Fishing with Francis: 142 and …

As I listened to the gospel of Matthew 4:19 this weekend inviting us to be “fishers of men” — I heard not only Jesus’ voice, but also Pope Francis’s invitation:

“I ask you to be protagonists of this transformation… I ask you to build the future, to work for a better world.” ~ Pope Francis

I’d like to invite you to join me in developing our response to Pope Francis’s 2019 letter and invitation to people of good will everywhere.

Where We’re At

  • Screen Shot 2019-12-12 at 9.09.52 AM2,500+ young economists and entrepreneurs responded to Pope Francis’s invitation to meet with him in Assisi, Italy March 26-28, 2020 — here’s the event website.
  • 250 friends responded with interest to an invitation to gather that Elizabeth Garlow, Elias Crimm, and I sent out in November & December 2019
  • 155 people gathered virtually on December 16, 2019 – see video here. Speakers included:
    • Amy Uelman – “Pope Francis’ Inspiration for a New Economy: the Economy of Communion as a Case Study”
    • Nathan Schneider – “Cooperatives as Alternative Economic Praxis”
    • Melissa Hoover, Democracy at Work Institute – “The Emergence of Alternative Praxis”
    • Brian McLaren: “The Signs of our Times: Finding roots for a more just Economy.”
    • More than 50 of the attendees stayed on for an additional 30 minutes because they wanted to get more involvedScreen Shot 2019-12-16 at 1.24.19 PM
  • 142 people have joined the collaborative Slack workspace – you can join here as well. Thinkers, practitioners, observers — all are invited.
    • Conversations about Laudato Si, “Parishes-as-nodes”, “Mapping What’s working”, “Churches and Co-op Link Asset Mapping”, impact investing, changing the narrative, neighborhood projects, reading circles, are well underway — and looking for new voices and contributors.

What I’ve learned

I’ve spent the last 8 years organizing faith communities and schools to work together on their economic life. Mostly I’ve focused on where they spend their money (www.CPA.coop) and how they can make better decisions by coming together with peers wrestling with similar questions.

I’m excited to bring this learning to the broader movement-building space that Pope Francis has invited us to convene.

One Lesson Learned: The more we can hone in on exactly what problems we are wrestling with and specifically what difficult decisions we are facing, the more we can empathize, learn from, and join together with peers to make more powerful vehicles for change.

(For example, our CPA purchasing co-op has helped 121 participants come together on $17.3 million in contract spend and shift 58% of that to local small businesses — see our 2019 Impact Report here)

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What I enjoy the most

I want to help unleash people’s big project ideas, especially in this world of new economic praxis.

  • For example, I’ve loved accompanying Greg Brodsky as he launches, shepherds and brings on a co-director for Start.coop.
  • I love helping organizers and entrepreneurs get the resources they need to make their big ideas come to life.
  • I met Hays Witt in 2014. He advised me on a few things and we stayed in touch regularly. In 2018 he told me he wanted to go to business school. I tried to dissuade him and instead encouraged him on his passion project. He was about to incorporate as an LLC in late 2018, but I told him I’d help him find money if he did a co-op. He got into the first cohort at the Start.coop accelerator, which gave him $15,000 and the business frameworks he was seeking.
    • In 2019, Drivers Seat — a driver-owned cooperative committed to data democracy — came to life.
    • “We empower gig workers and local governments to make informed decisions with insights from their rideshare data.”

Virtual Workshops can Unleash New Projects

I created a CPA Incubator Workshop in October 2019, and from that have launched a new CPA Co-op in Boston and supported entrepreneurs in Miami, Cleveland, Detroit, Denver, Los Angeles, Lancaster, and Chicago in discerning whether this model might be for them. Screen Shot 2019-12-10 at 2.36.26 PM(You can meet the amazing cohort (see some of their faces above) by reading their work here.)

Right now, I’m looking for leaders in Boston and Chicago to help us with a multi-regional effort to aggregate our electricity consumption to build a powerful vehicle for change in our energy sector. Screen Shot 2020-01-25 at 4.09.20 PMWe’re calling all churches, schools, and any community-oriented property owner to submit their electricity bills to join us.

Here’s a 1-page flyer: “Power in Group Purchasing” – for folks in the Chicagoland region.

Movement Ecology: Where do you want to be?

I’ve learned that it’s helpful to consider the broader Movement Ecology. Where do you most want to contribute your gifts? I’ve learned that where I like to play the most is with people that want to create real alternatives.

I’ve begun to see and feel what leadership development really looks like. I’ve begun to learn what good facilitation tools feel like in practice — from Seth Godin’s Akimbo workshops to Technology of Participation (ToP) Methods for group Action Planning to deeper reflective spaces with Peter Block’s 6 Questions.

I’ve begun to try to take a more “Emergent Strategy” approach to my work — thanks to the wonderful wisdom adrienne maree brown shared in her book: Emergent Strategy.

