Democratizing Economics | Ethical Investing | Leveling up in our Leadership
Author: Felipe Witchger
Felipe organizes community. He leads a co-op that is laying the foundation for a new economy, helping community institutions level up. By developing leaders, Felipe organizes overlooked communities to build broad community wealth. He especially loves building sandcastles with his 4- and 6-year old kids.
As I read his post, I remembered how I felt when I was in one of Marco Vangelisti’s workshops. The feeling of desperation to have my money be working for a more livable future.
So, I’m writing this post here to give myself the push to divest from the stock market and reinvest as much as I reasonably can before the end of September (giving me enough time to talk with my partner and others about it… :).
I’ve been thinking about and wanting to take my money out of the stock market for a few years (mostly for ethical reasons).
I started to get more serious when my smartest wealth management friend Jack told me he exited the stock market because he felt it was “frothy”. He instead decided to start buying down and paying off his mortgage.
I’ve taken about 1/2 of what I had in index funds out… (like Vanguard’s S&P 500 index fund — which is what my smartest friends told me I should do 3, 5, 10 15 years ago when I first started thinking about this when an employer made me put away retirement money…)
but now, I’m considering going all the way and taking a bunch more out of the S&P 500 and the stock market.
I’m probably not going to go to all cash like this guy suggests — but rather split the rest between a few places I really believe in:
Kachuwa Impact Fund — founded by Blake Jones — one of the top co-op entrepreneurs of our time. He started Namaste Solar — a worker-owned co-op that has done phenomenally well. Amicus Solar — a purchasing co-op. A Clean Energy Credit Union — and now he leads (on a volunteer basis) Kachuwa Impact fund — which is invested about half in real estate and the other half in cooperatives or perpetual trusts — or social impact focused ventures — https://www.kachuwaimpactfund.com/about (Side note, they just agreed to a $15,000 investment in CPA Co-op which pays 5% interest for 10 years). Because I’ve been talking to Blake, I know he’s raising money right now — let me know if you’re interested.
CNote — https://mycnote.com/ — 2.5% – this invests in community development and women-led & women-owned enterprises.
I’m hearing some folks who couldn’t join the Q&A ask this question:
What parts of the workshop do I need to commit to?
The current schedule / Weekly Cycle for the Shared Ownership workshop is this:
Sunday: Prompt for the week released by 7:30am ET
Monday: Large Group Gathering, likely 12pm ET / 9am PT
Tuesday: Post is due
Wednesday: Learning Group Meeting, 9am ET or 12 ET or 8pm ET (alternate time may be available)
Thursday: Comments are due
Saturday: Reflection Scripts are due
We’d like everybody to commit to joining the “Learning Group” (five people) meeting times on Wednesdays (choosing the time they can commit to for the 4 weeks of the workshop).
The large group sessions (on Mondays, final time will be determined tomorrow July 22 and shared in a welcome email) are optional.
In other words, we’d love you to join the workshop, if you are committed to showing up and doing the main bodies of work:
1. Writing a post each week
2. Showing up to your learning group meetings ready & eager to learn & grow & develop the posture of shared leadership & change-making
3. Comment on at least 4 other peers work each week
If you are ready to show up and do those three pieces each week — we’d love to have you.
The other parts of the workshop (your reflection script which seals the learning; the large group sessions which help you build relationships across the workshop) are less essential to the core of the workshop experience… though we very much encourage them to get the most out of the experience.
And to be clear… this workshop is about advancing your own work — whatever project(s) you’re working on right now. The hope is to give you space to write about that work in response to our weekly prompts — and receive (and give) generous feedback.
top influential US cooperative movement leaders (i.e. Doug O’Brien, Paul Hazen, Nathan Schneider)
investors that are re-shaping the way we think about risk & return as well as impact, legacy & a livable future (i.e. Marco Vangelisti, Essential Knowledge 4 Transition)
cutting edge community development & community ownership leaders (i.e. Jennifer Bryant, Alison Powers, )
We’re also drawing in:
young entrepreneurs taking the tools of private equity and applying it tackling the racial wealth gap through employee ownership (i.e. Phil & Todd from Apis & Heritage Capital Partners)
movement leaders from Zebras Unite, who are countering existing startup and venture capital culture by creating alternatives.
wise leaders from spiritual & religious traditions who are thinking on time horizons and scale of impact — that most of us are just starting to dream of (Myra Jackson, Sr. Corinne Floreck; Ryan Strode, Fr. Seamus Finn, Elizabeth Garlow)
The workshop brings together frameworks from movement organizing, cooperative economics, finance, leadership science & change-making & what’s at stake in this moment.
