Seeding Equity: A New Community-Based Model of Public Investment in Worker Co-ops for Excluded Workers

REPORT  (December 2023)

In 2021, California launched Social Entrepreneurs for Economic Development (SEED), an innovative grant program fostering high-road business ownership opportunities for excluded workers (individuals who cannot access stable, gainful employment relationships and whose economic opportunities are severely constrained due to their immigration status or other significant barriers to employment). SEED funded a demonstration project on worker cooperatives, spearheaded by community-based organizations (CBOs) that organize excluded workers in low-wage industries. Through an impressive collaboration between these CBOs (CLEAN Carwash Worker Center, Cooperacion Santa Ana, Pilipino Workers Center of Southern California, and United Taxi Workers of San Diego), and experts in cooperative development (Democracy at Work Institute and L.A. Co-op Lab), SEED propelled the development of worker-owned and led businesses in four historically low-wage, exploitative industries: carwash, child care, homecare, and taxicab.

Significantly, SEED recognized the central role of mission-driven CBOs that mobilize excluded workers, advocate for economic justice, and have deep roots in their local communities—and then equipped the CBOs with the resources, knowledge, and tools they needed to be leaders in cooperative development. Only two years since its formation, the model built through SEED has already taken root as a compelling prototype of public investment in worker cooperatives. In this report, we identify and examine SEED’s key components and highlight some emerging indicators, both quantitative and qualitative, of the model’s considerable potential to transform low-wage work through the creation of worker-owned businesses that center democratic decision-making, higher wages, and good working conditions.  


Seeding Equity: A New Community-Based Model of Public Investment in Worker Co-ops for Excluded Workers


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