Part 2 of 3: An Intentional Ecosystem
The continued increase in demand for nonprofit services indicated in our most recent sector survey suggests that nonprofits are, now more than ever, fulfilling social and cultural needs not addressed by government or the market economy. But our experience trying to impact the problematic economic system of our sector also forces us to confront some realities: Read More
First, as the nonprofit sector has grown into an industry, it has developed systems and practices that don’t support some of its most cherished aims. For example, as we noted in our first post on the topic, the tortured flow of resources between funders, nonprofits, and communities can lead to misaligned priorities that can make it difficult to ensure that capital is producing sustainable organizations and addressing community needs.
Second, we must recognize that the nonprofit organization, as traditionally conceived, isn’t the only vehicle for addressing social problems. Recently, B-Corporations, L3Cs and others have arisen to allow investors to support social aims, cooperatives are a time-tested organizational structure, and for-profit small businesses can help produce more economically vibrant communities.
With these considerations in mind, we want to explore some ways the sector might reach beyond the familiar financial and organizational structures and seek meaningful social change by pursuing a greater alignment of community and sector priorities in tandem with economic sustainability. One approach to this effort is offered through the principles of the “solidarity economy” which seek to build economic structures focused on mutual benefit and cooperation. This language may ring a little “pie in the sky” to some readers, but solidarity economic principles are not simply lofty Utopian ideals. Indeed, for the nonprofits we work with everyday, they present several practical models for boosting mission achievement and financial health. And, fortunately, we can see them at work in the real world.
Cleveland’s Evergreen Cooperatives are a growing suite of employee-owned companies in--and serving--downtown Cleveland. They provide environmentally friendly laundry, weatherization services, solar power, and, starting this year, vegetables. Structured as for-profit businesses, these novel institutions are worker-owned and, while initially supported by seed-funding from government and philanthropy, they will be sustained by service contracts with nonprofit “anchor institutions” like universities and hospitals.
To learn more about Evergreen’s approach to economic development, we spoke with Ted Howard of The Democracy Collaborative.