Category Archives: Blog Post

Can cooperatives help us create an equitable economy?

Can cooperatives help us create an equitable economy?

By Salvador Menjivar | LinkedIn | Twitter

Salvador is Beneficial State Foundation’s Executive Director based in Oakland, CA.

There are many different types of cooperatives in the U.S. and some have been more successful than others in establishing roots in the communities where they reside. Contrary to popular narratives, co-ops are as American as apple pie, and they have a long history in the United States.

In 1752, Benjamin Franklin founded the country’s first federally-recognized cooperative business—the Philadelphia Contributionship for the Insurance of Houses from Loss by Fire. Moreover, by refusing to ensure houses not up to fire safety standards, the company set new criteria, which would eventually be incorporated into building codes and zoning laws, for housing safety.

Cooperatives also played a key role in the South for enslaved Africans and African Americans seeking to build lives for their families following the Civil War. W.E.B. Du Bois often spoke of cooperative economics in his work, and recognized the Underground Railroad as a co-op in which abolitionists shared resources to help enslaved Africans escape. Vigilance committees within the Underground Railroad provided food, clothing and shelter, and raised revenue so these resources could be readily available for runaways. Additional cooperatives were later established to help build wealth within Black communities, such as the Freedom Quilting Bee in Alberta, Alabama, which helped African American women earn money collectively, enabling its members to purchase land and a factory. Ownership of their labor allowed some of the women to make enough money to purchase their freedom from sharecropping.

Contrary to popular narratives, co-ops are as American as apple pie, and they have a long history in the United States.

Today, co-ops are defined as legal entities created and operated with the intention of benefiting their members. There are multiple cooperatives structures which are commonly used today: consumer co-ops, worker owned co-ops, employee owned businesses, and real estate co-ops.

REI is a well know consumer co-op, where people come together to buy products at better prices. Worker-owned coops are increasing, but still rare in the U.S.; according to some sources there are just over 300.

Alabama Freedom Quilting Bee, Encyclopedia of Alabama

Employee Stock Option Plans (ESOP) are slightly different than co-ops—cooperative structures grant each member or worker-owner an equal share of the business AND an equal vote in decision-making, regardless of pay or seniority. In the case of an ESOP employees are granted the option of acquiring company stock, usually at a discounted prize. However, the objective of an ESOP is usually to reward employees for the growth and profitability of the business, not to create a distrusted ownership of the company. Kelly-Moore Paint is one of the most widely-recognized companies with an employee stock ownership program.

Real estate co-ops facilitate the ownership of housing by members, making property ownership more affordable. For example, the NYC Real Estate Investment Cooperative (NYC REIC) consists of more than 400 members who “are pooling their money and power to secure space for community, small business, and cultural use” in New York City. In California, the East Bay Permanent Real Estate Cooperative was born out of a collaboration between the People of Color Sustainable Housing Network and the Sustainable Economies Law Center. The East Bay Real Estate Cooperative is “designed to remove land from the speculative market, create permanently affordable housing and commercial space…and assert democratic control into the development process in the face of mass displacement in the Bay Area,” says Chris Tittle, Director of Organizational Resilience at the Law Center.

Some of the most successful co-ops in the U.S are financial co-ops, also known as credit unions, and they can provide a great alternative to traditional big banks. Credit unions are not-for-profit institutions that either invest profits back into the organization or distribute profits among members as dividends in the form of earned interest. Technically, credit unions are owned by their account holders, known as members. As not-for-profit institutions, credit unions pay no state or federal taxes, meaning they can charge lower interest rates than banks for most financial services. Today, more than 100 million Americans are members of credit unions in the U.S.

It’s time for a new economic system—one that balances the needs of all its stakeholders.

Co-ops offer great hope for addressing one of the biggest problems of our current economic system: the concentration of wealth among a shrinking number of investors in big corporations and banks. From 1979 to 2007, “paycheck income of the top 1 percent of US earners increased by over 256 percent.” During the same period of time, “the bottom 90 percent of earners saw little increases to their average income, with a dismal 21 percent increase from 1979 to 2015.

