the current economy.
Several groups at a launch event in September.
Support the study circles
Make a tax-deductible donation to PACA to show your support for these diverse groups of people organizing their own co-ops!
Art by Phoebe Wahl, phoebewahl.com