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Three Takeaways

Takeaway 1:  It was wonderful to meet you all in person! Our in person meeting confirmed that one of the great values of this process is the connections I’ve made to each of you.  I had one of the shortest trips to D.C. and I was impressed that each of you took time and energy to travel to the workshop and annual meeting.

Takeaway 2:  I look forward to taking a deep dive into the CPA documents Felipe has provided.  I’m trying to connect with major donors again and complete four grants this next week (and we have a major event Saturday night) so I’m really pushed timewise this week and next.  But I have questions about how this could financially work in Lancaster and am interested in working through more of the details.  It was great to talk a bit about how small churches fit into this work and I am interested to discuss it more.

Takeaway 3:  Last week was exhausting mentally, emotionally, and physically.  This cohort, if I’m honest, can feel like one too many things when I feel too pushed.  But sitting at the Annual Meeting on Wednesday night hearing so many talk about the benefits of CPA reminded me why I really want to make this work in Lancaster.  The great upside of my work is that moment when a church is struggling to make something happen and through their connection to the PRC it does.  I heard that over and over again Wednesday night and it reminded me why I do this work and why it’s so important to continue this work.  Is it hard, yes.  But when it works, it’s so worth it!

RS: Grateful for your thoughts and questions! From the get-go, my general weariness has been, perhaps, more evident to all of you than it is to me. It’s certainly something my family talks with me about frequently in recent months. Sometimes I feel like I should explain that my tiredness comes, now, from a sense of overwhelming opportunity more than a slide into failure. My brain is often pushed to the max these days trying to sort through what is important to do immediately and what idea, no matter how good it is, should we wait on so that the team here at PRC doesn’t burn out.

For years I didn’t think these opportunities would materialize and I worked long, hard hours hustling rebuilding relationships, showing up, and listening to people’s frustrations. I have to do a lot less of that these days and I do more strategic work, more fundraising, more networking on a more abstract scale. It can be less emotional, but I’m also dealing with bigger things and saying yes to something can shift my workload quickly. And I’m still in the mode of saying yes to everything because I may not get the chance again.

I’m the child of two entrepreneurs, two artists who advocated for adventure over stability. And I definitely suffer from shiny new things syndrome and get the most adrenaline from starting something than continuing it. But this is way of working isn’t, ultimately, sustainable. These days I’m much more focused on carefully expanding things in what I hope offers longterm sustainability to the PRC. We’ve moved from critical to stable and I need to really recalibrate my energy. After years of feeding off of adrenaline, I need to find a new way to keep myself engaged and to deal with the years of fatigue that I ignored in the past by picking something new to do that could distract me.

Or at least these are the thing I tell myself and my family when we discuss my weariness. I think it’s true. I also think I’m relaxing for the first time in years and that can have a funny effect. All that I’ve held at bay can come rushing in at once.

This cohort has been wonderful in terms of building relationships with other folks who are asking the same questions I am while also looking for honest answers. This work can be lonely at times and certainly the connections to other likeminded folks is key to not getting bogged down in the bad and focusing on the good.

I’ve been incredibly fortunate in the last six months to have two key work relationships develop that have been really lifegiving for me. One is a new staff person who is creative and entrepreneurial. These can be hard people to find in the nonprofit world, especially in the church nonprofit world and I am grateful to have found her. The other is a development consultant who has a great ability to take my ideas and take them the next step, which is incredibly helpful.

Finally, I’ve gotten a lot better at taking care of myself, too. I spend a lot more time outside, a lot more time exercising, and more time free of sound (too many podcasts overwhelm my brain, I’ve discovered). It all helps!

complexity-embracing, economy-bending

The 2-5pm workshop stirred up some interesting conversations. One interesting question that I believe Michelle asked rooted a few conversations I had over the next few days. She raised to the group the issue of priority, of which relationships and networks to build first. If the goal is connecting MBEs to anchor institutions or networks of nonprofits, for example, should we first build the networks of nonprofits and anchors or the networks of MBEs? The ensuing back-and-forth and an exchange I had the next day with Felipe led to what I’m holding as takeaways from the weekend, ideas that are essential to the upcoming work of drafting a business plan for CPA Boston. Here’s where I’m at:

My first inclination when I’m faced with an either/or question like is to see what happens when I say “neither!” or “both!” or otherwise reframe the question. In this case, to the question of what to prioritize, I say “both!” We need to be building these networks in unison, allowing them to iteratively recreate, inform, and inspire each other.

To the additional question of how to message that, I say (hellooo personal edge) be honest. It’s complicated to message a complicated process, to share honestly that building power in a network means focusing some of the earlier wins and processes on saving money and building trust, and that the economy-bending, wealth-building work of channeling collective purchases towards black/woman-owned/minority-run businesses, may not bear fruit until later. Honest strategy. Collaborative, authentic, complexity-embracing, willingness-to-listen-and-be-changed, humble. Leadership. I don’t know exactly what this will look like in Boston. As I see it, it’s not up to me. It’s up to this network we’re building. It’s up to all of us. 


Flashbacks to client service!!

Here are a few takeaways from our time in DC:

1. Members of the Incubator are bringing a lot of passion and experience…

One of my favorite parts of our time in DC was when eight of us from the Incubator poured out of the Flamboyan Foundation into a cool, dry Fall evening in DC to walk to CPA’s annual event a mile away. Juan Francisco and I chatted about our parallel work experiences. Others paired off, discussing the workshops we’d just left and telling their meet cute stories of Felipe. The group felt energetic. I was inspired to see the way a group of people who had met online just weeks earlier, and many met in person for the first time, were coming together with a shared excitement to build on the work of CPA.
When I asked, Juan Francisco shared in detail how he’s able to fit in the work the Incubator: “Writing a blog post after a day of work and while my family is gathering for drinks before dinner without me.” Wow. His energy and commitment is inspiring. Sheila share with me more of her extensive professional background in social work, organizing, and teaching. We learned we took the same organizing class at Harvard a few year apart!