Stagnant wages in the U.S. are just one of many factors that have made home ownership a lofty goal for countless working-class families. Homeownership remains a significant driver of wealth in the United States, which is why many housing rights advocates are looking at collective ownership models that make home ownership a possibility for people who have historically been excluded from the housing market. In general, co-ops offer an opportunity for communities to reimagine what ownership looks like with a lense towards equity.

Cooperatives represent a solution that can help increase ownership within untapped communities, build generational wealth, and foster economically resilient neighborhoods. A robust and innovative co-op movement is one of the keys to an equitable economic system that abandons models which value profits over people and the planet. It’s time for a new economic system—one that balances the needs of all its stakeholders, including workers, community, the environment, and even investors.

This blog post reflects the author’s personal views and opinions, and does not represent the views and opinions of Beneficial State Bank and/or Beneficial State Foundation.

How do I know if my bank is good?

How do I know if my bank is good?

By Jhana Valentine | LinkedIn

Jhana is Beneficial State Foundation’s Social and Environmental Impact Associate based in Oakland, CA.

“How do I know if my bank is good?”

When I was first asked this question, I was surprised and a little embarrassed that I didn’t have an answer. At the time, I’d started an internship at Beneficial State Foundation and experienced how easy it was to move my money into a community bank. I was energized to see the Defund DAPL movement gaining momentum. I was trying to convince my best friend that not all banks were bad and that many banks and credit unions actually do a lot of good in their communities so she should move her money to one of them. I didn’t have a name for it at the time, but I was encouraging her to join the Banking on Values movement.

The Banking on Values movement, led by the Global Alliance for Banking on Values, aims to positively change the banking sector by influencing the ways in which banks and other financial institutions serve human needs, our environment, and the real economy. Consumers can engage in the Banking on Values Movement by encouraging their bank to adopt values-based banking principles or by moving their money to bank that already does.

My best friend was pressing me, as she often does, to get to the heart of the matter: “Are there principles or practices that distinguish a good bank? How do I know if my bank is upholding these principles? How do I know that my bank isn’t funding projects I don’t support, like the Dakota Access Pipeline?”

The Banking on Values movement reminds us that our deposit dollars don’t disappear into a black box

Underlying the over-simplified binary of “good” and “bad” banks are our values.  I value fairness and equity.  So when I hear about a bank charging people of color higher interest rates than white people, that goes against my values and I don’t want my money to support those practices. When I learn that my bank actively supports projects that preserve and develop affordable housing, I feel proud to bank with an institution that aligns with my values.

The Banking on Values movement reminds us that our deposit dollars don’t disappear into a black box. That money is recirculated in the economy, either by investing in the people and products we see in the real economy, or participating in the financial economy of stocks, securities, and speculation. Values-based banks demonstrate that a bank can generate positive social and environmental impact and remain financially sustainable by making loans directly into the real economy.

In my role I track and measure the impact metrics of Beneficial State Bank, a values-based bank.  We look at numerous social and environmental indicators of our bank’s loans, from the number of kilowatt hours produced by clean energy projects to the number of small and local businesses that have distributed ownership models, such as cooperatives. This work has given me an in-depth understanding of how good banking can be translated into concrete indicators, policies, and practices that can help any one of us determine if our bank is aligned with our values.

I often think back to my friend’s questions because they remind me that the impact metrics I’m collecting can help a consumer make an informed decision about where they bank. My hope is that one day all banks measure and publish not only their financial indicators of success, but also their social and environmental impact metrics. Drawing upon the work of the Global Alliance of Banking on Values members, who are working together to develop best practices for impact measurement, I’m now much more equipped to answer my friend’s questions with concrete examples.

Here are some principles and practices that distinguish a “good” bank:

To determine if your bank is upholding these principles and practices, you might have to do some digging:

  1. Read through your bank’s website. Do they share a mission and vision that resonates with you? Do they provide concrete examples of how they are living up to this mission? Do they publish information about what they’re not supporting, such as private prisons and pipelines?
  2. Talk to your banker. How is the bank involved in the community? Do they have special products or pricing that serve communities that have historically been left out of the banking system?
  3. Check their certifications and associations. If your bank is a certified Community Development Financial Institution, Community Development Credit Union, or certified B Corporation, or a participant in the Global Alliance of Banking on Values or Community Development Bankers Association, there’s a good chance they’re a values-based bank.

