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I wrote a book

Many people criticize "capitalism" as the cause of our planetary woes, cultural malaise, and neo-feudal wealth gap. It's easy to scapegoat an abstract concept, but very few people actually offer practical, viable replacements. Over the past year, I've worked with a small team to research real solutions that are already happening in our economy and have promise to move the needle on important global issues.


The book we wrote together, Assets In Common, is the product of dozens of interviews and hundreds of hours of research, analysis, group discussion and synthesis. I learned about concepts that I had never heard of like "shared services cooperatives." I began to see opportunities for major initiatives that are very viable and should happen soon. Our focus was to highlight these opportunities with entrepreneurs, leaders and funders as the intended audience: people who can build these things.


The book is a collection of case studies on companies, organizations and communities that address root causes at the core of an organization's business model, legal structure and financial DNA.


OK enough abstract concepts! Below I'll share some of the main things I learned about while writing the book.


Organizational Polyamory

A number of the case studies are about clusters of organizations that are "married" together in various ways but also retain autonomy. These "clusters" connect multiple companies, nonprofits, investment vehicles, worker-owned cooperatives and other entites that are shaped to strategically complement one another.


Here's an example, led by a nonprofit called The Industrial Commons:


Diagram courtesy www.assetsincommon.org Built by Jay Standish.

The Industrial Commons is based in North Carolina and is focused on strengthening the textile industry in their region. An example of how structural collaboration works is friendly financing. They incubate worker-owned textile companies (bottom left) by using the balance sheet of their well-funded nonprofit (upper right) to acquire expensive equipment and lease it to their partner textile companies.


Collaboration as Business Model

The Shared Services Cooperative

Franchises and behemoth MegaCorps aren't the only way that business can operate efficiently at a large scale. A group called CarpetOne is a national "chain" of independently owned and operated flooring stores that collectively co-own their national brand. By banding together under a shared banner, they also purchase flooring together, getting bulk discounts that allow them to compete with the likes of Lowe's and Home Depot. CarpetOne has over 4,000 stores and has expanded internationally and has even branched out into other industries.


Diagram courtesy www.assetsincommon.org Built by Jay Standish.

In the case of CarpetOne, the global brand and purchasing engine is the "shared service" at the core which local locations co-own. This is different than a franchise, which is not owned by its members, and in fact members pay fees to the corporate franchisor.


Up-leveling Ownership

Employee Ownership, Steward Ownership and Large-Scale Cooperatives

New models of ownership are common element across many of the organizations we covered. By distributing ownership amongst a broader group, these companies incentivize engaged employees and share the rewards with those who help produce them. We can't have a healthy democracy if one person owns all the assets, and shared ownership moves the needle on strengthening economic democracy.


Positive Impact as Legal Requirement

Steward Ownership and The Perpetual Purpose Trust

Going a step further, Steward Ownership not only shares profit with more stakeholders, it also locks in the mission, purpose and impact of the organization in the core legal structures of the firm. Typically a company's Board and Executives have a "fiduciary responsibility" to shareholders to maximize profit above all else. But Steward-Owned companies can use special "Purpose Trusts" that define a meaningful mission that it's leaders have a fiduciary responsibility to fulfill.


Finance as Community Relationship

Rotating Pools, Peer Lending and B2B Regional Currencies

Banks hold money on our behalf and make loans as they see fit- but what if a community could pool its resources and make its own decisions about where to invest? We studied a variety of models that do just that, from home-spun neighborhood lending circles to tech-enabled B2B trading currencies, to supply chain finance deals.


Tasteful Consolidation

The Small Business Holding Company

Large corporations are gaining an increasing market share in our economy, but small businesses are the lifeblood of authentic places. Do we want every town to become a cookie-cutter image of chain stores? The prospect of a Steward-Owned Holding Company offers a way for small businesses to merge under an umbrella and gain from the same economies of scale enjoyed by the big guys.


This idea is particularly actionable and of personal interest to me! If you're going to only read one or two sections of the book, read my articles on Steward HoldCo's.



Diagram courtesy www.assetsincommon.org Built by Jay Standish.


The Team

I'd like to thank the other main co-author Charity May - we did the bulk of the research and writing. Chelsea Robinson was our intrepid Editor and Project Manager, and also penned a few sections. Derek Razo and Zoe Schlag provided strategic direction and organizational capacity under Common Trust, raised the money for the project and also wrote sections.


Thanks to OneProject for funding the project as part of their mission to uncover the next economy. We also got top-notch support from Neal Gorenflo, Harshita Khera, Evan Steiner, Nanz Nair and Tony Santolupo.



Learn more and buy the book:



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