2. …and people are bringing a lot of questions


A memorable part of the workshop was when we discussed what it looks like for CPA to work with its member institutions. Michelle asked something like, “What if they want to know about composting services? I don’t know anything about that. What do I have to offer a member institution on that?”
What Felipe shared was insightful. He said in that scenario he would get smart on it real quick. He’d call 3 composting companies and get quotes, ask about their billing practices. He’d ask the company for references, and call them to learn what the service is like. Then he’d call that member institution back and share what he’d learned.
When Felipe told us this, people had more questions. Paul, I think, asked about “Well what about HVAC? I don’t know anything about HVAC, but many property managers at large institutions do. What can I tell them about HVAC they don’t already know?” Felipe’s response: “Joe spent a year learning about HVAC systems, even though he primarily works on solar. He had to learn a ton of stuff. And now he’s the expert on HVACs, and helps lots of institutions figure stuff out they didn’t know already.”
3. CPA is a business service organization
It’s clear to me following our time in DC that CPA revolves around solving concrete problems facing member institutions – who both spend with CPA and exercise governance through their role as member owners. Felipe’s composting example revealed that to me.
That commitment to member institutions reminds me of my years in private sector consulting. Client service was a big deal. We went to incredible lengths to bring the best analysis to clients – traveling everywhere at the drop of the hat, late nights, endless conference calls. Delivering what the client needed was the whole reasons we existed.
I don’t see that same relentless drive in the nonprofit sector. I can think of a few reasons why that may be the case. One is the profit motive is lower. There’s no big payday when a nonprofit organization gets it right. Two, and perhaps more convincing, is the lack of clarity around who is the ‘client.’ While the consulting firm I worked gets paid by the same person or org to whom we’re responsible to deliver our findings, nonprofit orgs can have many more stakeholders beyond the person they will work with day-to-day. Funders and volunteer board members, for example, may each offer competing visions of what the work should look like.
I think CPA has that clarity, and I’m guessing that to make CPA Cleveland work, our team here must approach the work with a client service mentality.
Thank you for the comments! Generous indeed! I really like the idea of parsing out the desirable / undesirable parts of private sector consulting, and leaving behind the bad as I move to CPA. I left the consulting job because I wanted to run to work in the solidarity economy; I also left because I wanted to run from the bad parts of my old job. Here are two pernicious parts of consulting I hope do not show up in CPA. 
Unbalanced life. The commitment to client service plus insatiable requests for work on internal projects and to sustaining the institution itself led to super healthy lives. The month I left the firm I worked at, my two closest friends in the home office at emotional breakdowns. The stress accumulated in their bodies until they shut down. At least one left the office sobbing. CPA LETS NEVER DO THAT TO PEOPLE WHO WORK HERE.
Both rolled of their clients and took a few weeks off. Now they’re back on the job. That’s wild.
Compromised values. One Friday afternoon as I was between clients the person who staffed me on projects asked me if I would join a team doing client service at a big tobacco company. She knew enough about my politics that she couched the request like “No pressure, but would you consider…” NO! I would not consider that.
But big tobacco is profitable, and the firm I worked at was all about profit. That led them to do all sorts of terrible things I’m not proud to have been part of, even if I said no to the most egregious of them. I hope I never say that about CPA.

Seeing is believing

Sorry to be late with my post. It in no way reflects waning enthusiasm for the potential of launching a CPA in Denver. Quite the contrary. Attending Wednesday’s workshop and Annual Meeting in D.C. added fuel to the fire. My delinquent post is a reflection of entering into a time warp and different dimension with my elderly father in Knoxville, Tennessee. He is having some major health challenges, with a setback last week. It’s not clear whether he will be able to recover and if you have been in similar circumstances with a loved one, then you may understand that it is a consuming and difficult reality to navigate. I flew from D.C. to Knoxville on Thursday and will be here until next Saturday.

I am very grateful to have been able to make the trip to D.C. It was great to participate in an in-person workshop for a couple of hours and actually be together in the same room. And a real treat to attend CPA’s Annual Meeting. It was very powerful to experience the room full of people that are CPA members, vendors, staff and potential new members. And fun to imagine a similar room in Denver, hopefully in the not too distant future. Kudos to Felipe and the CPA staff for orchestrating a powerful evening that celebrated a very successful year and also showcased CPAs expansion plans. Very powerful to have members of the incubator share their enthusiasm and gratitude for CPA … something that I think was probably an unexpected outcome of CPAs success for many of CPAs members. It created a real sense of movement building and being a part of something even larger than they had imagined. Coming together as a buying co-op in D.C. was a huge step and now to see that it is parlaying into an even bigger movement across the country is really an impressive orchestration, Felipe. Hats off to you!

Each of my conversations reflected the celebratory mood of the evening. I met two facility managers from two different schools. Neither of their schools were members yet. One had purchased services from CPA and was very pleased with the price and service and seemed to be in the process of figuring out whether membership made financial sense. The other person was new to CPA but attended the evening at the recommendation of a friend. She identified that her school had major difficulties with their HVAC and they were also anticipating needing to replace their drinking water fountains and are areas where CPA could support them. (Are drinking water fountains an area that CPA is looking into?)

I also had the pleasure of talking to the church leaders from the church featured in the video. Interesting to find out that they too aren’t members of CPA. It was fun to witness Nick Giannotti, president of New Columbia Solar, the company responsible for the church’s new roof and solar installation, met the church leaders for the first time. Nick explained that he attended Georgetown University and started his business after graduating. He was grateful to be in a position to give back to the community where he has built a successful business. In a follow-up conversation I learned that Nick was able to recover his investment in the roof and solar system in about seven years due to local and federal tax credits. He offered to be a resource as we explore whether this is a scenario that can be repeated in Colorado.

We will be sharing this success story with our friends at Namaste Solar, a worker cooperative solar installation company, founded in Boulder, Colorado. We told Nick about the Green Energy Credit Union that launched in May 2018. It was started by Blake Jones, who is also the founder of Namaste Solar. Blake also launched Kachuwa Impact Fund, an investment cooperative and public benefit corporation that invests in impact real estate and privately held companies that deliver a profit and a social return. They are accepting new investors in the Fund through November 2019. If anyone is interested, you can reach Blake through their website to request a prospectus and membership information.