Thanks to dedicated organizations, you can check if your bank is funding certain projects that have negative social and environmental impacts:

  1. Food and Water Watch will tell you if your bank has funded the Dakota Access Pipeline.
  2. Rainforest Action Network will tell you if your bank is funding activities that directly contribute to climate change.

For me, values are at the heart of the matter, whether I’m picking out food at the grocery store, deciding how to spend my free time, or putting my money into a bank or investment vehicle. I know that we all have a unique blend of values, but I think there are as many similarities among people as there are differences. I think many of you would agree that you don’t want your money working against you. And so, if you only saw your bank’s purely financial statements, that information alone wouldn’t convince you that your bank is good. I think you’d want more comprehensive information. The Banking on Values movement has inspired me to consider us all as stakeholders of the banking industry. As a depositor stakeholder, I want my bank, which holds my money, to support the communities and ecosystems that sustain, nourish and make my life beautiful. What do you want from your bank?

For more tips on how to find a values-aligned bank near you, check out our Move Your Money toolkit.

This blog post reflects the author’s personal views and opinions, and does not represent the views and opinions of Beneficial State Bank and/or Beneficial State Foundation.

“Active Hope”: A compass for navigating sadness in the world

“Active Hope”: A compass for navigating sadness in the world

By Anne Morgan | LinkedIn

I have a book for you that will dramatically shift the way you view the world.

I can count on one hand the number of books that were as transformational for me as Active Hope: How to Face the Mess We’re in Without Going Crazy by Chris Johnstone and Joanna Macy. Although I read it nearly five years ago, I have relied on its teachings daily ever since. Active Hope truly shifted how I navigate this world.

I spent the second half of 2012 in a serious funk. In hindsight, I’m sure I was depressed. The climate crisis felt like humanity had been catapulted into a death spiral that would destroy most of life on Earth on our way out.

Earlier that summer I accepted an invitation to join an all-expenses paid tour of the tar sands near Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada. I was going to see with my very own eyes what NASA climate scientist James Hansen dubbed the “biggest carbon bomb on the planet.” Yaaaay!

To prepare for the trip, I studied what climate change really means for us.

Finally, I went to Mordor, a.k.a. Alberta’s tar sands, to experience this apocalyptic future for a few days.

How likely are these apocalyptic future scenarios? To get answers, I immersed myself in articles, TedX talks, and documentaries from leading climate scientists and communicators with cheerful titles like “Game Over for the Climate” and “Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math”. Finally, I went to Mordor, a.k.a. Alberta’s tar sands, to experience this future for a few days.

Reading about the climate crisis and seeing a “carbon bomb” with my own eyes resulted into things: 1) I became very informed (silver lining!) and 2) I became very sad (what’s the opposite of a silver lining?). Climate change was already responsible for four hundred thousand deaths each year and identified as a major cause of the mass extinction that is underway. Humans – a relatively small group of them – are allowing an unconscionable degree of suffering, death, and loss. As a result, our range of possible futures is becoming more narrow and bleak.

Grief overwhelmed me, and I felt isolated by the depth of my emotions. I was surrounded by friends and family who “get” climate change but none of them were crying every day about it like I was. I felt weird and alone in my grief over the death of the future.

And then my mother – in her soothing wisdom – gave me a copy of Active Hope.

And I turned a corner.

Photo by Ravi Roshan on Unsplash

This book taught me to acknowledge and accept my response to our sustainability crisis, and then it provided tools and strategies for approaching these issues that have made me more emotionally resilient. Now when I encounter bad news about the world I feel sad, but I don’t feel stuck. For example, just today I read about the Pope criticizing the US for abandoning the Paris climate deal. The Trump administration’s decision to withdraw the US from this deal – and refusing to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions – is potentially catastrophic.

Active Hope doesn’t require optimism. It is about the future that we desire, but it doesn’t need our preferred outcome to be likely to happen.

