My Coronavirus Prayers

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.

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.