I also had the pleasure of a quick conversation while going through the food line, with the founder of Securemedy. He expressed being very pleased with his relationship with CPA and feels that he is compensated very fairly for his services. He undoubtedly characterizes his involvement as a mutually beneficial relationship. This, of course, was also made clear in his presentation from the podium.

I also had a good conversation with the founder of Cureate, a company that connects anchor institutions to local food entrepreneurs. She isn’t currently connected to CPA, but was invited by Felipe to attend the event to learn more about CPA. She represents local food entrepreneurs and connects them to anchor institutions. She also offers workshops to help prepare food entrepreneurs to be successful working with anchors. It was nice to hear that she is paid strictly by the anchors. The vendors pay her nothing. She has a staff of 4-5 and seems to have a successful company. I wonder how her business model works — is it possible to have the anchors provide the bulk of the revenue to CPA, rather than the vendors? Has CPA looked at this approach already?

Additional Questions that arose for me:

  1. I didn’t realize that organizations could utilize services of CPA without being a member of the co-op. Do members and non-members of the co-op pay different prices for products/services? What is it that leads people to becoming a member vs just using the service? What does it mean to CPAs bottom line to have members vs organizations using its services?

2. I understand that CPA earns revenue for each sale. My understanding is that the vendor pays CPA a percentage of the contract price. Is that correct? Does the percentage stay constant or decrease at some point for larger contracts?

3. I missed Wednesday morning’s session, but I am interested to learn more about the issues that arose in Durham that have made it more difficult than expected to launch CPA-Durham.

4. I still think it would be helpful to have a primer on some of the key facility services that CPA is providing – e.g. HVAC and copiers. Just some bullet points about the key issues relevant for that particular service to shorten our learning curve. As we each gain expertise in a specific service we can prepare a short document (less than 1-page) with info on the key issues and jargon of that industry and share it amongst the CPA family. Just a thought.

Thank you, Felipe for creating such an amazing model and for allowing us to get a better see, taste, and feel for the energy and reality of CPA. It is awesome to be on this ride. I am excited and hopeful that Denver will be amongst the second generation of cities with a CPA.

Caminante, no hay camino, se hace camino al andar.

Caminante, no hay camino,
se hace camino al andar. 

One of my favorite poets is Antonio Machado.

I think this poem captures my first and most important learning of the conference sessions.

There is no road.  You make the road by travelling it.  I came hoping for a clear path and left realizing we are already on the path.  We have already begun building the CPA.  Build the business plan yes, use it as a guide and to show people that you know what you are doing.  But don’t wait for every detail, every piece of information.  Take the first step.  And then the second.  And keep walking.  Sometimes the road will be blocked, and we will have to find another way.  But keep walking.

Felipe and Kate and so many others demonstrated this.  Find what people need, make some phone calls, build a relationship or two and it will happen.

The second takeaway was the amazing power that exists in this network.  I had already learned this in our small cohort, but hearing from so many other voices showed the wealth that is out there, handed to us, if we only ask.  So asking is a key part of this process.  Ask the churches what they need;  ask the vendors what they can do and what they need to survive, ask others for their wisdom on HVAC and electricity and composting.  Ask.  It felt like many of the right people were gathered.  We the seekers.  The vendors.  Those who are already building wealth within the African American community.  The investors and capital movers.  The ones who are grounded in prayer.

Inclusivity and transparency.  There must be no hidden contracts.  No side deals.  No missing costs.   It is all right there.  Reminds me of what I was taught by my father…the code of the west…all you have is your integrity and your handshake is a vow of truth and a promise to do what is right.

People in the coop are proud to be in the coop.  Everyone I spoke with had a story of how this made a difference for them and their company or organization.  Of how this empowered them and gave them confidence.  Of how they felt part of something bigger that was having an impact.

And hope. Together, we can transform markets and communities and the way economic power is wielded.

The Cult for a Conscious Economy

It’s going to be the second post in a row where I start off saying that this week has been pretty intense in terms of learning and reading 📖 . I realize, this is bound to be there norm for the remaining 3 weeks and I’m glad, even though sleep has been scarcer.

This week in D.C was definitely a turning point for my CPA experience (yes, another one 😅). I attended the full day of activities that Felipe and his team (and dad 🤩) prepared us.

The takeaways seem too many to list. I filled out 4 pages of my notebook with tidbits of knowledge, experience and concerns that resonated with me 🤓. As I write this post, I’m being intentional about not having my notes in front of me so I can just let out and reflect about what’s already digested , be aware of what is still needing to settle in to articulate properly and what will need additional reflection and reading before becoming part of my mental models around CPA and the goals. The takeaways were as follows:

  1. Radical Transparency as a way to add value, regardless of outcomes.

    I recall this point first emerging from Felipe himself (multiple times over the course of our conversations, but it landed differently this time.
    Sheila and I also spoke about this at length during our walk to the school for the annual meeting.
    Even though Felipe spoke to this point at the speed of an Eminem rap solo 😛, the general way a meeting could go is as follows:
  • Start the conversation centering around values and building relationships
  • Size them up and get key info regarding the scale of their operations
  • From there, begin sharing what you’ve seen works for others, what they can pay, what discounts can be achieved, what businesses can be supported and all the benefits/opportunities available to them.
  • Once their interest has been piqued and they get that there’s a real opportunity for them here, ask them for their invoices, what vendors they like and which don’t they like. Begin gathering information with a real aim to add value for them. (note to self: you can also enlist another member to share their experience or invite them to a peer support group to hear it from “someone like them”)
  • Finally, you can ask them: who else would benefit from this? Who are 3 other administrators you know from other places that you know are struggling with (some) contracts.

We tied all this back to his our culture has given itself the right to dictate what we can and should ask about and what we can’t (taboos). Things like how much you earn, pay for a given good or service, death, sex, these are all topics that our culture has oftentimes deemed disrespectful to even ask about. In professional spheres, these taboos extend to what is “sensitive” information (like what you pay for anything/anyone, what you charge in B2B cases, etc.).

The whole point Felipe was making was that, by sharing your knowledge openly, you can immediately assert yourself as an ally and add value to many organizations for whom their facilities contract can be a burden. Then, regardless of whether they join you or not, you’ve added value and that makes the whole conversation worth it, in my book.

