Community Capital and Cooperatives Contribute to a More Democratic Economy
National Coalition for Community Capital Managing Director Mica Fisher Says Both Approaches Help Empower Often Exploited Workers
Devin: What’s your superpower?
Mica: Right now, I think what I’m noticing about myself is that I’m able to see situations that people might put a competitive lens on, and I’m able to flip that on its head and see possibilities for cooperation and collectivism.
Mica Fisher, the managing director of the National Coalition for Community Capital or NC3, sees both cooperatives and crowdfunding as vital to building a more democratic economy.
“The mission of NC3 is to educate, advocate, innovate and promote the development of community capital,” she says. Crowdfunding is a vital tool for building community capital.
“Crowdfunding is an excellent tool,” Mica says. “We support it and talk about it all the time. It’s one of the best ways for businesses to get an audience. So we’re huge fans of regulation crowdfunding.”
Before joining NC3, Mica worked for the City of New York, supporting the formation of cooperatives.
“I am always looking for ways to make our economy feel like our own, to give power back to regular people within the economy and to, what I like to say, democratize the economy,” she says. “We live in a system, political system that we call democracy. Why should our economic system not be democratic as well?”
“Cooperatives and community capital are both strong mechanisms for democratizing the economy,” Mica says. “Community capital changes the power structures around how capital flows throughout the economy.”
Speaking of the power of cooperatives, she says, “Rather than having a few people at the top of a pyramid make decisions about how the workplace runs, what the policies are, what’s happening on a day to day—on the job, we should make it the workers.”
The two approaches pair well, she says. “It’s really both, you know, both mechanisms for democratizing different levels of the economy and different ways that you interact with the economy. I think they’re a beautiful match for that reason.”
Mica will be speaking at SuperCrowd22, which we’ll hold on September 15-16. Get your tickets now to connect with her and hear everything she has to share.
I've talked to a lot of these drivers. I always take rides at the drivers cooperative when I can, and it is a really beautiful experience, I think, for them and for me even as a passenger, because you're talking to someone who has an active say in things like hiring.
They can go to committees and figure out what's the best pricing structure to to bring down costs for drivers, because that's a huge issue in the industry.
There's this weird positioning with consumers versus workers in a capitalist framework for the economy where you say, “Oh, you know, we have to do this because it's better for the consumer experience. And that's how we're going to get we're going to get more customers.”
That's often things that cut out or harm workers. I just don't find that to be true. I think that if workers are being treated fairly, you end up getting better service and you have a great experience as a consumer.
She shared another example of a New York-based co-op, the Up and Go Cooperative for cleaning services.
There's a history of mostly Latino women in New York City where immigrants who took a stand against really exploitative work environments—that's really common here.
They realize that by forming cooperatives and managing their own businesses, they can both use economies of scale as well as the more grassroots, cooperative and democratically managed workplaces.
So, to kind of combine those two needs, they created the Up and Go Cooperative, which is a cleaning cooperative that's enabled by a tech app. So I could, as a consumer, book a cleaning on my phone the way you could with something like TaskRabbit or these other Silicon Valley owned apps.
I can book a cleaning cooperative, and the people that own the app and then manage the app are workers from five worker cooperatives in the city, and they dispatch someone who comes out.
I know that I have a worker owner, so someone who truly has a stake in the business and really is being treated fairly and being paid at a higher wage, come into my home and give me a cleaning. I've also had really incredible experiences with that.
Co-ops make a difference in worker-owners’ lives. “I’ve heard this from worker-owners all the time, that you get a sense of dignity, and it’s often this sense of autonomy that is just so stripped from so many people in the economy.”
“If your schedule isn’t working for you, if you don’t have any time to spend with your family, you can actually talk to the other worker-owners about that and find a way to make it work better for you,” Mica says. “I think that’s something I’ve heard from worker-owners the most, is it’s not just that work-life gets better, it’s that life outside of work gets better because you feel more control in both places.”
Mica uses her ability to flip perceptions of competition into opportunities for cooperation and collectivism. This has become a superpower.
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How to Develop a Cooperative Lens As a Superpower
While managing the City’s Worker Cooperative Business Development Initiative, Mica shifted the paradigm between the city and the co-ops. She says:
I tried to take a cooperative approach to how those organizations were interacting with the city, because often it's really hard when you have a city agency managing contracts with nonprofits—nonprofits that are really radical, interested in economic democracy, maybe a very different way of communicating.
I really had to shift that idea from a I'm your contract manager who's trying to control what you're doing into a cooperative interaction where it's like, “You know what? The thing is, we actually have the same goal. Why should this be a power over the the contracted organization situation? If we're all here to do the same thing and we want to see the same outcome?”
I think that meant a lot more time of listening. I think that's something that doesn't happen a lot today that makes a big difference. More time listening, more time with open space to hear what the needs are of the organization that maybe were not being met before and honest feedback.
Sometimes, I think the idea of competition or control comes into play when something is going wrong and there's no practice with other way of doing things. So feedback is absolutely key to that and honest feedback and having the ability to take that feedback and not feel offended by it.
So, I think that using all of those practices in that relationship meant that I got a lot done. We started this program with the deputy mayor's office. That wouldn't have happened without that good relationship. I think it led to a lot of successes in the time that I was there.
One of the tactics Mica uses to implement cooperative approaches to her work is sociocracy, “a democratic governance structure that focuses on sort of concentric circles of management rather than hierarchies.”
To help you develop a cooperative lens, she suggests a series of thought questions to employ when you face a new situation:
Is this something that is creating a meaningful experience for the person who has the least power there?
Are they learning?
Are they growing?
Do they feel empowered?
Do they feel like this is they have agency and choice?
“Asking that series of questions, every time you see a new organization, a new business, a new group of people has helped me reframe my mind and the assumptions I make,” Mica says.
By following Mica’s example and her advice, you can make a cooperative lens into a superpower enabling you to do more good.