The Workshop Format
The format for this Shared Ownership workshop creates space to advance your own project and get feedback from generous peers reflecting back to you what they see.
We introduce frameworks for leadership & movements for change; but flip the traditional format. The vast majority of your time is interacting with peers and/or doing your most important work.
If you’re hungry to know how shared ownership companies work, legal structures, investment vehicles…. We will have prompts and reading lists that will point you towards those resources. However, the focus will be on creating an environment where you can interact with peers — who are some of the top leaders in their respective fields. In other words, the workshop isn’t about what technical knowledge you’ll obtain, but a deeper self-awareness of how the culture changes and what you need to learn next. It’s about how ideas spread and how change happens. We focus on how you can develop what you have to offer for even more transformative impact — because of the relationships & community we’re bringing together in this cohort.
Applications are due, tomorrow, July 21 by midnight.
Friends, as we face pandemics and economic crises, we also face an opportunity to do the work that could shape this decade and this century.
I believe you are the kind of leader we need at the center of this work.
Do you believe in yourself enough to take the leap and commit to your most important work?
We’re here for you when you’re ready.
List of Confirmed Workshop Participants
Doug O’Brien, CEO, National Cooperative Business Association
Paul Hazen, Executive Director, US Overseas Cooperative Development Council, former CEO, NCBA CLUSA
Sarah Clark McBroom, Equity Officer at Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation
Sr. Corinne Floreck, former Portfolio Director, Religious Sisters Impact Fund
Myra Jackson, United Nations Representative, Biosphere consultant
Ryan Strode, Franciscan Sisters of Mary, formerly Arabella Advisors
Marco Vangelisti, Impact Investor, Slow Money, EK4T
Molly Hemstreet, Co-Executive Director, Opportunity Threads, Carolina Textile District
Kevin Jones, Co-founder SOCAP, Co-founder, Faith+Finance
Eli Andrews, Accelerate Change
Fr. Seamus Finn, President, Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility
Elias Crim, Solidary Hall, & US Economy of Francesco
Kyle Johnson, Business Services Collective
Alison Power, Capital Impact Partners
Sara Chester, Co-Executive Director, The Industrial Commons
Dr. Tina Facca-Miess, Inspired Foresight
Jennifer Bryant, Washington Area Community Investment Fund
Elizabeth Garlow, Deputy Director, New America’s New Practice Lab
Phil Reeves, Partner, A&H Capital Partners, Board Member, DC Black Chamber of Commerce
Todd Leverette, Democracy At Work Institute, Partner, A&H Capital Partners
“As a result of the authenticity and skill of the facilitation, I and every group member were surprised by how quickly we were able to drop into high-trust sharing and collaboration. The amount that we got “figured out” in a short amount of time was remarkable, life changing for many of us, and potentially world transforming.”
~ Sam Hummel, former CEO, Sustainable Purchasing Leadership Council (Participant in April 2020 Workshop)
I think this is a moment where we can make good decisions for our own institutions and build a vehicle to tackle systemic racism in our economics.
You can choose who you buy from.
Kerma Medical, a black-owned business in Virginia is offering 3-ply surgical masks for $0.53.
Carolina Textile District PPE, a person-of-color worker-owned co-op, is making and selling high quality cloth masks with medical grade antimicrobial fabric for $4.12 — or if we get enough volume for $3.86 per mask.
You can place an order here from these and other vendors.
154 organizations have come together.
We vetted 11 suppliers across 20 items. These businesses rose to the top for a variety of reasons – quality, price, terms and more.
PS – Community Purchasing Alliance (CPA) is member-owned cooperative (www.cpa.coop). We help educational, religious, coop, and community institutions lower the cost of their largest contracts while being more effective with the performance they get from their vendors.