2. We are not just a mash up group of random (and surprisingly tall 😱) people implementing in geographic silos, we’re a carefully curated network made to support each other to collective success.

This became evident to me in several ways: My conversations with The Pauls (Hazen and Alexander, Hi! 👋) about the perspectives of institutional administrators, the Essicas (Yessica and Jessica 😻) on values-based purchasing and business modeling respectively, Michelle on my story of self/now and the need to juxtaposition between having all the steps mapped out before making the first and proper planning, Carrie and Tony on our growth as professionals and people over fancy coffee (😋☕️), Merald on what honesty, vulnerability and success look like (and what they don’t), Boris and Joe on origin stories leading to work on climate change and so much more. I wish we would have had more time to connect with everyone, but these interactions were enough to make me realize this is a wacky bunch, but interlinked by a shared vision for what could be.

3. Successful realization of this work is as much personal transformation and team building as it is planning, having the right tools and execution.

I notice how sometimes I have come to resist the notion of “the entrepreneur” as the center figure for change or creation. Anyone with practical experience knows that it’s all about the team (and team of teams).
Having said that, when we look at Felipe’s experience with CPA, I’m reminded of the sheer magnitude of momentum a single person can generate. This is both empowering (if he can, we can) and conflicting (ugh, will I end up not relying on others to drive this and not just “support”).

Regardless of what the answer is, it’s helpful to remember Felipe’s starting point is different than ours in ways both beneficial and detrimental to us. That, coupled with the flexibility, support, potential funding and other aspects that compose our individual context and circumstances will be supremely useful to the extent where we, as people, are willing to transform ourselves into those who can make the best use of them. Each of us knows (or will have to figure out) what success looks like for us and our regions and by when. Are we the ones to make it happen? What is it going to take in terms of commitment? What fears do we know we’re going to come up against? Are we willing to face them this time around? If not, how can we work around it? Who can handle those fear-conjuring milestones for/with us? Transformation can start with the answers to these questions.

4. Sheila and I will benefit from patience and practice before tackling the big anchor in our sights.🤫

This also came out of our conversation outside the school before the annual meeting, when we also learned you’re not supposed to loiter on elementary school property as an adult 😅.

We’ve been playing detective for a couple of months trying to figure out what it would take to get decision-makers within a big anchor to sign on to our vision, which could be catalytic for our endeavor. During our conversation and the workshop session, we figured we should practice understanding and working with the smaller anchors first to develop an expertise and muscle memory of what/how can be done. Given that the big anchor is such a critical relationship, we definitely want to get it right with them. I reckon we could be both seen as experts in this work pretty quickly, but the daunting task of getting this anchor on board can also be an excuse to avoid making progress in quicker work streams that could trigger the momentum we could benefit from to enroll the big anchor.

what do you think? 📝

5. Even though the model (and the services they provide as hooks ⛓) can seem like a no-brainer for many member institutions, there are still important barriers to adoption, as expected. 🧐 Now I’d benefit from hearing the perspective of an organization that chose not to join, or has kept their participation on the lighter side.

I came to this further realization after speaking to 2 founding members (Sandi and Paul) and a couple of newer members at the annual conference.

In my initial conversations with Felipe, I happened to just voice a laundry list off the top of my head of all the objections I could think of for these institutions NOT joining CPA, ranging from indifference and avoiding perceived additional work by administrators to cultural, values, bureaucratic, and intellectual reasons (I’ll admit, I was feeling particularly cynical that day because of some now insignificant developments in another project 👻). Not only did Felipe echo back to me that many of those were the precise challenges he’s come up against in the past, but now I got a glimpse of it in person. As I write this, I think a quick one-pager on Typical objections from admins and rebuttals would be pretty useful. I’ve seen this technique used in sales a few times and, when you think of it, this is an exercise in sales with a strong values perspective.

As I read through this list over and over again, I notice how many of these takeaways are “soft” in the sense that they’re not technical. For a very large portion of my life, I was indoctrinated in the notion that technical prowess is critical, that complexity is king and that finding the best solution was the ultimate measure of success (I’m looking at you, engineering school 😒)

Over time, I’ve learned that the best solution is not the most technical of complex, but rather the most practical to implement. That technocratic solutions often fail because most people don’t understand them or how to implement them. Similarly, when dissecting the real reasons why projects fail, I’ve seen that 9 times out of 10 the root is in the soft skills gaps that were made evident during implementation (I’m pretty confident most would agree with me on this 😬), but it’s funny how traditional case studies which we were educated with don’t often highlight this. They lean on some random technicality that supposedly blew the whole thing up, without taking into account that connected, committed, well-supported and high-performing teams are often capable of finding workarounds, adapting, pivoting or mitigating the effects of unforeseen technical gaps. Nevertheless, I spent a few minutes doubting my most evident takeaways because there weren’t enough technical items. I guess that’s the result of growing up in a culture that makes you think that smarts equates to success.🤐

Alright, turns out I was able to regurgitate a lot more info than I expected in one sitting with so little cumulative sleep. Can you tell where I ran out of steam? Hope you enjoyed the read! 🙃

Reflection Script.

Alright, this reflection is all about elegant next steps, key identity traits from my past lives that I plan to make good use of in this work, and foreseeing key differences for anchors of different scales.

Elegant next step for the MVP: get an institution to say: we want in. This would be the very first threshold to surpass and I’m confident it can catapult my level of trust in myself to carry much of this work forward.

Parts of my identity I want to carry over: As an engineer, I want to be rigorous and thoughtful. My engineering training has taught me about being rigorous in terms of how we experiment and what we consider to be an adecua result based on tangible outcomes we can measure. In a way, it calls me to avoid the tempting excuses of what can be called an intermediate success and focus on creating results that matter.

As an entrepreneur, I want to be oriented towards value added and contribution to the world. In this sense, I want to be focused on how the work we’re doing can be a before and after for an entrepreneur, family and a community. That the project only makes sense and will be successful if and only if the value is there for everyone. This includes members, vendors and community at large.

Finally, about key differences between small and large anchors. I think that they’re critically different but the practice towards generating the relationship and getting a grasp with the larger aspects of the work is very transferable between the two, in my eyes.

What are the values that unite us?

Sorry I’m a bit late. In my defense it’s 7:30pm as I begin writing this in California. Sorry also that my takeaways are less descriptions of specific conversations during the workshop on Wednesday, and more reflections based on my experience of the whole thing, and the experience of this incubator so far.

Take-away #1: We have everything we need, potentially

Based on the comments of those in the room, I got the strong sense that we have absolutely everything we need in terms of knowledge, relationships, access, widome and vision in order to expand the reach of CPA. Justin’s knowledge of charter schools, Kate’s understanding of working with small scale organizations, Juan Francisco’s business savvy and can-do attitude, Sheila’s wide creativity and hunger for more, Felipe’s pragmatist humility, Dr. Soul’s HVAC savvy and Yesica’s confidence and centering of minority vendors…over and over I kept thinking “Yes, we need that person. Yes, the answers to my question lie somewhere here.” The challenge as always becomes (always, eternally, inflexibly) that of time, commitment, and as I will highlight next, trust.

Take-away #2: Operating from a place of trust, collaboration, and urgent-patience is key

In my role working within the county of Los Angeles I am often baffled and saddened by the things that could get done, but don’t, because there is a fundamental lack of trust or lack of creativity for moving beyond ones’ funding requirements or strict job description. The tone we have set in this incubator is good so far, and I’m hopeful that it can continue the same way. It takes trust and a willingness to collaborate in order to truly learn what we need from each other. In economic terms (often more helpful for capturing concepts than actually running an economy, but I digress) it takes those elements to unleash each of our comparative advantage. I suppose comparative advantage might also be akin to our “edge”. But I digress. I think an urgent-patience, as in a sense that everything cannot or will not be known or clear when one might wish, and yet an urgency to creating movement and getting into action regardless, is also key. This I think was best said by Juan in the session in speaking about not waiting to have all the key players at the table to move.

Take-away #3: We need a collective conversation about our guiding values.

I enjoyed starting to hear the thoughts in the room about what guiding values we might be able to hold and claim as core to CPA as it expands. I find that it is often helpful to start somewhat complicated/complex group conversations around important issues by putting forward a proposal that others can then use a springboard off of which to react. In that spirit I offer the following as first draft proposals for guiding values  that would cover all CPA-affiliated co-ops. I’m sure if I look at these again tomorrow I will have different ideas about them myself, so please feel entirely free to rip them apart. I  would  genuinely be very interested in having incubator participants and CPA DC staff and members alike react:

The National Community Purchasing Alliance’s Guiding Values are:

  1. Equity – CPA believes in equity both in its procurement choices and its hiring and human resources management. This means prioritizing purchases from business with companies that are local and woman or minority owned and operated and Fair Chance employers. It also means being environmentally conscious given the unevenly distributed impacts of environmental degradation.
  • Cooperation and Relationality  – CPA is a cooperative because it believes that we can do infinitely more when united than when divided.  We believe in win-win-win solutions and an economy that works for everyone, and we believe that begins with grounding our work in building healthy public relationships with each other.
  • Anti-Racism – CPA stands in opposition to white supremacy and all of the insidious forms it takes. CPA staff and members are diverse and have suffered or benefited from white supremacy in different ways. As an organization we understand that white supremacy has functioned in part through divestment from communities of color, queer communities, and communities at the intersection of various oppressed identities. We seek to build relationship and to invest in those communities.
  • Plenty – CPA does not fall prey to a scarcity mentality that pits us all in a race to the bottom. We believe that there is an abundance of ideas, solutions, and ability for organizations and individuals to live and do well.
  • Power building – A portion of CPA’s profits are invested in local community organizing networks because CPA believes in using relationships and a solidarity economy to be a model and engine for the critical work of moving our world from what it is to what it should be through participatory political organizing.


Reflection Script

Thank you for the resonance and the questions this week.

I’m tempted to respond to the individual questions in detail but given they touched on such complex issues for me to express myself around, I’ll try to group them thematically.

Several of you asked about this idea of trust – why/how have we felt it in this incubator? How do we keep and grow it over time and as things evolve?

2For me, a few key components of why I feel a sense of trust in this group and practices I think important for keeping or growing that trust:

1. Showing up. I put *ALOT* of stock in the sheer fact of showing up, putting in the time. Ultimately time is our most valuable asset and so seeing people show up for weekly meetings and at the workshop is the first and largest reason I have for trusting that at the very least, for a plethora of reasons, these folks are people that are in a similar enough state of curiosity, commitment, and openness as I am. Sheila asked about what we could do to build on our current dose of trust in the future. I think visiting each other in our various locations over the course of the next couple of years of building and serving as fresh ears and eyes for problem solving, while also having our imagination expanded could help further build that trust. When I was part of the SEED group through Mennonite Central Committee we were a group of 10 individuals scattered across Colombia doing various accompaniment projects within communities and we were able to visit each location as a group once over the two years and learn from each others’ contexts. How feasible that is in terms of finances and time I’m not sure. I think being thoughtful about post-incubator what the relationships will look like, whether mentorship, peer-support or regular regathering, all could help continue to build on our trust.

2. Financial transparency. This is a strange one and (like all things in a capitalist world that relate to money) a potentially awkward one. I think being clear that participants in the incubator are receiving a $1500 stipend if they complete the incubator is important. I think getting to look at CPA’s budget openly and know that questions around money are welcome is important. I think when the time comes for Felipe and the CPA team to decide how to invest grant funding for future potential CPAs comes it will be important for the continued trust and health of this thought-community to understand what and why those decisions are made. Sex and money are the two areas that by virtue of holding such taboos and being connected to such visceral needs also (to my mind) require radical transparency/honesty if we are going to learn to trust each other.

3. Sharing the personal reasons for how we engage and approach the public world. Understanding at least some of the underlying stories, heroes, reasons we bring into this work is so critical to fostering trust. Then intro videos were huge in setting that tone. The genuine desire I see in our weekly calls to get to know each other is also key.

I’m sure there are more, but those are the top 3 that occur to me. I don’t think trust is a feeling you have, I think much like love, it’s more of a practice and a gift. By weekly writing my truth to you all I am showing you trust, and so you will trust me more, and vice versa. I’ve been watching Battlestar Galactica a lot recently and in one scene the General is asked, when sending out a character who used to be part of enemy ranks off on a sensitive mission for his side, “How do you know she won’t betray you?” and he answers “I don’t. That’s trust.” And I believe that too.