What’s Next?

Here are some ways you can get involved:

  • We gather again on February 19, 2020 at 7:00pm ET (virtually via video / Zoom) – RSVP here so we can keep you informed — even if you aren’t able to make it: http://bit.ly/FrancescoEconomyUSFeb19
  • March 2020 – I will be headed to Assisi with a few others and will be sharing some videos / quick 1-2 minute interviews with others I meet — likely via LinkedIn — feel free to connect with me there, if we aren’t already connected.
  • April 2020 – We’ll likely have another virtual video call in April.
  • May 2020 – Several of us may be at this Faith+Finance gathering in San Antonio: https://faithfinance.net/
  • June 2020: I hope to launch a workshop for leaders and investors hungry to actualize their most important work. (Email me if you’re interested – felipe@cpa.coop)
  • October 6, 2020 – We’ll be gathering in Washington DC. Please Save the Date. The National Coop Business Association has their Co-op Impact conference on October 7-8, 2020.

So, where does that leave us?

My sense is that people are looking for others with an idea, a plan, and a deep desire to make something worth talking about.

We’re soliciting your ideas to lead a small group session on February 19th — share your pitch here.

I hope you’ll join us on February 19 or join our Slack Workspace.

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I look forward to seeing you there.

A Gift That’s Difficult to Find

“Most of the time, people want to be seen, understood and appreciated. And if we can offer someone dignity, we give them a gift that’s difficult to find.”

This Christmas, I took the risk and wrote a few personal notes (instead of gifts).

As I wrote, I found myself surprised how difficult it can be to really see, understand and offer specific appreciation for others that we’re not used to really seeing and appreciating.

I found myself looking into a mirror and seeing how my own judgements about others — even those close to me — can cloud my ability to really understand them. As a result, I wasn’t able to readily write the letter that I most wanted to offer.

That said, I think the attempt of offering another that dignity of being seen — might still be one of the most important gifts we can offer one another.

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Here’s the full post from Seth Godin’s blog today:

Towards Peace

Peace might not mean getting everyone else to do what you want them to do.

Instead, it might involve understanding that people don’t always want what we want and don’t often believe what we believe. Everyone has their own narrative and is struggling with their own fears.

We can begin there.

Most of the time, people want to be seen, understood and appreciated. And if we can offer someone dignity, we give them a gift that’s difficult to find.

How many of you are there?

Tonight at dinner a friend of a friend asked me: “How many of you are there?”

He’s a theology graduate student who heard me talking about the cooperative work I do and also my excitement about this Francesco Economy convening on Monday. Screen Shot 2019-12-12 at 9.09.52 AM.png

“Are there many others talking about Catholic Social Teaching and economics and business?”

His question is valid.

I’ve felt it myself. Haven’t you?

About 9 months ago a cousin forwarded me an email about a small group he had gotten invited to with the subject line: “CST + New Economy”.

In the invite, it talked about a contemplative meditation and then each person would be invited to give a 5 minute TED Talk as a way of introducing themselves. I was ecstatic — these must be my people. I asked my cousin if he could write to the organizer and tell him that I also wanted to join the group.

After my first meeting with that group, I felt compelled to write.

More recently, I’ve realized one of the gifts I can offer is my propensity to act. I’m willing to take risks to just start something. I’m willing to call people together, facilitate a highly interactive space, and see what emerges.

So in November when I accepted to go to Italy for the Francesco Economy event in March 2020 and then I realized there were dozens of events happening all over the world but nothing being organized in the United States. I called Elizabeth and Nathan. They each had been talking about writing something or trying to pull something together.

I told them we had to put a date on the calendar. We just had to set a date. After some significant back and forth we eventually found a date and a time.

 

Over the past 6 weeks, I’ve gradually begun finding more and more people like me. By shamelessly emailing everybody I know who is Catholic, or who cares about Economic Justice or Catholic Social Teaching or Pope Francis… word has gradually started to spread. We’ve had group calls with 8 people multiple times and gradually a small group of people has similarly spread the word through their networks.

I’m finding that there are many people wrestling with questions of faith, our economy, and what we can do to change things. In fact, I think there are many many more than we think there are.

My hope with this gathering on December 16, and on February 19th and hopefully more throughout 2020 — is that we, collectively might begin to paint the landscape of thinkers and practitioners that feel animated by Pope Francis’ letter.

My hope is that more of us might encounter one another to find inspiration and collaborators.

My hope is that we might come together to collaboratively brainstorm and begin building pathways into a future that is more beautiful than we can imagine.

The stakes are too high. We’re heading into an unlivable future. We know that. We also know that we must be the protagonists of this transformation.

I hope you’ll join us.

A Few Essential Ingredients for a Purchasing Cooperative

Composting & Buying “Compostable” Paper Goods in Durham, NC

A local environmental leader, Crystal Dreisbach, Founder and Executive Director of Don’t Waste Durham, invited me to join her and two local restaurant and food truck owners to imagine how we could help them purchase biodegradable plates, cups, and carry-out containers as a co-op.

