Interest in worker cooperatives and cooperative development is growing. At the same time, many groups interested in the cooperative model have little familiarity with actual cooperative practices. There is a great need for experienced voices to help guide the plans and projects of those exploring worker cooperatives, to help them set up effective systems, structures and processes. This is where DAWN comes in.
Worker cooperatives have always relied on each other informally for technical assistance, models, advice and small loans. We have created a variety of places to exchange information and build skills: local federations; local, regional and national conferences; phone calls and in-person visits; and active financial and technical support for startup projects from established workplaces. The creation of the US Federation of Worker Cooperatives was in part motivated by a desire to formalize and grow this already existing network of support. Building on existing relationships and projects, we are now poised to create and coordinate a national network of homegrown experts.
And these homegrown experts exist! After years of growth in worker cooperatives, there is a new generation of experienced worker-cooperators who are dynamic, motivated and interested in sharing their expertise and providing peer technical assistance to worker-owned businesses and startups. DAWN coordinates this pool of energetic and talented worker cooperators, trains and prepares them to provide effective assistance, and helps build a national support system that enables them to work together for maximum effect.
The Democracy at Work Network (DAWN) is a network of certified peer advisors, all with strong social and professional ties, who cooperate in training themselves and providing technical assistance services to worker cooperatives. Our goals are to
- meet the demand for technical assistance and development advice with high-quality services, and
- increase worker cooperative technical assistance capacity from inside the movement.
Worker cooperatives, like all small businesses, require professional services to support the creation and functioning of their business. Due to the specialized nature of worker ownership, they also require specialized assistance in setting up financial, governance, operations, and decision-making structures, as well as training in democratic management. DAWN is organizing to meet these needs.
(1) We Build from Within
The Network aims to cultivate technical assistance providers from within the pool of experienced worker cooperators. We believe that this approach itself strengthens existing worker cooperatives by:
- increasing the expertise and engagement of current worker cooperators
- helping us retain talented and dedicated workers in the movement
- supplementing and reducing reliance on outside providers
- ensuring that this new initiative is sustainable and scalable to the resources available.
(2) We Value Experience
We believe that one of the most important and effective areas of expertise a consultant can bring to worker cooperative development and support is experience actually working in a democratic workplace. All other areas of knowledge, expertise and experience are informed by this fundamental grounding in democratic principles and practice.
(3) We Take a Broad Approach
The needs of each organization, community, cooperative and workplace are shaped by its workers, its industry, its location and a variety of other factors. Peer consultants, though equipped with standards and best practices, will not approach projects with a one-size-fits-all model, rather they will bring a breadth of models and experience to inform their clients’ decisions.
(4) We Work Locally
We believe that technical assistance and worker cooperative development support are most effective when provided at a local level by people familiar with local markets, laws, practices, and cultural norms. We will therefore give priority to local providers and will make every effort to coordinate the network through local and regional organizations.
(5) Our Approach is Critically Inclusive
We believe that cooperative development work is social change work and that the process of democratic self-governance is fundamentally transformative. We understand that effective cooperation demands not just a respect for all voices but a critical awareness of power and the dynamics that keep some voices unheard. We therefore bring the power analysis developed by anti-racist trainers to the work of cooperative development.
(6) We Train the Trainers
We believe that every worker cooperator, every recipient of peer technical assistance, is a potential source of support and technical assistance for others in their cooperative and beyond. Therefore our training approach treats the trainee as a potential trainer, assumes that the training will be passed along to others down the line, and gives the tools to do so.
(7) We Are Open Source
We are committed to sharing information. The documents and processes that we produce within the Peer Technical Assistance project are not proprietary, instead they become part of free information and free culture.
(8) We Create, Then Evaluate
We understand that ongoing evaluation of ourselves, our capacity and our working relationships is critical. We model this self-reflexivity as a group, and we emphasize it to others when we provide support.
(9) We Share the Seven Cooperative Principles
As experienced worker cooperators, we have a practical lived (and worked) experience of the Seven Cooperative Principles, and we bring this understanding and commitment to our consulting work. These principles inform our technical assistance provision, and we will share them with those unfamiliar with them, explain and discuss them, and refer to them as our guide.
(10) We Share the Madison Principles
As people involved in supporting cooperative development, we agree to follow the ethical standards and practices codified in the Madison Principles.
(11) We Have Fun
We are committed to lightening up a little! We embrace humor, joy, and the delightful notion that if it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing with a smile and a light heart.