Several of you really resonated with urgent-patience as well. I chuckle because I feel like I cheated — paradox is always so appealing. To me what this means is to feel the sense of urgency about taking the next small step, the next 1 on 1, the next research item, the next blog post, whatever keeping momentum means, while also holding a deep sense of patience with the process. Patience doesn’t mean waiting to me, it means listening. It means being realistic about what is possible in this very moment, and hopeful that that possibility can grow and build without dying. It means being anchored deeply enough in your own core purpose to be open to it taking different forms as the opportunity/need/power/community arises and demands.

Felipe — I’ll end by not answer your three questions that agitated me the most:

4. What might going deeper look like for you?

5. What’s holding you back to committing to a place?
(you mentioned a move may be on your horizon in 1-3 years?)

6. In thinking about the rest of your life — do you want to be more of a boomer or a sticker?

Felipe’s question 🙂

I won’t answer them because they’re each overly long posts of their own. I will say I take issue with Wendell Berry’s sharp distinction, helpful as it might be for illuminating his idea. I would argue my parents were neither boomers nor stickers. Nor are many itinerant artists, prophets, refugees, and a variety of other groups. That being said, I will continue to wrestle with these questions, and hope you ask me again sometime.

Say what?: Capital Stacks…

In 1999, I went to divinity school and in the then dean’s opening address, he noted that each profession or field has its own vocabulary and part of our learning should be to attend to that vocabulary so that we might feel our way to the core of the work through those guiding words. At the time, concepts like “kyriarchy”, “conscientization”, “hermeneutics of suspicion”, and “dualistic apocalyptic fundamentalism” meant very little to me, but over time, I came to learn, through those words, my way into the fields of feminist theological ethics and liberation theology.

I was reminded of this while sitting in the noon break-out group of the CPA retreat, listening to our colleagues discuss “capital stacks”, “dividends”, and “minimum viable product (MVP)”. Say what? It was dizzying, disorienting, and exhilarating to realize I am being given the invitation to become deeply curious about a different field, and to leverage that curiosity, as Felipe urged us, to understand the needs of the future CPA partners and buyers. I was intrigued by Amine’s incredible technical assistance background in how to access capital for CPA’s work; intrigued by Doctor’s insights about how small business owners can lose their shirts (literally and figuratively) because we may not be aware of the tax breaks, capital, and other resources available to us; and curious about each colleague’s blend of organizing, business savvy, and personal values have propelled them to this place of collective creativity and action.

I had a very frank conversation with Boris in which I asked him if he’d be willing to share a few short videos explaining aspects of CPA financing to a 5-year old (that 5 y.o. is me!)? He was incredibly generous and suggested that he could possibly join one of our Tuesday am calls for 30 minutes to answer our questions: How do dividends work? How is the rate for the rebate negotiated? How is capital raised? How do member organizations (especially faith institutions) make sense of writing a check to join CPA when, as Paul H. pointed out, they are used to receiving checks?

Merald offered a very thoughtful reflection to several of us about the challenges in bringing people together across lines of difference for a common purpose (i.e. collective buying from local businesses owned by people of color). I saw the theme of challenge around this topic in several other conversation or points of tension and moments of clarification throughout the day. It is humbling to reckon with the challenges that colleagues are facing as they do the work of building CPA models around the country. And, I am heartened by hearing stories like that of Justin, who has been an early adapter of CPA and on board with not only the savings and problem-solving provided by CPA, but also the larger mission. So, maybe that’s what I am left with – how to hold the larger vision with integrity in the midst of the painstaking small steps that are required daily – calling vendors to get estimates, listening to potential members’ concerns, and slowly building that vocabulary to render the work more transparent to myself, to the customers, and to the business owners whose labor offers us a continual measure of accountability for our choices in this building process. It was inspiring and humbling to spend time with all of you and the CPA community. Much gratitude and looking forward to getting to work! 🙂  

Summary of Take-Aways:

  • Don’t wait to take action; learn as we go
  • Get really, really, really curious
  • Ask lots of questions out of that curiosity
  • Ask for help/offer help (Juan Francisco, I am looking at you)
  • Be explicit about the why of this work, and keep it in mind when making decisions about how to solve customers’ problems
  • Don’t take it personally when potential members don’t “get it” and try to help them anyway
  • The work is messy! Embrace the chaos!

Reflection Script_Week 3

For your reflection, maybe I’d ask you: beyond technical knowledge, which can be acquired rather quickly for someone of your loved (lived) experience and talent, what personal resources or talents would you need to further develop on your (our) quest for CPA Miami? What’s the next frontier for you?

Juan Francisco, it made me smile that you wrote “loved” experience! I think you meant “lived” but still, it is all beloved experience. Thank you!!! I have been reflecting on our conversation in DC and am realizing that, in academia/at the U, what is rewarded is 1) keeping students happy 2) service to the institution. And while these are both understandable and even noble pursuits – mentoring and service – they get distorted by time and pressure and everyone, including me, gets ground to sand. We all start out wanting to be helpful, but we each have at least one other job to support ourselves/our families and the institution takes without giving the necessary support (financial or otherwise) to faculty, staff, or students. Cue the harps. What’s the point? I am not rewarded in my day-to-day work for building networks and forging new relationships, so there is little incentive or even opportunity to meet people who could be partners in building something new and amazing and in service to my students, something like CPA J So, I need to do a better job of reaching out to you to check in and I need to do a better job of building contacts in Miami who share a common purpose and vision! I know we should have a meeting coming up with Fr. Sosa; I wonder if we could brainstorm additional relational meetings that I can help facilitate over the next month to six weeks?

I’m curious how you navigate incorporating what you learn from asking questions back into the process – what does that feedback loop look like? Also, I would be thrilled/am supremely curious to learn how you are bringing your knowledge, gifts, feminist theological ethics and liberation theology into this work. As these are areas in which I admittedly know nothing (!), how do you tie this body of knowledge back to CPA, and how can we all leverage that insight and wisdom into what we are doing?