The basic problem? 

Tim Morris, owner and operator of Caffe Bellezza, started the meeting: “The compostable cups I buy cost 200% or more of what their paper counterparts cost.” He continued, “If it was just a matter of 15-25% more, it would be much more palatable.”  Joe Choi, owner of Namu, said, “I have to pay 45 cents per bowl. The compostables cost so much more, I have to increase prices. Fortunately, my customers are willing to pay more for the compostables, but it’s a lot.”

The frustration was clear.

While many of Joe’s customers are willing to pay a premium, he did feel like he had lost some sales over the increased prices. Tim, whose coffee shop is much smaller, is paying 30 cents per 12 oz coffee cup with a Java Jacket and lid. Whereas Crystal shared that a larger coffee shop, three-location Cocoa Cinnamon, is paying 15 cents since they buy 12,000 per month.  Buying at a much higher volume can make a difference for price.

 

Compost pick-up was another major pain point.

Joe shared this experience: “The service for compost hauling used to cost me $600 per month. They increased it to $900/month when I had to increase the service level. And then just a couple weeks ago, after Compost Now bought the smaller company I was using, they increased the price to $1,800 per month.”

 

Volume and Basic Feasibility Economics

We talked about how, between the 3 of them, they could easily come up with 100 restaurant owners and food trucks that they knew personally. We estimated an average spend of $4,000 on products that they might switch to compostables, if the price and quality was reasonably good. So we estimated $400,000 per year of purchases and a 2.5% rebate of $10,000 to coordinate & organize the effort.

For the compost hauling, we estimated that the average trash and recycling pick-up cost was $350 per month and the average compost hauling was $300 per month or about $7500 per year combined. Multiplied by about 30 restaurants we thought we could easily engage $225,000 per year with a 10% rebate of $22,500 to organize the co-op.

We quickly sketched a path to how this co-op for compostables and composting could begin to generate meaningful revenue to pay for the organizer entrepreneuer.

This vision relies on a few key assumptions:

  1. The facts are in our favor. With 100 buyers of compostables and 30 buyers for composting & waste pick-up and a cumulative participation of $600,000+ per year, this co-op could:
    1. Negotiate meaningfully better pricing and terms, so the value to the customers would be sufficient for them to join
    2. Find suppliers and vendors who would agree to our terms. They would offer relatively small order minimums, an easy path to affiliation with the co-op, reasonable delivery terms, payment terms, return policy, and they would agree to pay the rebate required to fund the co-op in an on-going way
    3. Tap into sufficient market competition. There are enough providers that want our collective business that we could use competitive negotiating to get what we’re looking for — or at least a minimum viable level to make it workable. Assessing the minimum viable level is one of the hardest parts of this calculation, but is essential to the early stages of a purchasing cooperative.
  2. The buyers trust that the opportunity is real and worth their time. The art of organizing this process relies on:
    1. Making sure we’re in close relationship with critical “early adopter” and “influencer” restaurant and food truck owners. Since the stakes are highest for them, they need to be at the table each step of the way to hear pushback from the suppliers and develop their own, more nuanced understanding of the market, so that they can make a compelling argument to their peers about why they need to organize.
    2. Having enough data from a variety of buyers, from small food trucks to large restaurants, to extrapolate total potential purchase volumes with reasonable accuracy, while still being conservative enough to earn credibility with suppliers when more than we said actually show up to make the first few group purchases.
  3. The suppliers believe us and are eager to serve us. When negotiating and talking with suppliers, providers, or distributors, they must feel that the opportunity with this group of buyers is viable. This occurs through sharing large projections of total spend that gets their attention, as well as specific anecdotes of real buyer needs and challenges that we’re solving through this process. We must present as established and prepared so the seller will believe that we’re going to be successful.
  4. Relationships are key. The art of this negotiation also relies on an iterative process of getting to know suppliers and what they can and won’t do for us at certain levels of market power, leverage, and percent of their total revenue. We have to make sure that we’re relating to a person who’s up high enough in the company that they can make decisions with their own discretion and values and be impacted by a human argument.

 

Next Steps: Organizing More Buyers

Recruiting buyers actually starts with talking to providers to get a sense for their constraints, openness, and interest. What volumes would make up a meaningful chunk of their business? What value could the co-op add to their lives to make their job easier?

After that, let’s say the critical numbers are around $300,000 and we think we can do that through 12 of the larger & more influential buyers. Can we get 12 buyers to believe this might be possible, such that they show up to a meeting and follow up by sharing their spend data, what would make it worth it to them to switch, and what would hold them back.Once the organizer builds a successful network of 12, then the growth of the co-op becomes a matter of scale. Do the same thing, just do it bigger!

