Cooperative Economics | "Impact-First" Investing | Transformative Leadership

The U.S. Shared Ownership Landscape:14 Cooperative Funds You Can Invest In

Pioneering Alternative Ownership Fund Mangers

In the next few weeks, Elizabeth Garlow and I will be releasing our first report under our new Francesco Collaborative banner. The report distills the insights from our Livable Future Investing workshop we facilitated a few months ago with 25 leading Catholic asset holders.

For me, the release of this report marks the beginning of a new chapter. One where I’m hoping to take more time to make sense of the growing shared ownership ecosystem through some writing and more intentional convening and relationship building between practitioners, investors, and leading change-makers.

Here is an excerpt from pages 16-17 of the report:

With the deleterious impacts of capital supremacy increasingly apparent, cooperatives offer a stakeholder-owned firm model.

Co-ops have achieved meaningful market penetration in a few areas: multi-family housing (25% are co-ops), credit unions (hold 10% of household savings), rural electric cooperatives (13% of customers), insurance mutuals (underwrite 25-30% of many types of insurance), agriculture supplies and marketing (17% are co-ops). The strength of these established cooperatives has developed some practical infrastructure in the US. 

Co-ops + Investing

Conventional investing in cooperatives has been limited since capital providers focused on upside returns, liquidity events, or exit opportunities aren’t likely to find those in many co-ops. That said, investors looking for stable returns have found good investments in agriculture co-ops (i.e. Organic Valley – raised $90M in recent round), producer and worker co-ops (i.e. Equal Exchange – 30 years at ~5% return), purchasing co-ops (i.e CCA Global – a multi-billion dollar independent retailer co-op), co-op loan funds (i.e. Cooperative Fund of New England, LEAF, Shared Capital), among others.

Multi-stakeholder and social justice oriented co-ops are beginning to offer more options for impact investors seeking bold change. For example, Namaste Solar (worker owned 100+ workers), Cabot Creamery (leading B-corp and co-op community leader), Amics Solar (purchasing co-op for independent solar installers) are amongst the growing group of co-ops that also choose to be B-corps.

Employee Ownership

Increasing recognition of unsustainable wealth inequality and the systemic tendencies for the poor to get poorer while the rich get hyper-rich is driving a closer look at employee ownership as a wealth building opportunity for a broader base. The “Silver Tsunami” (retiring baby boomers and the trillions of dollars in businesses assets they’re exiting) is also driving a significant opportunity for conversion of existing businesses to employee ownership models

ESOPs have been a well-developed tax-advantaged structure for 40+ years. ESOPs have demonstrated their wealth building potential for millions of families. It’s this track record that has brought entrepreneurs like Phil Reeves and Todd Leverette from Apis & Heritage Capital Partners to with the goal of using ESOPs as a tool to build wealth for Black and Brown communities in the U.S.  With their Legacy Business Fund (spun out of the Democracy at Work Institute), they are raising a traditional Private Equity style fund that had a successful first close with $30 million in June 2021. 

List of Shared Ownership Funds

Shared Ownership FundsLocation / GeographyEstimated Size CategoryImpact Focus: Co-op, ESOP, Racial Justice, Environment
Apis & Heritage – Legacy Fund IDC & National$20M – $50MESOP, Racial Justice
Kachuwa Impact FundDenver, CO$20M – $50MCo-op, Environment
Cooperative Fund of New EnglandBoston, MA$20M – $50MCo-op
Equitable Economy FundBoston, MA$5M – $20MCo-op
Obran CooperativeBaltimore, MD$5M – $20MWorker Co-op
Project Equity Fund IICA & National$5M – $20MCo-op, ESOP
Seed CommonsNational$20M – $50MWorker Co-op
Main Street Phoenix ProjectPhoenix, AZ$5M – $20MWorker Co-op
Local Enterprise Assistance FundBoston, MA$5M – $20MCo-op, Racial Justice
Shared CapitalMinneapolis, MN$5M – $20MCo-op
The Industrial CommonsNorth Carolina$5M – $20MCo-op, Environment
Resident Owned Communities NH & National$5M – $20MCo-op
Kensington Corridor TrustPhiladelphia, PA$5M – $20MCommunity
Mission Driven Finance – Fund IICA & National$5M – $20MDiverse
Source: OwnershipMatters.net & FrancescoCollaborative.org

These pioneering shared ownership fund managers and entrepreneurs are some of the most hopeful signs of light that I’m seeing. If you feel like I might be missing someone you know, please let me know.

My prayer is that within 5-10 years this list is 10 times as long and with at least 2 orders of magnitude more capital.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: