The nay-sayers are right

 Why people who buy from my competitor are right

Assumptions:

  1. Who is “me”: For this essay, we are going to assume I am still myself
  2. My “product” is CPA membership in Los Angeles during year one when I am slowly having one on ones with religious and nonprofit leaders discerning if they have an appetite for this model, asking them to share their procurement information with me, and agitating to see whether they would put forward an initial investment and/or join the steering committee with the promise that their investment is a loan that would be paid back if it isn’t reimbursed through savings within the first three years (Felipe please fact check if this is a reasonable assumption)
  3. I have been credentialed by someone who these religious leaders have some trust with.
  4. The model of CPA I am selling balances concepts of member savings and equitable procurement such that members may be getting both
  5. “People” for the purposes of this exercise will be religious leaders in South Los Angeles, with the base assumption being that many of the most powerful leaders in that area are black.
  6. My competitor is two-fold: it’s concretely whatever current contract the institution has, and it’s theoretically the ability to switch contracts without a broker.

Going back to my 5-paragraph Essay Days: Why joining CPA LA is the wrong choice

         Religious leaders in South Los Angeles are right to buy their waste hauling, janitorial and other property-related services from their current vendors, or switch vendors without joining CPA LA for multiple reasons. Many if not most of these religious leaders are already immersed within networks and coalitions that are meeting their need to build relational power beyond their individual congregation. Furthermore, although savings and equitable procurement might appeal to these leaders, if they were to invest in staff time to rewrite their current procurement process and switch vendors, their self-interest would likely be in hiring someone within their community who has a greater need for employment and more trust locally. Finally, anything requiring time has an opportunity cost. Given the depth and range of socio-political issues pastors in the South side are called to lead on daily, they are right to focus their time, resources and energies building power for policy changes that could impact the whole community, rather than one contract that will impact a handful of congregations and a vendor.

         One of the major value adds of CPA’s model is getting institutional leaders into transformative relationship with their peers. These relationships can be launching points for organizing around political and policy-related issues as well as simply increasing a network of support and solidarity. However, in the dense social network of faith and values based institutions in Los Angeles any pastor with an appetite to get into transformational relationships has many more than one option already readily available to them to link into. In areas of the city that are particularly impacted by gang violence, lack of investment, over-policing and low quality education these social and professional networks have been both formal and informal spaces for successfully building relational power towards addressing these issues. Creating yet another space whose main selling point is the creation of important relationships is not worth the effort and time of convening.

         The CPA model benefits four stakeholders: the member institutions, who either receive savings, greater alignment with their values or both, the vendors receiving the contracts, the community organizing organizations that get a share of the profits, and the individuals who get employment through CPA itself. Given the historic abandonment and victimization of the South LA community, religious leaders in that area should invest time and energy into co-operative models where all four of the benefits stay within the local community. Upon hearing the idea of the model it would behoove religious leaders of South LA who potentially are interested in the savings and equitable procurement ideas to employ a local leader to direct the organization rather than a white French-American newcomer who may or may not have the best interest of the community in mind, has less social connections, cultural competency, and need for employment as others within the community.  

         Building a cooperative from the ground up requires an investment of time, money, or both. Although the benefits may outweigh the initial costs in the long term, Los Angeles is currently living through a political moment that provides opportunities for social change that may not be available within 3-5 years. The county board, made up of five individuals who collectively hold all real political power over a county whose population would make it the seventh largest state in the nation, is progressive and set on making real progress around criminal justice reform, housing, and other critical issues. Every minute of organizing time, every dollar of investment in social change is important now more than ever if the faith-based and advocate community is going to make the most of this political moment. Within a context where the opportunity is to significantly increase access to substance abuse services and reduce rates of incarceration countywide on the one hand, or saving a few thousand dollars and shifting profits from unethical companies to smaller minority-owned businesses, the choice is clear.

         Religious leaders in South LA should either build their own home-grown version of CPA or wait to invest in this model until other higher-order concerns have been addressed. Sticking with their current property-related service providers is the right thing to do.

___________

Reflection Script

I’m glad I still got my high-school skills and was able to be convincing. 🙂 It’s a strong argument, and there are counter arguments that address some if not all of the points raised.

I don’t know that I learned anything particularly new writing this, other than just putting words and order to the intuition I’ve had ever since starting to visualize myself beginning this endeavor. Keeping this 5-paragraph argument in mind is important for receiving a potential “no thank you” or even just “No!” with an attitude of humility and respect, rather than arrogance and frustration. There were some moments in my life as an organizer where I saw the shadow side of an organizing culture that seeks to agitate leaders of all stripes and which comes with a normative sense that getting into action (implicitly, with us, in our way) is the best way forward. It’s a certain kind of orthodoxy which I have both great affection and alignment with but, like all orthodoxy, see as overly rigid and needing to be treated with some internal critique, distance, and humor/humility. Now, I agree enough with Juan’s flip side of the argument, and honestly could easily write a 5-paragraph essay arguing with myself to know that my instinct when encountering a “no” will still be to agitate, to invite in, to keep the door open, if I think there is a persuasive counter-argument then to persuade. I do think that having a strong credential can make a difference. I do think that with a little up-front energy the long-term benefits could be a significant contribution, and I don’t subscribe to the view that people with privilege and/or outsiders ought not have paid positions within justice work. After all, playing that out to its logical conclusion is oddly dystopic. (I’ve had this thought a lot and written several 5-paragraph essays in my mind, creating mental mazes arguing every side of telling myself what I should or should not be able to do, what is most fair, etc.) I do think we need to radically change the economy so that there are more jobs that promote social good rather than ill, and that in whatever position we find ourselves in we need to respect the grassroots leaders and knowledge that preceded our involvement in a particular issue/community. (For a real mind f***, excuse me but that is exactly what it is, on this subject I suggest those without an overly weak stomach watch “Parasite”) But I digress. The point is that the arguments I outlined above are real. And I want to respect and acknowledge they are real always, and empathize with those for whom they are the winning arguments, even if there are others.