So to practice “active hope” in the context of climate change, I start by acknowledging the reality of our situation (ugh), then thinking about the future I want – a stable climate, thriving communities built on justice and equity, and all that good stuff. And then I take steps toward that future. This week I’ll be riding my bike to work, shopping for groceries at the co-op, and attending a ribbon cutting for a new affordable housing apartment building.

Five years after my trip to the tar sands I still think that humanity is in a death spiral that is likely to take out most of life on Earth (I’m really fun at dinner parties), and I still grieve for the death of the future. But through the lens of Active Hope I feel deeply empowered and energized to do the work.

Read more about what Active Hope is and how to practice it, check out the book from the library, and/or share your reactions/reflections in the comment section below. How do you deal with the mess we’re in without going losing balance?

This blog post reflects the author’s personal views and opinions, and does not represent the views and opinions of Beneficial State Bank and/or Beneficial State Foundation.

Inclusion drives innovation: how we can shift societal attitudes toward disabilities

Inclusion drives innovation: how we can shift societal attitudes toward disabilities

By Michael Steen | LinkedIn

Michael is Beneficial State Bank’s Senior Credit Analyst in Portland, OR.

Along with family, friends and a myriad of community organizations that are integral to the human experience, employment offers an essential avenue to connect with one another.  It oftentimes is a core component of one’s identity, providing meaning and a sense of fulfillment.  A workplace can provide structure for people to utilize their talents, enhance skillsets and celebrate accomplishments with team members. And it goes without saying that a paycheck provides the means necessary to purchase essential goods and services.

It probably does not come as a surprise that people experiencing disabilities have lower rates of employment, though the statistics are worth noting.  Though the unemployment rate for people experiencing a disability was “only” about twice as high as the overall population (7.5% vs. 3.9%), the labor force participation rate for people experiencing disabilities is 21%, compared to 68.7% for those without a disability. While some people experiencing disabilities choose to not enter into or remain in the workforce, many more prefer to be gainfully employed, but are discouraged from entering the job market

National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM) encourages employers to reach out to people experiencing disabilities to apply for employment opportunities and educate themselves about reasonable accommodations (if any are needed at all) – creating a more inclusive workplace.

Just as we all are shaped by our environments, having a disability is simply one of a host of attributes that influences how we choose to make use of our time.

The impact of a disability varies widely depending on the type of disability (be it a physical, mental, or intellectual and developmental) and when the disability was acquired.  My life has been influenced by Cerebral Palsy (CP), a neurological disorder that can affect muscle control and tone, coordination and cognitive abilities.  While in my personal circumstance, the severity of the CP is minimal, disability is nevertheless an impactful component of my life – including one that has influence on my current occupation.

“Nothing About Us, Without Us, Is For Us” by Ricardo Levins Morales, courtesy of Creative Resistance

In reflecting on my career in banking, I have enjoyed opportunities to contribute to conversations around credit structures and policies while forming relationships with colleagues and customers.  As a team, we strive to provide credit and banking services that best fit the customers’ needs. By leveraging one of my own strengths (holistic analysis), I have contributed to the impact that Beneficial State has in the communities we serve. While I am mindful that certain tasks take longer than I would like them to, by building strong relationships and focusing my day to day responsibilities on those tasks that I can do most efficiently, I add value to the longterm mission of the bank.

This year’s NDEAM theme is “Inclusion Drives Innovation”.   As the U.S. Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta said, “Smart employers know that including different perspectives in problem-solving situations leads to better solutions. Hiring employees with diverse abilities strengthens their business, increases competition and drives innovation.”

As the old adage goes: necessity is the mother of invention.  Experiencing constraints are part in parcel with having a disability.  However, the drive to figure out how to mitigate certain constraints is a powerful impetus for innovation. Consider the following:

The invention of the typewriter: “In 19th-century Italy, sighted Pellegrino Turri and blind Countess Carolina Fantoni da Fivizzano struggled to find a way to send each other their secret love letters (Braille had not yet been developed)… After much deliberation, the lovers came up with a tactile solution: one of the first working typewriters. By treating blindness as a design challenge, they developed a revolutionary method for producing print by touch. Today, millions of people produce print through the touch of a key, and some of the fastest typists are touch typists.”

