Jessica Mason: Cultivating GenNext cooperative enterprises at scale
Ladder works is a publishing platform for various picture books and online programs whose mission is to empower more than one million children to become social entrepreneurs. Our current series features our interplanetary journalist Spiffy’s interviews with inspiring social entrepreneurs and entrepreneurial ecosystem builders advancing the UN SDGs.
This is Spiffy, your interplanetary reporter who reports from planet Earth with an eye on the entrepreneurs working to make this world a fairer place. I have another interview for you this week. Today I’m super excited to speak with Jessica Mason, the co-director of Start.coop.
Nice : Welcome Jessica! Let’s go. What challenge is Start.coop tackling?
Jessica: Thanks for inviting me, Spiffy! To answer your question, inequality is at an all-time high and our economy is failing. 79% of the national wealth is held by millionaires and billionaires. Ownership, one of the main drivers of wealth, is concentrated in the hands of business owners and investors. Systematic racism adds to all of this, making it even harder for Black, Indigenous, and other people of color to start businesses and build wealth. We need to close the ownership gap and give more people the opportunity to own and benefit from the businesses in which they work, contribute and consume.
Nice : What motivated you to do it?
Jessica: My work at Start.coop centers on the question: how could we trigger a tidal wave of equity so that every person can design and live their dream future? I am hyper aware of how our economy and society as a whole is built on a foundation of inequity. I am motivated by working with others in the pursuit of equity, justice and shared prosperity. As a financially stable white woman, I have a lot of economic and racial privilege that I can channel to open doors and create opportunity for those who don’t have a seat at the table.
Nice : Can you tell more about how you and Start.coop work for a fairer world?
Jessica: Our mission is for co-operative enterprises – those that share ownership with the community they serve – to thrive and lead by example in all sectors of the American economy, transforming what it means to be a worker and a consumer, redefining who is rewarded for the value they create in our economy and reduce the racial wealth gap. We focus specifically on cultivating the next generation of co-operative businesses with ambitions for scale: imagine employee-owned Apple, user-owned TikTok, driver-owned Uber; these are the types of businesses we help create.
Nice : Tell me about a recent Start.coop step or initiative and its impact on your community.
Jessica: Starting a cooperative is complicated and difficult, as it is the road less traveled and there are fewer resources and support for cooperative entrepreneurs. So in 2021, we launched Lean Co-op, a free online course to help social entrepreneurs start and build a co-op business. Over 750 people signed up, showing that people starting co-op businesses are hungry for guidance and support. The more we can provide helpful resources and tools like Lean Co-op, the more we can increase the number of co-op businesses that start, increase the number of people benefiting from ownership, and change the narrative of how businesses should be. owned and operated. a fairer future.
Nice : Tell me about a startup or project you’ve worked with that exemplifies the impact you’re striving to have.
Jessica: Navajo Power Home is a startup in our 2022 accelerator. They provide solar service for off-grid homes on Navajo and Hopi land. The co-op will be owned by the Indigenous families it serves, which means that these families will benefit financially when the co-op is profitable and will also be able to participate in the governance and decision-making of the co-op. What’s really exciting about this startup is that not only is it impacting indigenous families by giving them access to electricity, but it’s also using solar power (a renewable energy source) and it democratizes ownership by giving Indigenous families the right to own the business.
Nice : Wow that looks fantastic! Is there anything else you would like to tell our audience?
Jessica: Entrepreneurship can be scary, beautiful and powerful. Surround yourself with people smarter than you and don’t be afraid to try things, knowing that you will fail a thousand times over but will likely succeed when it matters most.
Nice : Thank you for speaking with me today, Jessica, it was an honor!
Jessica Mason is the co-director of start.coop, an organization dedicated to cultivating the next generation of cooperative enterprises with ambitions of scale. His previous roles include founding a social impact consultancy and leading a portfolio of social innovation labs at Harvard University in Latin America. She is also an elected member of the Ampled Board of Directors. (Nominated by Alissa Orlando at The Driver’s Co-operative. First published on the Ladderworks website May 12, 2022.)
© 2022 Ladderworks LLC. Edited by Anushree Nande. Artwork of Spiffy by Shreyas Navare. For the Ladderworks Digital Curriculum to help children in K-3 advance the UN SDGs, visit Spiffy’s Corner here.
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