the geography of inequity

At the conclusion of her article, “How Cities Are Divided by Income in Three Maps,” Tanvi Misra writes:

Put simply: As the rich cluster together, the poor get poorer, because the effects of living in poor neighborhoods are passed down from one generation to the next. That’s why dismantling economic silos within a city can boost its total well-being and economic health.

The Equity Project  seeks to do exactly this in North Texas by starting worker-owned collaborative business in areas where people most need the opportunity build wealth for themselves and their neighbors. Where are these areas in North Texas? ESRI’s Mapping Incomes StoryMap provides a useful tool for answering that question. By selecting the “Nationwide” option and then zooming in to North Texas, we can view the distribution of annual income among households in North Texas. Each dot in the diagram represents a census tract. The dots are color coded in four tiers.

Looking more closely at the upper and lower end of the economic spectrum, this StoryMap highlights the degree to which census tract varies from the national average.

As both visualizations demonstrate, the southeast quadrant of Fort Worth and the south central area of Dallas provide high concentrations of households living at or below $25,000 per year. These are the target areas for Equity Project worker-owned cooperative businesses.

Three things I keep reminding myself

I had the chance to share an afternoon with some kindred spirits last week. That kind of conversation is always refreshing and, sometimes, discouraging as we idealists often face similar challenges. Those challenges often arise in the course of doing work that is good and necessary, but now well funded in our current economic system. Thinking about that reality led me back to three things I believe, but often forget about.

  1. There is more than enough money in the world to do all the good I can imagine (and more!). It’s just all occupied doing other things at the moment.
  2. We (in the US) live in an economic system that is exceptionally effective at redistributing money.
  3. We can use this property of our financial system to redistribute money toward equity and generosity instead of just leaving it to run its natural, extractive operation.

Easy as 1,2,3, right? Of course not, that’s why I have to keep reminding myself about it! Think you might like to join in figuring out ways to make this kind of thing happen, log into Facebook and join the Capitalism for Good discussion group.

time to try something different

This blog post was originally published by my friends at The Missional Wisdom Foundation in the 6/16/2017 issue of their weekly e-newsletter, Wisdom for the Way.

Paul Batalden said, “Every system is perfectly designed to get the results it gets.” That being the case, it seems that our economic is perfectly designed to multiply wealth for those who have it, while holding the promise of wealth just beyond the reach of those without. I find this reality troubling and find myself under increasing compulsion to do something about it. I call that something “The Equity Project.”

Redesigning the economic system so that it brings life to everyone in it is a tall order, though.  Instead, the goal of The Equity Project is to use the systems currently available (free-market economics, philanthropic investment, and community development) to break cycles of poverty and replace them with sustainable cycles of life. The centerpiece of this approach is the cooperative business structure, where employees themselves provide governance and ownership, aligning business decisions with the long-term interest of those within the business.

Cooperatives are common structures in certain niches in the US economy such as rural electric service providers, small-scale farming, and credit unions. Internationally, The Mondragon Corporation is one of the best examples available of taking cooperatives to a large scale.  Started in 1956, Mondragon currently generates annual revenues approaching 12 Billion € and employs a workforce in excess of 74,000 people, making it the 10th largest business group in Spain.

On a smaller scale, and closer to home, the Evergreen Cooperatives in Cleveland, Ohio provide another remarkable example.  “The Cleveland model” relies on a partnership between philanthropy, local government, and “anchor institutions” to establish and grow businesses designed to provide employment and build wealth in underinvested neighborhoods.  So far, Evergreen has launched the following ventures:

  • Evergreen Cooperative Laundry – high-capacity, commercial laundry services in the Cleveland area
  • Evergreen Energy Solutions – turn-key energy efficiency improvements for residential and commercial buildings
  • Green City Growers – leafy-green produce for area food services, with the capacity to serve all food service providers in a 150 mile radius of Cleveland

Evergreen came to life when the City of Cleveland, and the city-focused Cleveland Foundation, assessed their efforts to address poverty and homelessness. They were not satisfied with the results and wanted to try something different.  They partnered with Ted Howard of Democracy Collaborative, to develop agrass-roots approach to economic development.[i]

In a recent conversation with Ted Howard, I learned that the inclusion of anchor institutions in the development process was one of the central innovations in the Cleveland model. University Hospitals, The Cleveland Clinic, and Case Western Reserve University formed the core group of institutional stakeholders for Evergreen and represent combined annual procurements of $392.8 Million.[ii] The idea was to provide a product or service that could effectively serve the need represented by some portion of that budget and, in the process, improve the lives of the people involved.

Seems like a fantastic plan if you’re in Cleveland. What about everywhere else? While I’ve shared a story from Cleveland, I’m willing to bet that somewhere near where you live we could find:

  • Neighborhoods left behind by economic and commercial development
  • Place-based institutions with a long-term interest in the success of their surrounding community
  • People who want to work but struggle to find jobs near their homes
  • People born into poverty but desperate to break free of it

I’m willing to bet you might even have names and faces to go with those descriptions because, to my shame and dismay, those situations are everywhere.  I’d like to do something about that. Let’s work on it together!

[i] (The Evergreen Cooperative Corporation, 2016) The Evergreen Cooperative Corporation. (2016). About Us. Retrieved from Evergreen Cooperatives: http://www.evgoh.com/about-us/

[ii] (Wright, Hexter, & Downer, 2016, p. 9) Wright, W., Hexter, K. W., & Downer, N. (2016). Cleveland’s Greater University Circle Initiative: An Anchor-Based Strategy for Change. Cleveland, OH: The Democracy Collaborative. Retrieved 05 10, 2017, from http://democracycollaborative.org/greater-university-circle-initiative