Hope and Change

COCAP

Graphic notetaking by Jenny Seiler.

 

I’ve been to a couple of events lately that gave me hope for the future.

One was an all-day workshop called COCAP (for Community Capital) on the topic of “Radical Redistribution of Wealth Through Impact Investing,” held at my co-working space, the Impact Hub Oakland.

The other was a movie about the Ovarian Psycos, a group of young women of color in LA who combine bicycling with social action.

COCAP, which was started by Hub co-founder Konda Mason and attorney Jenny Kassen, was exciting for a lot of reasons. First off, in a workshop on investment and entrepreneurship, almost all the speakers were women – seventeen out of nineteen, by my count – and many were women of color.

Secondly, the event was blunt about its purpose: redistributing wealth by investing in the kind of people and businesses we need, and particularly in the ones that always seem to get overlooked. The speakers weren’t shy about mentioning the disparity in wealth among different racial groups in the US or about the bias that is inherent in our capital system.

Marjorie Kelly, author of Owning Our Future, started things off with an explanation of how our current system is set up only to maximize returns to shareholders. She focused on employee ownership, discussing the current “50 by 50” movement – an effort to have fifty million employee owners in the US by 2050.

Nwamaka Agbo detailed the issues of structural racism, pointing out that past practices such as redlining, Jim Crow laws, and public policies blocked African Americans from developing wealth, leading to the current state of inequality. She is a fellow at the Movement Strategy Center.

Michelle Long of Balle inspired us with the idea that we should use our imaginations. She quoted Einstein: “No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.”

And then we got a panel of women who handle socially valuable investments for people with serious money. One observation sums up the radical approach they have to a traditionally conservative profession: Sometimes the right rate of return for an investment is zero.

After lunch we heard from entrepreneurs, many of whom are taking advantage of the JOBS act provisions that allow investment by small investors in small businesses. (That program and others are summarized here on the Locavesting website.)

Graphic Notes from COCAP

The final panel included people doing all kinds of work in their communities to develop local business and get it funded. One of the participants was Janelle Orsi, of the Sustainable Economies Law Center, who works not just on helping groups get past the legal obstacles, but on changing the law to make things easier.  (I’m proud to be a supporter of SELC.)

I’m not one of those wealthy investors, but I came away with ideas about how I can put my little bit of money to work in my community. And with a great appreciation for the many people doing the kind of work we need in our society.

The Ovarian Psycos movie was inspriring for a different reason. This group was put together by young women of color to make change in their own neighborhood for themselves, their famlies, and the others who live there. That is, this isn’t a social change organization set up by well-meaning people who don’t actually know what’s going on; it’s a group formed by women who know what the problems are and how to fix them.

And they built it around bicycling and their own toughness. Their motto is “Ovaries so big we don’t need no fucking balls” and they do their mass bike rides to drive that point home.

Ovarian Psycos

But they’re also activists and they’ve spun off other activities in music and art. They have a headquarters and they do more than ride bikes.

The movie was excellent, but my real hope came from watching all these young women take action.

We face a lot of challenges in this world, but some people are doing their part to make it a better place.

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Comments

Hope and Change — 8 Comments

  1. I wrote a short story in which the heroine has an award, the Iron Ovary. It’s a pin, to wear on your lapel, and is awarded only to men when they have done something that calls for more than balls.

  2. *Applauds*

    This is exactly the kind of society we need to have, with investment in real communities with real businesses and real solutions. We need to build from the ground up and support each other, not invest for the highest rate of return. It’s good to hear about these things happening in our own backyard.

        • I think it’s good, but I don’t know a lot about it. There are people doing Kiva here. You make small loans (very small, I think) and don’t get any interest, but they help people get started. I suspect it’s even more useful in countries where the cost of living is small enough that $25 can be a stake for someone to start a small business.

          The investments I know most about are ones where you put somewhere between $100 and about $2500 in a business as either a loan or as equity, with some return. They’re riskier than a bank account and probably more risky than a mutual fund, but they can enable some good, local, small businesses to start and grow. It’s like crowdfunding, except you’re investing instead of getting perks. They need a lot of investors at those amounts.

          The key to both micro investment and the “crowdfunded” ones is to not invest more than you can afford to lose and to check out what you’re investing in enough so that you feel good about it. I’ve put a little money into the food co-op I helped start 40 years ago, because it’s continued survival is in my emotional self interest, just as an example. I’m investigating a couple of businesses here. The trouble is, small investments take as much vetting as big ones!