Alessandra, your questions are so poignant and powerful. So much has happened in terms of my personal faith (and its dissolution) and yet, the fundamental truth of liberation theologies still resonate: we are truly one and the willingness to live as one – especially with the people at whose expense I, and others who look like me, enjoy unearned privileges including relative safety, bodily autonomy, and economic opportunity – is the essence of what religious folks call “salvation” or redemption. I see that connected to the work of CPA through the commitments we make to honor the rights of the worker; to center the experiences of people of color whose labor has historically been taken without regard for their rights to safety, bodily autonomy, and economic opportunity; and to build relationships across differences to build a world that restores relationships among humans and between humans and the planet.

What would the economic model for a co-op for Tavon for Restorative Justice & NVC look like?
Who would they key clients be? how much would they pay?
Who do you know that might be open to paying him for the kind of interaction / experience that he gave you?
How could you help him start getting paid work — just one paid gig tomorrow? Who would you call? How would you use your privilege and access and knowledge of how other worlds work — to help make that happen?

Felipe, great action questions! I have a call with Ron from Tilde on Friday, so I will let you know what I learn about that as a possible model for the RJ co-op. And we have a statewide RJ conference coming up; I know the president of the statewide org., FRJA, and I’m going to ask him if the co-op model can be a part of the conference (this could also be a place to pitch CPA???). For the gig, I keep thinking there’s got to be a way to get him and some of the other youth here jobs as RJ facilitators in the local community. I’m not sure yet whom to ask to make that a reality. I have a student in one of my classes who is involved with Dream Defenders; perhaps she and I can find a way to create an opportunity to fund some kind of paid in-service here at the SSW at Barry… Hmm…

How else can we capitalize on the expertise of the CPA team to help in this process?

What will be the first step you take after the convening? What type of support do you need to take the next step?

Asking for help is a very humbling experience. How will you balance the need to continue to build your capacity and knowledge with the idea that we continue to move forward?

Can you think of a time when you successfully embraced the chaos? What actions did you take? How did you react? What did you learn from that experience?

Yessica, I am so grateful for you and your clarity of purpose always. I agree! It is humbling to ask for help and I need to do so! I am doing some outreach for this RJ co-op idea and will let you know how the next steps go! In terms of CPA, I am hoping to plan more regular meetings with Juan Francisco to keep me focused and in a learning mode. I am on the board for a new entrepreneurship center at Barry and I could also join an action research cohort there, which would be another way to do the continuous learning needed for the CPA building process? Ah, the chaos! LOL. Yes, most recently, it was in one of my classes. Students were in full battle mode due to some issues that were not directly related to my specific class, but I was seeing a spillover effect from issues in their field placements. I took a vote among the class and we decided that we would detour from the course syllabus to do a class on motivational interviewing. It was a definite departure from the prescribed course content and the day I taught it, the students seemed sullen and even disappointed. But at the end of the semester, they each let me know that it had been their best class, because they felt heard and seen and had some tangible skills they could now use to work more effectively with their field supervisors. It was a good/humbling/welcome reminder that sometimes entering in to the chaos has more value than resisting it. I hope that I can summon that willingness to leap with our CPA work!

My Journey Towards Collective Power

October 23rd will go in the books as CPA Day.  The sessions provided a great opportunity for reflection, connection, identifying potential obstacles, and a path forward.  One of the most valuable lessons or reminders is that we are currently seeing the end product of CPA, but there was a process that took years to get to this point.  I also enjoyed seeing some of you in person. I must say, Felipe was right. There is an effective way to use Zoom to facilitate connections.  

I had many takeaways from the CPA visit.  Some of those highlights of my reflections include: 

Start Small, Build Up – Being realistic with our capacity and the number of members needed to actually start the cooperative is going to be the key to success.  Felipe reminded me to consider the minimum viable product (MVP). What is the minimum “CPA” offering that still meets the needs of members? What is the hook for further engagement?  I am looking forward to further discussing these questions with Paul and Michelle to identify a realistic goal for what we want to accomplish.   

It’s ALL About Relationships – The key to success really is relationships and trust.  I know that we have covered this constantly, but when I was thinking about the most important task to accomplish right now, the answer was ‘build relationships’  When I was trying to distill what it is that makes CPA successful, I realized that it has been Felipe and the team building strong relationships with vendors, members, and each other.  I also realize that because relationships are the value proposition, we will need to make an intentional effort to constantly build and maintain relationships. Relationships are the greatest CPA asset.  I am invited to think of how we build a network of trust and how we can create a practical vehicle for collaboration without losing sight of our values.     

Power of Reflection – I had a great conversation with Merald Holloway regarding Durham CPA.  The conversation started with Merald sharing about how critical it is to keep disadvantaged businesses in mind when developing CPA.  He shared that in Durham, a minuscule amount of government contracts actually go to businesses owned by African Americans. I asked him what his greatest learning experience had been to date with starting a CPA in Durham, NC.  He shared that the most valuable skill has been starting and maintaining a practice of reflection throughout the process. He admitted that at first, he thought it was a waste of time. “I don’t have time to reflect,” he thought.  Despite his resistance, he did it. Having learned a lot about the process has really helped Merald look back and pivot as needed.  Given my experiences in the last three months, I realize that I need to make this a formal practice.  

Strong Board = Strong CPA – In a conversation with Ellen Agler, President of CPA’s board, she shared her excitement for the potential expansion of CPA to other parts of the country.  Just like Felipe, she was eager to share all that she could. Ellen even offered to come to Denver and connect with others if it helps to get CPA off the ground.  At the moment, I realized just how powerful the members can be in sharing the message. I am invited to think about what we can do to foster relationships with those who will become our disciples in this journey.  

Overall, the day was great.  I am still in DC meeting with other organizations, but when I back I will think about what it takes to bring a national model with local adaptations to ensure that it meets our needs.  I would also like to start doing a quick assessment to see what our current business capacity is in the main industries (identified by CPA).  Identifying a few vendors will help us start and provide support with what members need at the moment. Taking this approach will help build trust.  This, along with our relational interviews, will be a good starting point for the creation of the mini-business plan. 