In response to our members and others, we started organizing this cooperative buying group for PPE with organizations looking to help share information, market insight, and facilitate group purchasing in this time of need, supply chain challenges, and uncertainty.
Here is a profile of a school we worked with & how they thought about estimating their needs.
Who are our suppliers?
We’ve been in conversations with 23 suppliers over the past 8 weeks and my colleague Juan Francisco Hidalgo is in the process of pre-qualifying more. We plan to release an RFP and so we expect to have a wide range of options.
We’ve executed a few transactions with 5 primary companies that we’ve found to be very reliable and so we’ll likely have a variety of options to suit different needs.
One of our favorite suppliers is Carolina Textile District PPE — Take 10 seconds to check out their website right now. – “In response to COVID-19, a consortium of 60 American manufacturers, The Carolina Textile District has come together to help produce medical supplies in response to a request from local healthcare providers.”
Community Purchasing Alliance (CPA) is a social-purpose cooperative that leverages the buying power of community institutions to help lower operating costs, while also making investments in sustainability, worker equity, and community organizing. As a cooperative, CPA is wholly owned by its members, creating a business that serves their needs first. Through aggregation and group procurement of services, CPA helps its members save money and get better service, while also holding vendors to high standards in terms of environmental and worker practices.
In 2019 CPA worked with over 120 organizations across 10 product/services areas to facilitate $17 million in purchasing. CPA offers expertise and competitive group procurement for services including energy (electricity and gas supply), waste pick-up, HVAC maintenance, solar development, janitorial, security, copier, and landscaping.
Might this be an opportunity for you to re-imagine the quality and depth possible through better virtual spaces?
For me, most of the past 6 years I’ve built my organization while living at home in another city.
I’ve also built many of my deepest, most meaningful friendships, and communities online.
I’ve joined spirituality groups that only meet online.
I’ve started organizing 150+ gatherings online and made them meaningful for participants by using Zoom’s Breakout Rooms features — allowing us to have 1-on-1 networking and small group time.
I’ve also been using Zoom for enlisting my friends to help me make some of my hardest decisions, by facilitating virtual Clearness Committees.
Meaningful check-ins with friends from around the globe have made life easier in the hard times.
You can relate generously and in profound ways… all online.
What I really want to tell you is — I think you would be surprised how much depth and quality you can find from the right kind social interaction online.
Seth Godin offers some of the most helpful advice. I highly recommend this post, and the Akimbo Workshops:
Here are two of the four leaps Seth says we need to make:
Leap 2: There’s a difference between asynchronous and synchronous interaction. We know this intuitively in the real world (a letter is different from a phone call) but online, it’s profound. A discussion board isn’t the same as a Zoom call. It turns out that we can create rich and layered conversations with async communication, but we also have to be just a bit more patient.
Leap 3: More than one person can ‘talk’ at a time. In the real world, that’s impossible. At a table for six, we take turns talking. But in a chat room, we can all talk at the same time. Use it well and you can dramatically increase information exchange. (But if you try to follow all the threads, or you miss what you need, then it’s actually less effective.)
It’s possible, with effort, to transform business communications (and schooling) away from the top-down, synchronized, compliance-focused, off-the-record, hierarchical and slow status quo to something significantly more fluid and powerful. But we’ll need to do it on purpose.
Here’s what my experience has been:
Two years ago, I took the altMBA — a 4 week intensive workshop that was 100% online.
What I didn’t expect is that it transformed my perspective on how powerful virtual spaces could be. When the expectations are set for you to do your most important work and to embrace the emotional labor… and dance with your fear, I found myself being more vulnerable with the 3-4 others in my peer learning group. I found myself being more honest and real than I had been with some of my closest friends. My altMBA peers and I were together 3 days a week for 14 hours, so it was a lot of time together… but we also shipped 3 projects each week, commented on each other’s projects and wrote 3 reflections each week.
We got a LOT of work done together. I learned to give written feedback in a way that just mirrors back what I’m seeing. The every 3 day practice of writing a dozen set of comments taught me to ask better questions. The practice of writing and publishing online my reflection and synthesized learnings from reading other’s comments has led me to take more strategic risks. My peers in the learning groups taught me to create tension in a way that created change. The whole experience showed me that we can create a culture of reciprocity, where everyone actually does give generously, because they see how wonderful and liberating the culture can be.