Because ultimately, the person who is in the middle of coordinating all of this is the essential ingredient. Even if purchasers and suppliers are aligned, without the right broker, the opportunity could fail. This person needs to be an intermediary that can deliver trustworthy, believable, and disciplined follow-through, negotiate well with all parties, and balance relational instinct with ruthless savvy when it comes to the numbers.

None of these skills rely on natural talent. CPA Co-op is here to train and support “Organizer Entrepreneurs” who have the passion to make a difference and change our local economy.

How to Build Awesome Leadership Teams

Too often, I find myself unclear on what makes great leaders. And how I can help great leaders work well as a team.

This is a big problem for me, especially with the appetite I have to make change. If you’re building an organization, a movement, or care about making change in your school, community, or company, this framework and basics might help clarify your thinking.

Screen Shot 2019-08-22 at 10.25.35 AMThis post is based on my notes from a training I went to at the Ayni Institute last week.

What are the three key steps to building great leadership teams?

  1. Recognize Good Leadership
  2. Find & Enroll Good People
  3. Create Good Team Dynamics

1. How to Recognize Good Leadership

First of all, let’s start with a definition I recently picked up from Ayni Institute, building off of work from Marshall Ganz and the work of Metro IAF.

Leadership = accepting responsibility to create conditions that enable others to achieve purpose in the face of uncertainty.

We’ll come back to this, but I think the elements of (1) accepting responsibility, (2) creating conditions to enable others, and then (3) the focus on achieving purpose in the face of uncertainty are vital starting points.

In some contexts, we are hiring leaders, in other contexts, we’re recruiting and building teams of volunteer leaders.

For both contexts, I think there are 5 key things we should look for:

  1. Deep Motivation.  Do they know why they’re doing what they do? Why this work?  Why do they have this deep, intrinsic motivation? Can they articulate this?
  2. Vision. A sense of what they want / what they believe is possible.  Vision isn’t necessarily the ability to communicate this, but that they have a sense of the way things could be.
  3. Anger / Grief. Do they have a deep emotional connection to the work. The point being it’s not just in their head, but that they feel it in their heart. For example, I have grief about the state of school lunches, because of the daily struggles I face with helping my daughter make healthy eating choices.
  4. Patience and Sense of Humor. While anger / grief are a key component to why somebody is motivated to do the work, it’s also equally important that the person also has patience and a sense of humor, because things take time. There will be a lot of loss for most campaigns that are trying to make meaningful change. We want leaders who will be in it for the long-term.
  5. Accountability. Do they do what they say? One of the most important things you simply cannot train for. Recognizing when people are accountable to what they say is essential. Screen Shot 2019-08-22 at 10.25.54 AM

Since going to this training at Ayni last week, I’ve been seeing these five elements in leaders everywhere — from folks I work with to people I’m trying to recruit. It’s amazing how simple and helpful just having a clear sense of what makes a strong leader. How would you evolve and/or add to this list for your context?

2. Finding and Enrolling Good People

“Who you’re working with precedes what your working on.”

This jarred me when I heard it last week, but the more I think about it, the more it resonates.

It basically asks the simple, but essential question: Who are your people?

  1. Know Your Turf. What’s the geography? Who are the institutions? What’s the landscape you’re working in? Where might you find the kinds of people you’re most looking to work with Do you have a mental picture of the kind of person you’d like to recruit? I’d want the person to be just like so-and-so… because she is X, Y and Z.
  2. Play the Field. Don’t invite everybody to the team. Too often we’re tempted to do this. Set a high bar for who you invite. Do they do real work? Do they accept responsibility? You can try people out by setting low bar commitments. Who can you invite to come to this gathering? What kind of people do they bring? Who do they know? Can they think of a list of people they have good relationships with and how do they describe the work they’ve done together? Really take your time and do your assessment before you invite people to join the team.
  3. Look Behind People. Where do they fit into other things / departments / organizations / communities? You have to ask other people that know them or have worked with them? Try to make real assessments based on results in other contexts. Sometimes it won’t be obvious where to look or who to ask, but take the time to check around & see where they fit.
  4. Proposition Them. You have to ask them to lead with you. This can be the hardest and most important step. You need to make a real, intentional invitation. For this to go well, I’ve found you need to affirm and name what you’ve seen in them. Take the time to write down and share with them what you recognize about their leadership, their motivation, grief, patience, vision, and reputation of being accountable. Simply naming these things for them will be a kind of affirmation and also help them gain perspective on who they are and what you see in them. Then invite them to join you to be part of making this team. Tell them how you want it to be different and while it may be hard, why you believe in it. Also name what might be in it for them. “I want to invite you to this team, because I think this team can support you in this and that way and help you actualize more of your full potential.”

There’s an element of leadership that’s about spiritual awakening — allowing people and inviting people to reflect more deeply on why they’re here — their deeper purpose and mission — and inviting them to live into that more fully.

The idea in a good team is that it allows you to fulfill your full potential.