That being said, no, I will not be skipping south LA. In fact I think it’s incredibly important the vendor and members in that region be part of reaping the benefits of CPA. I love Sheila’s idea of potentially having micro-CPAs that meet under a wider county-umbrella. Especially in terms of contracting locally (skip the traffic, save the environment) and investing into local organizing efforts that structure makes sense. Once savings are significant enough to hire multiple staff having local leads makes a ton of sense. I can imagine my value-add being catching the vision, gathering the early-adopters, launching something that begins to grow, and then either becoming a local (someone into theology and/or into state-buildling and/or racial justice please let’s have a conversation about how long it takes to be considered “part of” or what the difference is between investing and genuinely inhabiting a community and being an extractive/oppressive presence within it) or passing it off to someone(s) else. Of the two scenarios I imagine the second as much more likely, given my community-living post and other factors.

Also thanks for the clarification on initial funding, Felipe. I’m assuming our final project is our business plan so this is timely information! 🙂

5 thoughts on “The nay-sayers are right”

  1. Hi Jessica!

    I love the sobering tone behind your post. However, I think the analysis would benefit from considering a few additional factors, which may or may not apply to South LA (you would know better than I):
    – How cost burdened are these churches and faith-based institutions? If they, like most faith-based institutions, are seeing decreased revenues and increasing facilities costs, much of their mental and emotional energy could be drawn to the stress of keeping their church running where it could be dedicated to seizing this unique political moment you’ve described.
    – How much time do they already waste managing contracts and trying to figure out how the devil to decide whether to fix the boiler or replace it (see what I did there?).
    – If what it really takes to seize this moment is time and resources into organizing, don’t the profit from CPA as is directly go to organizing efforts? One of the main ways I’m beginning to build an alliance of organizers to support me is by saying that CPA’s profits would largely help fund organizing work that helps build the much needed civic infrastructure we don’t have in Miami.

    To the extent where these issues are big enough, I think your analysis could go in a different direction and I think that is the value of actually having those conversations. To find out.

    Warmly,
    Juan

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  2. Hi, Jessica, awesome work on imagining the limitations of the CPA model for South LA! I also wonder, with your help and the size of LA, would it be feasible to build a network of smaller CPA’s that do exactly what you suggest here (e.g. hyperlocal member institutions, vendors, community organizations, and individual workers)?

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  3. Jess. Kudos on taking the plunge and doing the deep dive here. So grateful for the emotional labor to really think through this.
    (1) Any new insights for you here? Did you convince yourself that status quo is probably what’s best? 😉

    For many institutions — especially smaller ones that have volunteers doing a good bit of things, I find that affirming that what they have in place is the most economical, smartest decision is often a way to build trust with a smaller institution. Often telling them, wow — you’re managing things really well compared to other folks I’ve met with. That’s a great way to end a first 1-on-1. But then say — if you’re ever looking to join a group of others who are x, Y or Z… (aspirations that they may have), let us know…

    The other thing that CPA is actually really good for is just benchmarking. about 1 in 10 churches / schools I meet with is being substantially taken advantage of… / over-paying either for trash or copiers or some other contract. Sometimes the amount is quite significant. You can always say — CPA works to help make sure people don’t get taken advantage of — and help people get fair market pricing.

    I wanted to respond to this:
    “the promise that their investment is a loan that would be paid back if it isn’t reimbursed through savings within the first three years”
    This is actually a pretty interesting idea that I like. however, the way we built CPA in DC was… we’ll deliver the savings first… and if the savings more than exceed 200% of the investment amount, we’d like you to write a check for half the savings and make your investment in the co-op to become a member owner.

    For example for a $1M budget chuch, the member investment is $2,000. So if they save $4,000 in the first year, we’d ask that the join the co-op in year two by paying the $2k investment.

    ====
    Great work on this, Jess. I’m really excited to see where this goes.

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  4. Jessica – very convincing 5-paragraph essay! Well done! I think the set of assumptions you outlined are very important/strong anchors in justifying the argument of the essay. Do you think any one assumption carries more weight than another? What would a change in the assumptions do? One assumption that stood out to me was: “I have been credentialed by someone who these religious leaders have some trust with.” Do you think that if this person vouching for you had significant influence over a religious leader(s), the outcome would look different? If so, how?

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  5. Yes, Jessica … you convinced me! You have done an amazing job of seeing the world through your “opponents” perspective. So much so that I think you convinced all of us that these are your views also. Really nice work!
    So, I’m curious — did you convince yourself? If yes, are you looking for a different target for membership in CPA?

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