The problem is, many of us interact online in crappy ways, and so we judge ourselves because some spaces are a bastion of negativity and distraction.
Take the leap. You, too, can create a culture of generosity, deep relating — all online.
My hope in this time where we increase our social distance and stop our large gatherings, that you might see this moment as an opportunity to leap. An opportunity to take a risk, try something new — and collaboratively create online spaces that build the culture of reciprocity, gift, and mutuality. You can create the kind of culture that we most want to see.
In the next few days, I’m going to share the frameworks and strategies for how the online communities I’ve been part of have completely re-shaped my thinking for what’s possible online.
I hope you’ll join me in taking a leap to try re-thinking the possibilities when you bring the right tools together. With Zoom, Slack other similar tools, I think you may find the transition easier than you thought.
But there are a few critical elements…
Let me know if you’re ready for the leap, I’d love to talk.
I also have a live Q&A, best practices sharing, and more intensive spiritual community workshop that I’m leading coming up.
In this time of growing anxiety and concern, I’m feeling increasingly called to stay grounded.
My prayer for myself is that I can take an extra 5-15 minutes each day to just sit in silence.
A few moments to center myself by paying attention to my breath.
A minute to recall that all of life is a gift. Each moment we have is a precious opportunity to love, to go deeper, to be vulnerable and honest, to be generous.
A minute to remember that all we have can at a moment’s notice can slip away — death, illness, tragedy — we encounter risks every day. Driving to work, school.
My prayer is also that I might be calm and slower to act. I want to channel the swells of energy I have in new ways.
For most of the past few years, the story of success that I tell myself is that when I have a swell of energy to do something, I just go do it. Usually this has been in the form of calling a friend, colleague, member-owner, then writing an email, or organizing a gathering or a project. I feel like when I’ve done this something new has emerged and it has been good and has led to what is next. The challenge I face now is that I’m feeling that urge — that swell of energy — bubbling up inside of me increasingly often and I can’t even keep up with all the swells of energy I feel.
Fortunately, I’ve had friends and colleagues who have reflected this back to me and so I’ve begun to slow down. I’ve begun to draft the email, but then not send it. I’ve begun to make the decision not to call that person, but rather to pick up my notebook and write instead.
I’m now trying to figure out how to transmit these swells of energy I feel into the longer, deeper work. What is the most important project I’m called to move forward this year? What might be the most meaningful contribution I can make over the next two years? How am I making meaningful time each day or each week to allow that deeper work the space it needs in my life to become what it’s meant to be?
My prayer is that I continue to invest in my writing, and the slower reflective work that might be what leads me to actually co-creating with God.
As a person of faith, I feel like this deeper, slower writing work is part of co-creating with God. It’s less about what I write today or tomorrow or this month or next month, but it’s the gradual work of patiently observing what’s happening in and around me. It’s the work of becoming gradually more attuned to the signs God’s offering me in my life. For me this is about seeing the work of parenting that I’m in middle of — as connected to who God is calling me to be. (For example, allowing my children space for big feelings, genuinely empathizing with those feelings, and gradually seeing that as connected to their — and my own — development of self-regulation, resilience, and emotional intelligence.)
It’s also about looking back over the past several years on trying to honestly reflect on and integrate what I’ve learned about myself in different work settings. Where have I found the deepest joy and satisfaction? Where have I found my favorite transferable skills being recognized, appreciated, and valued by others? What might God be inviting me to see as I reflect on those patterns over time?
I’ll be honest though. Even while I know intellectually everything that I just said, it’s brutally difficult for me to actualize and implement it in my own life. Yet, by writing it and sharing it with you, I’m inviting you to help me be more accountable to this deeper co-creative work.
I feel particularly compelled to ask for your help and prayers for me (and all of us) in this moment, because of the growing pain, anxiety, and fear that I sense we’re feeling.