3. Create Good Team Dynamics

  1. Culture. Early and intentionally setting your culture might be one of the most important things you can do. What does this mean?
    1. Decision-making. How do the decisions get made? Do you use the advice process?  Or what is your process? Even if it’s simple, naming it together is better than not talking about this. Otherwise, the person with the most informal power will set the tone of the culture around decision-making for you.
    2. Rituals and Shared Practice. For us at CPA, we’ve gotten into the habit of quarterly retreats as a staff and making sure we do some improv exercises / games at each retreat as a way to be silly, have fun, and use more creative sides of our brains together. (And because we have a great team member who loves leading improv games.) Another practice is making intentional time to evaluate after each meeting we have. Even if it’s just 5 minutes, we try to make it a practice that we share one feeling word on how we felt the meeting went. We try to draw a few takeaways, lessons, things that could have been improved and ask ourselves: “Did we get the reaction we wanted?” An organizing mentor used to say: “If it’s not worth evaluating, then it’s not worth doing.” In other words, we’re creating a culture of continuous learning.  What are the shared practices that make up your ideal team culture?
    3. Screen Shot 2019-08-22 at 11.30.46 AM

      Find ways to Relationship Build. This is the bedrock of our team culture. Making intentional time to deepen our relationships with one another, and also taking time in our interactions with clients, investors, everybody — to build relationships. So often our culture focuses on the transactional, the tasks that need to get done, the project management to do list, the goals we have to achieve our bigger purpose. However, if we don’t take time for the relational, we miss the opportunity to form a deeper emotional connection that might be essential for the unexpected down the road.

  2. Accountability. What are the processes for holding each other accountable? How do you create space for mutual accountability? Is it team check-ins? Shared reflection on goals? A periodic write-up on the meetings/conversations we had and where our latest thinking is as a result of those? Did we do what we said we’d do on the timeline? If not, what happened? Why?
  3. Training. Doing a training together can be an interesting way to set a standard for the work and in a way be another form of accountability. It offers a great way to combat awkward power dynamics or experience differentials in a group. If everybody goes to the same training, agrees to the new, common set of expectations, then there is a new baseline.
  4. Meetings with Purpose. Ensure your meetings have purpose in a broader arc of what you’re trying to accomplish. Make sure folks know why they’re coming to your meeting, what the purpose is, the intended reaction(s), decisions to be made are ,and that they have all the necessary information / reports in advance so that the time in the meeting isn’t sharing information or something that could have been shared in advance. For example, the IAF “campaign cycle” goes through five stages. Your meetings might have more purpose if you fit them within your broader campaign roadmap:
    1. Relationship Building
    2. Research, Cut the Issue
    3. Strategy
    4. Action
    5. Evaluation

Here’s another example of a Campaign Cycle from Marshall Ganz at Harvard University.

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If you found this helpful, I recommend:

1. Checking out your local community organizing affiliate – with Metro IAF or otherwise

2. Learning more about Marshall Ganz and his online courses / trainings: https://online-learning.harvard.edu/course/leadership-organizing-and-action-leading-change

3. Checking out the offerings of the Ayni Institute and their research on social movements https://ayni.institute/training/

4. From a more business angel, the work of Seth Godin,  his blog, podcast and his Akimbo Workshops. For example here’s a post about how things can be different for your organization & how it starts not at the bottom, but at the foundation.

Or think about joining us at the Community Purchasing Alliance: CPA.coop!

 

Carbon Offsets: To Buy or Not To Buy? A Short Guide

Three of my best friends from college just texted me telling me they’re planning to buy carbon offsets and wanted my two cents. The problem is: I’m having difficulty reducing my thoughts to a text.Screen Shot 2019-07-25 at 10.05.12 PM

A little more than 10 years ago, my work as a climate change and clean energy consultant led me to writing a paper on Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Offsets. Screen Shot 2019-07-25 at 10.06.24 PM The more I learned, the more I realized the complexity inherent in trading money for “emissions reductions” in other places. The problems begin with the complexity of the basic criteria for what makes up an offset (additionality, measureability, complete accounting, verifiability, enforceability, permanence).

Here is an excerpt from my 2010 IHS CERA Report where I explain these 6 criteria.

Assuming you’re looking for a less technical response, I like this below excerpt from Josie Wexler of Ethical Consumer’s “A Short Guide to Carbon Offsetsbecause she emphasizes some DIY offsetting options and also reminding us that the most important thing is to reduce our own emissions.

Recommendations from Ethical Consumer

We recommend offsetting at the level of individual projects (rather than just giving to a company’s whole portfolio) because this is the level at which there is most information available. Accordingly, most of this feature deals with how best to choose such a project. In the process it also looks at criticisms of specific types of offsets, and of the whole concept.

If you want to buy official offsets, we recommend giving to Gold Standard-approved wind or solar energy projects. You can find Gold Standard VER projects on the Gold Standard website and you can buy Gold Standard CERs directly through the UN’s platform.