I personally feel very supported in the process knowing that collectively, we have a wealth of knowledge, information, and expertise that we can share with each other.  Thank you all for being part of this journey!

Reflection Script

I want to express my gratitude to Felipe and the CPA team for inviting us to be a part of this journey.  The last week helped me see the importance of building replicable models. It also highlighted the need to develop leaders who can adapt models to get the most benefit out of them.  

It’s been a few days since CPA Day.  More than ever, I am committed to go deeper and build more trust.  I will build meaningful relationships to co-create something that members can be proud of.  I also want to connect with supporters that can connect me to decision-makers. One of those key connections will be with Dr. Rev. Tyler.  His passion for social justice makes him the perfect thought partner and potential CPA member.  

CPA definitely intersects with my personal interest in bringing economic opportunities to disenfranchised communities.  While I am incredibly passionate about this, I know that there are others who also share my passion. My additional task is to continue to identify those movement builders and invite them to help me co-create this cooperative.  At this point, we have not decided who will lead this effort. However, just like with everything else I do, I want to build the capacity so that the success of the project does not rely on one individual. My dream is to co-create something sustainable so that I leave without disrupting the movement.  

“Not even the William Shatner”

I decided to answer this week’s prompt – What are the edges that make the most sense to me personally and for my goal(s) in the CPA incubator? – by answering the following questions from Seth Godin’s Ship It Journal:

Given that you’re not the Michelangelo of this domain, the Julia Child or even the William Shatner, how can you possibly hope to have a breakthrough? The only solution is to find edges others haven’t found, to bring a dynamic others are afraid of. What’s yours?

What first struck me about this short passage is that it questioned my very nerve to be hopeful – “how can you possibly hope to have a breakthrough?” Before I even got to this sentence, I was already considering all the reasons why my specific goal in convening women to invest in other women was trite, duplicative, maybe even irrelevant. Aren’t there banks? Aren’t there foundations? Entire organizations dedicated to making this happen? And then, my doubts were validated. How dare I hope?

So, I considered the second half of the passage. “The only solution is to find edges others haven’t found, to bring a dynamic others are afraid of. What’s yours?” And this is where I reflected a bit on what dynamic I bring that others are afraid of. Myself included, sometimes.

I can navigate through multiple layers of responsibility, expectations, communities, cultures, roles, and competing interests with vision and discipline. Within this complex framework, I stay the course and bring enough activation energy to develop a plan and implement it. My edges lie in connecting, planning, and activating. What does this look like? How do I know?

The best example I can give of this is related to how I leveraged my time, resources, and skills to accomplish a goal in 2017. I had set a personal goal of opening my own business without leaving my job, while continuing to contribute to social and environmental sustainability efforts within my city. How this played out was working full-time at a large company, planning and applying for grants to open a business, opening a business, and serving on local non-profit boards while volunteering in my neighborhood to keep my ear to and boots on the ground on development that affects my city, my community, and my neighboring communities. While this level of time, energy, and resources is unsustainable to devote on an ongoing basis, I learned from that spark I lit that initiated the entire plan to materialize. I learned that in complexity, I find ways to make direct connections that serve multiple benefits. I learned that I could and would do the things I set out to do. And I learned that I am good at asking for help.

Recently, a friend told me that “maybe if she worked on an idea she had with [me], her idea would finally happen.” I was really humbled by that statement – as nonchalant and jovial as it was – because it affirmed my interpretation of my edge. What could anyone be afraid of, in soliciting my edge? Perhaps, that there will be accountability and investment in place from someone else who is all in to make that idea happen. Perhaps, that I will relentlessly work on that idea until we see it through together – and remind them constantly.

Now, I seek to apply these lessons in convening people that may not normally intersect to identify a common purpose and establish a strong system that nurtures and grows other women and minority entrepreneurs. From last week’s prompt, I received excellent questions regarding my preparedness to “follow through on engaging others – not to convince them to go along with [my] thing but to either offer feedback to help [me] refine a model that [I’m] kind of wedded to or taking where [I] start from and allowing it to be truly shaped/co-created through engagement.” I was challenged to acknowledge “a spectrum of need.” And that question and challenge are what motivated me to seek my edge – to embrace my latent discomfort everywhere as an invitation to be comfortable inviting people everywhere.

Not only do I acknowledge “a spectrum of need” for entrepreneurs of different ability, resources, stories, communities – I recognize how much stronger the web is by bringing representatives from across the spectrum together. And not only am I open to inviting them to go along “with my thing,” but how important and special the “thing” will be with others’ feedback and ownership and investment – financial/tangible or otherwise. Hence, the edges I would like to see come from this network will be in the “spectrum” of diverse needs represented, availability of diverse resources, and resulting depth of connections formed. In some ways, my goal of converting PizzaPlex into a worker-owned business relies on this edge of making connections, and asking for help. The edges of PizzaPlex are in distributed ownership (at this time, only in decision-making and accountability – not yet financial) to reflect a commitment to “Pizza. People. Planet.”

My personal edge manifests in the connections I make when I reflect and use my own skills, network, or passions as a starting point. I don’t have all the relationships in place to launch a successful investment club; however, I can make connections between incredible human beings who excel in so many areas I do not, and gratefully welcome them to build something with me and invite others. I am willing to put in the work and light the spark – I hope many minds will bring the fuel to keep the clean, particulate- and smoke-free 😉 flame alive.

RS – Another week of comments that do not disappoint, and posts that inspire so profoundly! This week, between the theme of fellow team members’ posts and the theme of questions I received on my own post, one emerging insight I have gleaned is that I need to consider how Trust is built into my own actions and my plans. Trust must be bi-directional. It must be mutual to be comfortable building together. But Trust doesn’t stop between customer and service provider. Trust needs to exist among all stakeholders. Do we trust each other to help each other launch our dreams? Do we trust our allies – be they conventional or non-conventional? Do we Trust ourselves to hold ourselves accountable?

I’m still mulling over what Trust looks like, how you know when it’s there, and how strategies to persuade must still be rooted in authenticity that fosters Trust. I am going to be more intentional asking myself how I measure Trust, and ask for feedback as to whether others have Trust in me. I don’t know how yet, but I am curious to learn.