For me, a few factors that seem to be exacerbating the difficulty:
Death of Patrick Hidalgo. A week ago, I learned that one of my closest friends died suddenly in his sleep. He was healthy and living in the prime of his life at 41 years old. He was a model for me of someone who balanced work in privileged political circles, while also building meaningful relationships with the poor and marginalized. For example, the last person he spoke with before he died was the immigrant doorman at the building where he lived in Miami. Apparently he had a lengthy and very meaningful conversation with him. At Patrick’s wake I met civil rights lawyers, community organizers, and got the sense that
he spent as much time as he did running his own business as he did
accompanying the poor and those organizing amongst the poor as he did
in elite political circles aiming to change the political and economic narrative, culture and moment in Florida, in Cuba-US relations, and in our Country as a whole.
This helps me see that at the end of our lives, we are measured as much by the depth of the relationships we have and the kinds of community we build and maintain — as anything else.
My own mortality. Because of Patrick’s death, I’ve begun to reflect on my own death. I’m more aware of how I’m living now that I see death as a real possibility in the near term. I want to spend more time thinking about my mortality and re-evaluating where I’m at. I’m going on retreat next week to create space for this conversation with God and deeper reflection.
Growing anxiety and panic. As Coronavirus spreads and begins to affect more and more parts of my life — from conferences and travel, to members of CPA Co-op and thinking about remote learning and alternative ways to worship — I recognize that it’s harder to make time for the gradual, slower work that takes years. It’s so easy to get swept up into the anxiety and panic and spend our time and attention there. It’s harder to keep moving towards the work that is shifting the underlying conditions to make a new economic model possible.
Quarantine and stocking up on food and supplies. The way my partner and family are encouraging me to hunker down seems to be pushing us more into a fear-based mindset and set of behaviors. Even if we do choose to stock up and be prepared, I pray that we not let that fear continue to be the primary operating force in more and more of our actions.
Schools and Universities cancelling. As pressure mounts for more schools and universities to cancel, I see huge opportunities for remote learning. I see huge potential to embrace Zoom virtual meetings, break-out rooms. I’m thinking more and more of the transformative experience I had in Seth Godin’s altMBA 2 years ago and the multiple virtual workshops that I’ve facilitated in the past year that have build authentic, deep community faster than any in person community I’ve been part of in the past couple of years. I’m hopeful that we can make use of this moment to try and be creative and innovate in new ways to do our most important work
In my work world — churches making changes to how they have liturgy and worship also leads to so many more questions — I’ll leave that for another post.
Conferences and mass gatherings being cancelled everywhere.
For me, all this adds up to an invitation to slower, deeper work.
Instead of going to Italy to be with other young economists and entrepreneurs at the end of March; I’m going on a silent retreat. I’m hoping to allow the spirit of Pope Francis’ letter and the model of St. Francis of Assisi to sink in deeper into the fibers of my being.
I pray that you pray for me and all of us that we might resist fear, and take this moment as an opportunity to turn into our most important, deeper work.
Where do you start when somebody you look up to so much suddenly slips away.
Patrick or “Primo!” as we affectionately called each other was the cousin who I shared the most with.
In that spirit, here are 5 exhortations I think Patrick might have for us today as we seek to honor him.
Write to your spiritual / political / movement celebrity crush. “Dude, you should write to him!” Patrick would exhort me. “Just reach out, tell him what you’re doing and what you’re thinking about — they’ll love it!” Whether it was Fr. Richard Rohr, Marshall Ganz, a New York Times columnist, or Pope Francis, Patrick would see the potential in me and also in celebrities. He saw the way a potential new connection could be mutually nourishing. Patrick saw authenticity and integrity and was drawn to these values and a desire to connect people who shared these values.
“This should be a case study.” Patrick consistently wanted to elevate examples of authentic relationship-based organizing, movement building, cooperative business, and shared leadership. From his training at Harvard and MIT, Patrick saw how the next generation was learning and what kinds of ideas and possibilities they were exposed to through case studies. If he were here, he would try to persuade each of us to tell our story in a way that Harvard Business School or the Kennedy School would read and appreciate it. Go Deep. Define your terms. Explain your analysis, the hypotheses, the real impacts and the results.