Alternately, if you fancy DIY offsetting and want to give to educational projects, the fantastic website Skeptical Science (which largely tackles climate sceptic misinformation) lists some that are crowdsourcing.

Lastly, you should always take promised emission cuts with a pinch of salt, bearing in mind that independent research has cast doubt on them, even in the case of the most reputable standards.

The best thing to do is reduce your own emissions in the first place.

Does it matter if it’s less than a drop in the bucket?

Voluntary vs. Compliance

One of the biggest problems I have is that individual purchases of carbon offsets are like a fraction of a fraction of a contribution to what’s needed.

Carbon offsets were created under the Kyoto Protocol’s Clean Development Mechanism as a way for countries to comply with their emissions “cap”. Because entities in the EU and in other places have had to comply with these regulations, its created a need for offsets for “compliance” purposes. The vast majority of offsets are purchased from “Compliance” buyers.

The rest of us are “voluntary” buyers — including companies and universities and others.

Then of the “voluntary” buyers, companies buy 98% of the market and individuals (like you and me) buy less than 1%.

Again, to quote the Ethical Consumer:

Corporations, mostly multinationals, bought 98% of voluntary carbon offsets in 2015. Individuals bought less than 1% of them, and their share has been shrinking.

Despite the impressive growth of the voluntary offset market, its current effects are not even drops in the bucket of what is necessary for meaningful climate-change mitigation.

But something is still something, right?

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Well, if you want the mainstream, neoclassical economic analysis on carbon offsets, here’s an articulation of the public good and the free rider problem by Matthew J. Kotchen in the Standford Social Innovation Review “Offseting Green Guilt.”

His conclusion is as follows:

My own view is that purchasing carbon offsets is better than nothing, assuming that you are careful about where you buy them. Yet when considering ways to reduce your own carbon footprint, you should compare offsetting to the more certain alternative of directly reducing your own emissions. As offset provider Carbonfund.org states, your motto should be, “Reduce what you can, offset what you can’t.”

If I wanted to encourage you in purchasing offsets, I’d sign off here, given that I like Carbonfund.org’s great tag line.

However, I’ve become quite a skeptic and I believe it’s important to also read through the critique of carbon markets and offsets in particular. The Corner House in the UK provides one of the better critiques on carbon trading.

The report describes the financial aspects of carbon trading and how the carbon market has changed over the past few years as new interest groups and complex financial arrangements have become involved. As a result, carbon quota prices have become more volatile, speculation in the carbon market has increased, and the market is increasingly delinked from its original objective of providing an effective cost-management tool to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

Their synopsis document is called, “Designed to Fail“. Here’s an excerpt from page 7:

Advocates of the offset system point to the many world-wide carbon-reduction projects that are funded by the system; the savings to industry (and thus consumers and society at large); the flow of money from North to South; the export of new technologies to developing economies; and how innovation in low carbon technologies has been incentivised. FERN [the author] believes that these claimed benefits very rarely exist in reality, and are heavily outweighed by the significant, systemic failure of offsetting to reduce emissions at all, which we discuss in the last section of this paper.

Another point they make is that “of the US $ 144 billion carbon market, only US $ 3,370 million goes to project developers and only a fraction of that will go to communities who host projects.”

I think some of their critiques help remind us that fundamentally carbon offsets weScreen Shot 2019-07-25 at 10.04.37 PMre created to make it easier for us to do more “cost effective” emission reductions. The reality is also that emissions reductions may be  cheaper in other places in the Global South.

Thanks to our mainstream neoclassical economic theories and practitioners — with our focus on markets, free trade, individuals, & utility maximization — we’ve created a carbon trading market allowing us to continue doing what we’re doing with our fossil intensive energy infrastructure and pay others to make reductions.

The challenge is: can we create a commodity from a reduction in emissions?

This brings us back to the point of what are the 6 criteria for offsets: additionality, measureability verifiability, complete accounting, enforceability, permanence.

Is our money well spent investing in the financial markets creating these offsets projects, the financiers, administrators, marketers, developers, and verifiers? Screen Shot 2019-07-25 at 10.04.43 PM

Is it better spent on a specific project you do in your house to reduce some of your emissions? Or a project with somebody you know? In your city or in a community you have relationship with and an understanding of abroad?  Or might our money be better spent on advocacy or organizing? If we could pass climate policy — with a cap on emissions — on state or federal levels — that would do the most good. What about giving $10 to the Chesapeake Climate Action Network — they’re one of the local groups who I most respect in their organizing and advocacy work. On a national & international level, I believe 350.org has done and continues to do some incredible work. For me it comes down to building power and better vehicles for change.  So that’s where I’m investing my money. What are the vehicles I believe are capable of building the power needed to help people, institutions, systems make the hard decisions/investments to decarbonize? And what are the paths to getting states, regions, countries to implement the policy and regulatory changes we need to decarbonize our electric & transportation sectors?I have a few ideas… but I’ll leave that for another post.

