In 2018, the Kendeda Fund launched a series of Big-Bet grantmaking opportunities – one-time focused investments in timely and critical issues, to help propel work to new levels of capacity and reach. One of those Big Bets focused on Employee Ownership with four major goals in mind:
With these goals in mind the Kendeda Fund granted over $24 million to four organizations that were exploring ways to transition small and medium sized companies to employee ownership. The grantee organizations included The Evergreen Cooperatives Fund for Employee Ownership, ICA Group, Nexus Community Partners, and Project Equity.
Upon entering the 5th year of the grant, Kendeda partnered with the Ohio Employee Ownership Center to carry out a reflection process that looked back on what these four organizations where able to achieve, assess what they learned, and identify future actions that would further develop and expand employee ownership in the US. The reflection process relied on numerous forms of data collection including in-person meetings, long form one on one interviews with grantees, selling owners, and new employee owners, analysis of transition data, and comparisons of the four grantees models for transitioning companies to employee ownership.
The culmination of our findings were used to create a narrative report Employee Ownership at a Crossroads which draws on the insights of all stakeholders involved and provides an overview of the impact employee ownership can have for selling business owners, workers, and the larger community.
Raising awareness, providing technical assistance, and making capital available is a tall order for any organization to achieve, let alone in a 5-year period that included a global pandemic. Despite this, the impact created with Kendeda support over the the five year grant period is remarkable. Working in 31 cities across 12, states the four grantee organizations were able to:
· Transfer $32.7 million in business assets to employees
· Transition 45 companies to employee ownership
· Create 903 ownership pathways for workers
Expanding employee ownership requires addressing key barriers which include raising awareness about employee ownership, making technical assistance for business owners interested in selling to employees readily available, and creating easily accessible capital to finance conversions and grow the business after its transition to employee ownership. With the support from the Kendeda Fund, the four organizations set out to address these barriers. Each organization developed and implemented their own unique strategies to do so, creating variations that reflected the needs of the communities they serve.
Like all reports, we could not include every piece of information we gathered, but we strongly felt it necessary to provide leaders at the four grantee organizations to reflect, in their own words, on how and why they do the work they do, how Kendeda’s investment helped them expand their impact, and where they see their work going in the future. Below you can listen to Owners at Work Podcast interviews with each of the grantee organizations as well as explore their websites to learn more about their approaches to growing employee ownership and how you can support them.
The Fund for Employee Ownership is Evergreen Cooperative’s groundbreaking new investment fund, designed to create quality jobs through employee ownership, anchor jobs and wealth in the local community, and generate value for investors. The Fund builds upon the success of The Evergreen Cooperatives, a national model which proved that networked employee-owned businesses can succeed in the market while generating meaningful social impact and much higher quality jobs.
ICA Group is a leading expert on worker ownership and the oldest national organization dedicated to the development of worker cooperatives. Centering worker voice, growing worker wealth, and building worker power exist at the core of ICA’s mission. They advance democratic worker ownership, which has the immediate effect of increasing worker voice and autonomy in the workplace, while fairly allocating financial returns with a commitment to serving low-wageworkers and communities of color.
Nexus Community Partners supports strong, equitable, and just communities in which all residents are engaged, are recognized as leader sand have pathways to opportunities. The key to building more engaged and powerful communities of color lies in the dynamic relationship between authorship, leadership and ownership. The Nexus Worker Ownership Initiative(WOI) is a bold effort to change the face of business by promoting employee-owned business models that generate community wealth.
Project Equity is a national leader in the movement to harness employee ownership to maintain thriving local business communities, honor selling owners’ legacies, and address income and wealth inequality. Headquartered in the San Francisco Bay Area, Project Equity works with partners across the country to raise awareness about employee ownership as an exit strategy for business owners, provides hands-on consulting, support and financing to companies that want to transition to employee ownership.