Embrace the political challenges by leaning into relationship. One motivation for Patrick’s move back to Miami these past few years was a decision to lean into his most important work. It was about embracing the emotional labor of having really difficult conversations and making lasting change. It was about creating tension, but doing so from a place of real authentic relationship. I think this was the core of his approach at Miami Freedom Project and also to his work at Future Partners. For example, in exploring community wealth building strategies in Miami, he would tell me about conversations with our cousin Francis Suarez, the Mayor of Miami and others who had meaningful power and real relationships with Patrick. While he may differ from their thoughts and policies on many things, Patrick sought to engage them on topics where there was potential to work together — on economic development, housing, real estate, energy policy, entrepreneurship, faith partnerships and more. While Patrick held his views and values deeply, he leaned more into his belief in the power of relationships. I can hear his voice clearly: “I was just texting with Francis… I think there might be a real opportunity…”
Honor and take care of your parents. Patrick would often talk about his parents. He would give me a lot of credit for what my parents did as well. He often saw me as a continuation of decisions my parents made (for example, to live with and organize with and among migrant farm workers for many years in Immokalee). He always gave me credit for this work that my parents did, but it’s because he honored his parents as well. So much of the last few years of his life he was aware of his parents, and wanting to spend more time with them. I remember just a few weeks ago Patrick sitting next to his father in a big chair as they joined one of our Zoom video calls together to talk about Pope Francis and his call to young economists and entrepreneurs.
Live Generously. A few months ago, I was with Patrick and we were walking out of the Starbucks on the ground floor of the Citi bank tower in Miami. We were headed to one of the upper floors for a meeting with Ines & Valeria. “You want anything?” “How about a coffee?” He then proceeded to insist on buying me a bottle of Fiji water…. then chocolate covered espresso beans, then pivoted to grab something healthy… He was doing what any loving friend or Latino parent would do… pushing food on me to make sure I was healthy. It actually reminded me of Esperanza, and her unbelievable generosity to us when we would go back to Cuba and visit the Gaston family sugar mill — el Ingenio Dolores. Patrick along with his siblings, led our family in reconnecting with our parents’ roots and the lives of our parents and grandparents back on the island. He would want us to continue that work and to do so generously and with love. No matter what the situation, Patrick lived generously & would want us to do the same.
Patrick & I were part of a 5-person spirituality group that began gathering in early 2019. We took time in silence together. It was contemplative prayer that was so deeply nourishing for each of us. Then we would share vulnerably with one another. We would share our latest visions, hopes, but also the pain and grief, and suffering that each of us was in the middle of.
Patrick loved deeply. We all know how much he grieved the loss of his mother. For me, this was part of Patrick’s tuning in. He was being called into closer communion with the Spirit. He was feeling pain in a deeper way.
Patrick knew pain, heartache, and also joy in a very real way. Patrick was a romantic.
Patrick ached for love. Patrick yearned for a better world.
Patrick was always building community wherever he went. One of my recent memories was going to a rally for Elizabeth Warren last summer at FIU in Miami and everywhere we went, Patrick was introducing me to somebody new.
Patrick had this unique warmth. He would always speak so highly of me. Nobody in the world introduced me in the way Patrick did. He always spoke to the parts of me that I was still aspiring to. The way he introduced me made me feel so respected, so appreciated, and so “seen”.
Patrick really could “see” people for all that they were. He loved people. He fell in love often and lived his life from that place of love… that passion that takes hold and carries you.
Aching for Love
Thinking back to the Patrick I knew in Washington DC in 2011, he was somebody loved by so many. I remember an early February birthday party at a restaurant on the corner of 14th and U St NW. There were 25 or so folks there… many were colleagues of his from the Obama Campaign or Harvard or MIT folks or other “political elites” as he would say. Patrick was running in circles where people had lots of worldly success… and while Patrick loved those people, he was also aching for a deeper kind of love. He was wrestling with his own call to love more radically and profoundly. He was at once part of the material and political world and making change through institutions, but at the same time believing in a God that loves all people and has greater power to transform all things.
He was wrestling with how to give his life to public service in a way that paid tribute to all the privileges and opportunities he was afforded, but also listen to the cry of the poor and the call to organize for justice.