Livable Future Insurance: Re-thinking Risk and Your Investment Choices

Shifting our investments to local, direct investing is really about buying “livable future insurance”.

The concept is basically that we’re dramatically under-calculating the devastating impacts of super storms, heat waves, hurricanes, & all climate related disruptions over the next 20-40 years. The interesting thing is that many of us will be drawing down our retirement savings on a similar time horizon. I think collectively we’re grossly under-calculating the risk of climate, inequality and related disruptions will have on the stock market. The 8% average annual returns of the past 90 years are not what we’re going to see going forward. Not if you believe the most recent IPCC report.

When you add on to this the reality of health care and long-term care costs, food system instability, other unexpected disruptions — the world will be fundamentally different 20-40 years from now. Whether you’re a technologist (with VR and AI), or a malthusian (finite limits of world’s resources) — the world will be different.

But what are we doing to re-think our retirement savings strategies? Our long-term investing? How are we investing for a livable future?

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Here’s my proposal

 

Durham’s Angel Investor / Slow Money Circle

Investing in Black & Latinx Entrepreneurs

  1. We believe the traditional advice on investing needs to be re-thought given current realities with carbon, inequality, refugees, healthcare, elder care, and mass criminalization of black and brown bodies. We need to be more thoughtful about the structures of sin and evil we are complicit in perpetuating by following status quo investment advice.

  2. We believe the stock market is riskier than most people think, and that we need deeper economic, power, financial, & ruthlessly critical analyses to help us create a livable future for our grandkids and their grandkids.

  3. We believe that understanding racism, all of it’s systemic, institutional, interpersonal impacts is fundamental for white folks to do the work to begin to see the ways we’re all bound up in the structures and extractive mindset that keeps us apart, disconnected from deeper work, where we’re from, and where we’re going.

  4. We believe in the redeeming power of real, deep relationships and contemplative practice, especially based on trust, mutual respect, mutual accountability, grace, and mercy.

  5. We need new vehicles, platforms, communities, learning groups, cohorts to do the important, hard thinking on how do we really divest and where do we reinvest? What alternatives are we building?

  6. Capitalism tends toward the concentration and centralization of wealth and we see it all the time in various sectors and industries we’re in (for example John Oliver’s recent piece on Private Equity’s recent entrance into manufactured housing). Can we democratize these sectors, create co-ops, employee ownership structures that can scale?

What collaboratives of deep thinkers are you engaging with to build this next generation of people moving their money in strategic ways to build the power we need for a more just and livable future to be possible?

“Now the other thing we’ll have to do is this: Always anchor our external direct action with the power of economic withdrawal.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

Join the conversation:

https://forms.gle/6CdcT7wgZhvBP1Ww6

Force Multiplier for Racial Equity?

“Imagine a monopoly game with 8 people. Then imagine 4 of the people are forced to leave the room until all the properties are purchased. Those 4 people are invited back in and asked to keep playing. How do you think they’ll do?”

“That’s what it’s like to be black.”

Geraud Staton tells a story like this during his February 2018 Equity in Entrepreneurship talk at ReCity – an innovative co-working space in Durham. Geraud leads LaunchDurham as part of his role at the Helius Foundation, where he helps necessity-driven entrepreneurs grow their businesses and give it their best shot.

To me, this feels like some of the most meaningful work we can do if we want to get serious about racial equity.

Three years ago I met Traveon Smith, Founder of LGC Security because a charter school leader told me she wanted to give him a chance to bid on the security services their school was going to need that year. I was running a purchasing cooperative in Washington DC that helped churches and schools find high-performing local service providers. That Spring one of my projects was helping eight charter schools find a more responsive and reliable security services provider. A week after we released our Request for Proposals, Traveon from LGC sent me his bid. I decided to sit down with him and tell him a bit more about what the schools and our co-op were looking for and to get a sense of his company, his experience, and why he was so eager for this opportunity.

Two minute video telling the story of Traveon’s journey building LGC Security

It turns out LGC was selected by one school that summer. Then another that Fall, and three more that Spring. By 2017, Traveon had landed more than $2 million per year in security contracts from charter schools and was about to win a bid to serve Howard University. His team had grown from 3 to more than 100 full-time staff.

The way I helped Traveon and LGC wasn’t to give them a handout, it was simply to help better understand the needs of the clients he wanted to serve. I gave him insight about how they thought about their schools and what I head learned was most important to them. Then he did the rest. He won their businesses. He’s had to work extremely hard to earn their renewals and referrals and it still isn’t easy. But now he has a business. He’s built some wealth for his family and is offering good employment for more than 100 people that look like him.

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When I think about the twenty public and private-sector leaders I’ve met with in Durham over the past few months, I’ve heard racial equity come up over and over again. But when I ask about what action they’re taking or organizing as a collective, it feels like there is less happening than we’d like.

