The Democracy at Work Institute was created by the US Federation of Worker Cooperatives (USFWC) to ensure that worker cooperative development in economically and socially marginalized communities is adequately supported, effective, and strategically directed. It is the only national organization dedicated to building the field of worker cooperative development. Through research, education and relationship-building, it meets the need for coordination of existing resources, development of standards and leaders, critical discussion of models and best practices, and advocacy for worker cooperatives as a community economic development strategy. The Institute brings both a birds-eye view of the national stage and an experiential on-the-ground understanding of cooperative business, making sure that our growing worker cooperative movement is both rooted in worker cooperatives themselves and branches out to reach new communities of worker-owners.
The Democracy at Work Institute was originally conceived as an educational project of the US Federation of Worker Cooperatives. It was created for the purpose of developing resources and supporting cooperative development. It did that quite successfully at a small scale for several years, undertaking projects like the Worker Cooperative Document Library and the Democracy at Work Network (DAWN) of peer advisors. These projects built capacity, leadership and resources and earned the US Federation a reputation for being effective and innovative leaders in the field of worker cooperative development and support. In 2013, as capacity grew and conditions on the ground made it clear that not only was a larger scale needed, but that the time was right, the Democracy at Work Institute scaled up and incorporated its own organization. At its next stage, we envision an Institute that is equal parts clearinghouse, relationship-builder, thought leader, organizing body and “developer’s developer.” It will be a movement-based think-and-do tank to build the field of worker cooperative development from a praxis-oriented perspective.
The US Federation of Worker Cooperatives and Democracy at Work Institute are affiliated organizations that undertake distinct but related work to build the worker cooperative movement in the U.S. The USFWC is a grassroots-funded membership organization that advocates for and provides benefits to its member worker cooperatives. The Democracy at Work Institute is a grant-funded think-and-do tank that provides education and research to the public, developing the resources, capacity and conditions that support growth. Its activities are guided by the current and future needs of the worker cooperative movement, and intended to support low-income people to create and sustain worker cooperatives that build wealth in communities exploited and abandoned by traditional business models.
Sustainability & Funding Philosophy
The Institute launches with funding from a variety of sources: longtime funders like The Cooperative Foundation, newer funders like the Fund for Democratic Communities, and a national strategic impact grant from the Catholic Campaign for Human Development. Understanding that the grant funds currently available to support this work will most likely not be available for the long-term, we have set 5- and 10-year goals for the Institute to leverage this funding to build a sustainable organization that includes other revenue streams. Just as the Mondragon Cooperative Corporation emphasizes the “instrumental and subordinate nature of capital” to labor in its cooperatives, we uphold the principle of the instrumental and subordinate nature of grant funding in our cooperative social movement. Our challenge is to build substantial grassroots financial support for our work; our gift is that the work, if successful, builds economic engines in the form of worker cooperatives. Our long-range vision is that these cooperatives support the institutions that support them.