I remember this time vividly because I would recall ups and downs of his love life. The ups and downs over the years felt endless, but it was because he was aching for a deep love and part of that ache was his own searching and yearning.
A few weeks ago Patrick texted me a page out of Dean Brackley’s The Call to Discernment in Troubled Times. This book has had a profound impact on me over the years — it’s a modern-day re-interpreting of St. Ignatius Spiritual Exercises. At the end of the book it talks about “Downward Mobility”. It was something that I struggled openly with Patrick about all the time and I think it was something he was struggling with right now as well.
As the wealthiest country in the world — and as people privileged by our refugee/immigration status from Cuba — how do we make sense of our story? How do we make sense of all the privilege we have as people living in America?
How do we reconcile that with the pain and suffering of so many in Cuba? How do we reconcile that with the suffering and poverty of so many in the US and around the globe?
Patrick felt called to serve. He felt called to serve by being a public servant, but more than just being in politics, he was an organizer. He was a movement builder. He brought his whole self to the work of encountering other people, and building something from the relationships and the connections that formed when we were together.
I remember going to one of our epic Gaston family reunions — I think it must have been 2004 — and hearing about our cousin who had gone to live in Dubai. That was Patrick. He moved there for love.
I think Patrick’s journey to heaven this week is marked by his following God’s call of love.
Yearning for a Better World
My first real encounter with Patrick was in 2007 at a Raices de Esperanza conference.
He had convinced me to go and since I was just finishing a class with a professor who was a journalist who had spent several years in Cuba — I was just awakening to my own identity as a Cuban American.
Patrick was my older cousin who was already well known in this space and was the most generous cousin you could imagine. He made me feel so welcome. He introduced me and helped me feel at home as I came out and began to realize how it was okay to identify as the son of a Cuban immigrant. He did it in a way that made me proud.
My affection grew for Patrick when we hung out in 2008 and 2009 in Boston while he was getting his graduate degrees at Harvard and MIT.
One of the papers he wrote in grad school was about the need for a new kind of climate movement. He was very influenced by Marshall Ganz (Harvard Kennedy School sociology professor & community organizing guru, who had worked with Cesar Chavez) and Rebecca Henderson (MIT Sloan School Professor of Strategy) and at the time invited me to a special gathering in 2010 that had a profound influence on my life.
That 2-day gathering of environmental leaders helped me find a way to integrate the energy consulting world I had been in with community organizing, and the hopeful movement building that Patrick knew was part of what was and is needed to build the beloved community.
Most recently, over the past year, I’ve watched Patrick’s drive and passion come alive as he’s begun to birth the Miami Freedom Project. A couple weeks ago he was scheming with me about how this initiative could change the political and economic narrative of south Florida, by bringing together the best from Pope Benedict, Pope Francis, the call of St. Francis of Assisi, and our current political and economic moment.
He was in the middle of building the kind of movement, the kind of community that Patrick always built.
It was the kind of community that you wanted to be part of. It was one that was fun, liberative, free, loving… but also grounded in reality. It was sober in it’s assessment of the world as it is.
And at the same time it was full of possibility. It was full of hope and belief and trust that God would be in the midst of us, moving in and through us, and breathing life into every conversation.
I think Patrick trusted that with all of his being.
He knew God was present. He brought that intense presence to each conversation.
One of my last in person conversations with Patrick was in July 2019, on the roof of my aunt Maria Luisa Gaston’s apartment in Calle Ocho. We had just picked up some food and it was a warm night, but cool in that the breeze was blowing beautifully on the top of this building.
Patrick opened up with me about his writing life. He was finding so much meaning and purpose in his writing. He was integrating the story of his grief with his mother, with the new spiritual calling that he was finding more life in.
He was telling me about a retreat he had gone to in the Southwestern US with Mirabai Starr and how much spiritual nourishment and healing he was getting from that experience.
It was helping him live each day from a deeper, more grounded place. A place that I believe was more in tune with God — and the Spirit.
While I still have so much more to process, I wanted to share these initial reflections.
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
2,500+ 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 involved
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)
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. (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. We’re calling all churches, schools, and any community-oriented property owner to submit their electricity bills to join us.
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.
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.
“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.