I want to propose a locally-focused purchasing cooperative owned by and led by Durham leaders. The cooperative would be a collaboration between non-profits, faith institutions, education leaders, property owners, and our largest anchor institutions: universities, health care, and public sector. The focus of the co-op would be three-fold:

    (1) Help community institutions (i.e. churches, small business, non-profits and any others) save money and be more intentional on contracting for facilities, construction, and professional services.
    (2) Build spaces for large buyers to meet, discuss, and hear trusted peers talk about good experiences with local, minority- and women-owned firms. The purpose being to help spread the word about newer and smaller firms that are hungry to grow.
  • (3) Support entrepreneurs in coming together to hear about the landscape of upcoming projects, build trust with peers, perhaps new collaborations, and discuss shared challenges. The purpose would be to direct folks to existing resources and identify gaps.

We recognize Durham and our region is undergoing incredible growth. Construction firms consistently tell me how hungry they are for more skilled workforce.

My hope is that by building a collective vehicle that organizes more of our purchasing, we connect more of the dollars we spend with high-performing businesses owned by people of color.

In the past 4 years, I grew a buying co-op of community institutions that collaborated on utility bills and saved $100,000 to what is today a group of 75 that now shifts $16,000,000 per year and intentionally contracts together with 57% of their spend now going to minority owned businesses.

Working with Durham and other area leaders I believe we can be more intentional with our purchasing and contracting and over the course of a few years shift more than $1,000,000,000 to minority-owned firms.

My aim is to start small, begin with where we’re at today, but gradually build a vehicle for each of us to become more intentional in making our purchasing a force multiplier for change.

This is Why I am Writing

I believe you have a hunch about your most important project. The one that if it really succeeds could really make a difference. It could contribute to something extraordinary.

I’m writing because I want to invite you into a caring community that has also glimpsed this part of themselves and knows they need more support and encouragement to work on this most important project.

As an organizer, I see my work as bringing people together, helping to create and hold the space where we can listen and help each other see what’s really holding us back.

In this blog, I hope to share some of what I feel might be my most important work — reflections on co-op economics, heterodox economics, better ways of thinking about our retirement and college investing and personal finance…Screen Shot 2019-02-02 at 11.17.34 AM

But also to share other ideas and reflections on what I’m trying to do with a young small organization that is desperately trying to find where it can have the most powerful impact — on the economy, in our schools, in our religious communities, in how we collaborate.

The journey has been way more emotional and rigorous than I expected. The stakes keep feeling higher and the fear and anxiety grow. But our potential to do good in a deep and meaningful way is growing as well. My missteps and shortcomings as a manager — something I once thought I’d be great at and really enjoy — are also giving me lots to reflect on. I believe that in sharing all this with you, you might have some advice and suggestions for me.

My hope is that by writing an invitation to you every month (and perhaps a couple other quick notes in between) will feel compelling to you — so much so that you’ll write back and engage.

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Once I hear from enough of you that you’d like to take a leap with me, I’d like to launch an intensive workshop. This would be a curated cohort that will combine the best of what I’ve been learning from a truly transformational leadership workshop I went on in early 2018, mastermind groups I’ve been a part of over the past year, a couple coaches and colleagues who have been shaping me, and my desire — my desperate desire — to see more of you deeply committed and ruthlessly pursuing what you feel might have the biggest chance at really making a very real and significant contribution.

Democratizing Economics: I believe

I believe our economics can embody a greater democracy.Screen Shot 2019-02-02 at 11.17.46 AM

I believe our economic institutions can be more democratic and fair.

I believe the plurality of thought in economics would bring great benefit to society.

 

I believe in culture and that our culture is the sum of the ideas floating around inside of it.

We all know it’s much easier to take in others’ ideas than it is to create and share the unique combination of ideas your experiences bring to bear.

Screen Shot 2019-02-02 at 11.28.26 AMI believe we need to be talking more about certain ideas.

I believe George Saunders rightly characterized our media situation with his essay, “Braindead Megaphone”.

 

I believe our most important work is really matters.

I also know how easy it is to be distracted.

I believe that you spending more of your time on your most powerful work will change you.

 

I believe that creating tension is essential to producing work and creating change.

In organizing, we call it an “agitation”.

Agitation is the art of challenging a person to be true to their values, true to self and to act on those values out of their own self-interest. It is the art of pointing out the contradictions between what a person professes and how she or he acts.” ~Gameliel National Training Manual

I also believe new kinds of connection are possible.

New curated cohorts learning together can cement new relationships that move us deeply.

I believe in coaching, good feedback, holding up a mirror, reflecting back to each other what’s most important and what we see.

 

This is the heart of it: Learning to see.

Learning to see inside ourselves.

Learning to see beyond the next turn.

Learning to really see the other. Be with them and help them see themselves.

Is that a gift you are ready to give?

 

I think our economics needs it.

I think our economy needs it.

Will you join me?