The Washington Area Community Investment Fund (Wacif) and Capital Impact Partners announced $40,000 in grant awards to support cooperatively owned businesses through the inaugural D.C. Co-op Impact Grant. The awards will advance the growth of emerging and existing cooperatively owned businesses led by communities of color and workers with low incomes throughout the Washington, D.C. area.
Nationwide, cooperatives are on the rise to create dignified employment, ownership, and wealth-building opportunities. More and more, communities are seeing the benefits that democratic ownership can provide, particularly in marginalized communities. The purpose of the D.C. Co-op Impact Award is to support early-stage cooperatives while catalyzing growth, boosting the localized economy in marginalized communities and providing catalytic capital to attract other funders. The awardees are expanding the cooperative model in the District, Maryland, and Northern Virginia led by people of color and/or members of a historically disinvested community. Awardees include: Bloc by Block News, Community Grocery Cooperative, Community Kitchen Cooperative, The D.C. Pop-Up, Earth-Bound Building, the Farm Cooperative, and Starseed Earthroot.
“Entrepreneurship is critical to bridging the racial wealth gap. Across the country, employee owned businesses are narrowing the wealth gap for African-American and Latino households by creating new opportunities for entrepreneurship through employee ownership,” said Jennifer Bryant, Wacif’s Program Manager for Community Wealth Building Initiatives. “The D.C. Co-op Impact Grant was created as a vehicle to support the growth of early stage cooperatives and to increase exposure for the diverse co-op businesses that exist in our local ecosystem.”
“Over the last few years, the co-op model has been gaining momentum in the Washington Metro area among entrepreneurs, workers, small businesses, and local government,” said Alison Powers, Cooperative & Community Initiatives Manager at Capital Impact Partners. “People want to know more about cooperative democratic ownership and the opportunity to build wealth in disinvested communities. Capital Impact Partners wants to demonstrate the effectiveness of grant funding to accelerate the progress of start-up and existing co-op businesses.”
Historically, communities of color in the District, and low-income communities, developed co-ops to create sustainable work, community-led micro economies, and truly affordable housing. Cooperatives are on the rise again today, as reflected by the D.C. area’s burgeoning co-op community. The benefits that cooperatives provide are particularly important in the context of the economic hardships brought on by COVID-19.
“During this COVID crisis, it is more important than ever for our communities to have a greater stake in our own health and financial well-being,” stated Clarice Manning of Community Grocery Cooperatives. “We envision the development of the co-op as a gateway for more economic opportunities and leadership empowerment for Ward 7 and 8 residents.”
“The impact of the grant will be huge because during the pandemic, there is still food that needs to be made, and there are still businesses that need commercial kitchen space,” noted Pinkey Reddick with D.C. Kitchen Cooperative. “In our first pilot location, we need some extra refrigeration because we’re already at capacity. It will be awesome to get funds to help house some infrastructure. So, this is super exciting right now.”
Bloc by Block News will launch a news portal (platform media co-op) in Howard County, MD. Through a mobile app, communities that have historically been ignored and marginalized in the media will receive credible and relevant journalism, and become empowered to take informed action on local issues.
Community Grocery Cooperative is organizing a cooperative, consumer-owned grocery store in Ward 7 or 8 that will provide local healthy food to residents that is affordable, sustainable, equitable, and reliable. The funding will be used to launch a mobile pop-up shop to test locations and products, engage with residents, and build momentum for a permanent location.
Community Kitchen Cooperative (CKC) plans to launch a cooperatively-operated, commissary kitchen space to support entrepreneurs of color, from and within historically disinvested communities. CKC has engaged Dreaming Out Loud to steward alumni from its accelerator program into this cooperative commissary space, targeting people of color. This co-op will serve as a model for inclusive food enterprise that is focused on quality jobs and cost savings through collective capacity.
The D.C. Pop-Up is a collaborative of D.C.-based makers who create products through the Made in D.C. program. Their goal is to address the market barriers for women and minority-owned brands by providing a cooperative retail space for owners to sell their products and increase brand exposure. D.C. Pop-Up will utilize this grant to formally organize as a cooperative.
Earth-Bound Building is a worker cooperative in Prince George’s County, MD, created by black farmers and activists in 2014 in response to a severe lack of skilled tradespeople of color. Earth-Bound Building will use this grant to subsidize a four-day Intensive Timber Framing workshops for Black, Indigenous, women, and queer tradespeople, with the goal of creating a safe educational environment for new builders to develop new skills that are in high demand in the region.
The Farm Cooperative (name TBD) is a collective of three women of color who operate local farming operations through Three Part Harmony Farm (DC), flowers x flores (DC), and Deep Roots Farm (MD). This collaborative creates connections between urban and rural farm systems. The grant would enable them to transition to operating as a cooperative, formalize their operations, and fund corresponding legal expenses.
Starseed Earthroot is a collective of trans and gender-expansive queer activists looking to be a catalyst for land access, food sovereignty, and restorative agricultural practices. This grant will build capacity and leadership structures that align with their social justice vision, allowing members to acquire skills that have been hard to access in many professional spaces due to structural barriers that create unsafe spaces for people of color and gender non-conforming individuals.
The inaugural D.C. Co-op Impact Grant, and partnership with Capital Impact Partners, is an important component of support that Wacif is providing to entrepreneurs through the D.C. Employee Ownership Initiative, which Wacif launched in 2018 together with Citi Community Development. In addition to employee ownership conversion support, the D.C. Employee Ownership initiative provides financial capital, like the D.C. Co-op Impact Grant, and knowledge capital, in the form of advisory services, to aspiring employee-owners.
The D.C. Co-op Impact Award represents just one part of Capital Impact’s strategy to promote the cooperative model to increase access to jobs, food, and housing in underserved communities. Over its history, Capital Impact has disbursed more than $305 million dollars in financing to more than 221 cooperative businesses serving 870,000 customers. Capital Impact works to amplify the potential of the co-op model for all people through technical assistance, grant funding, and financing for capital projects. Capital Impact’s place-based strategy also works to build the ecosystem for food, housing, and worker cooperatives in the Washington Metro area.