The creation of email services: “Mr. Vint Cerf is hearing-impaired, and his disability influenced his work developing the Internet. Back in the 1980s, deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals searched for a good alternative to communicating over the telephone. Mr. Cerf spearheaded the creation of the first commercial email service, allowing him to communicate with family members and colleagues without straining to hear.”

Despite the fact that the lived experiences of those with disabilities provide a unique perspective to solving challenges, and although the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 was created to level the playing field for people with disabilities, major barriers to employment persist.  While the ADA prohibits discrimination in the workplace and requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations, a cultural component unfortunately remains in many places.

Communities have a significant opportunity to advance the welfare of all people by shifting societal attitudes towards disabilities.

While an initial investment of time and resources may be required, companies that include people experiencing disabilities in their workforce often reap a competitive advantage. Take these examples into consideration:

According to the food company Carolina Fine Snacks, based in North Carolina, “The impact of hiring people with disabilities is that employee turnover dropped from 80% every six months to less than 5%, productivity rose from 60-70% to 85-95%, absenteeism dropped from 20% to less than 5%, tardiness dropped from 30% of staff to zero.” The company’s president said that “the new employee’s attitude was contagious: some of the non-disabled employees began to improve their performance.”

Leah Lobato, director of the Utah Governor’s Committee for Employment of People with Disabilities says, “When a customer sees a diverse workforce, it raises their comfort in your business. I hear a lot of stories where, ‘I tend to go to that store who has this bagger who happens to have a disability but who is one of the best baggers I’ve ever known.’ Or, ‘I happen to go to that company because I know that they hire individuals with cerebral palsy.’ Those aren’t things that we typically focus on, but [hiring individuals with disabilities] does create an atmosphere of more positive thinking and inclusion.”

Society as a whole benefits when all people are included in the workforce and are afforded opportunities to gain the skills needed to perform those jobs.

Currently, there are 6 million unfilled jobs across the United States, acting as a weight on GDP growth.  People experiencing disabilities could certainly fill a portion of these roles admirably, possibly with a little ingenuity.  For example, a practice known as “job carving” can be used, whereby a job coach analyzes work duties performed in a given job and identifies specific tasks that might be assigned to an employee experiencing a disability.  This tool enables a true “win-win” opportunity for employee and employer.

By using smart techniques such as “job carving”, allowing for reasonable workplace accommodations and flexible scheduling (which I am grateful to benefit from), employers are able to increase our social awareness of the differences that make us unique while capitalizing on our collective strengths. Through increased awareness from inclusive hiring practices, we enrich one another, making ourselves, the companies and the communities that we are part of, a little better.  This is realized from both the economic perspective and the shared experiences that bond us together.  As we celebrate National Disability Employment Awareness Month, seek out those opportunities to engage with people who may be differently abled. Besides being the right thing to do, you never know who may bring about the next innovation that you just can’t live without.

This blog post reflects the author’s personal views and opinions, and does not represent the views and opinions of Beneficial State Bank and/or Beneficial State Foundation.

Supporting disaster recovery efforts in Texas, Puerto Rico, and Mexico

Supporting disaster recovery efforts in Texas, Puerto Rico, and Mexico

A statement from Beneficial State Bank Co-CEOs, Kat Taylor and Dan Skaff, and Beneficial State Foundation Executive Director, Salvador Menjivar.

“Climate Change Affects Us All” from People’s Climate March in 2014 courtesy of Creative Resistance

Over the last few weeks we have witnessed with great sadness the immense human suffering and devastation from natural disasters in the US, Mexico and other parts of the world.

In many cases, we see the direct correlation between these events and climate change, from the torrential monsoon rains in Bangladesh, India and Nepal, which have left thousands dead and millions homeless, to the hurricanes that have battered Texas, Florida, and many Caribbean islands.

Last week Hurricane Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico and consecutive earthquakes in Mexico added insult to injury, especially to those already living in precarious conditions. We can’t ignore these tragedies and as global citizens we want to express our most profound sentiment of solidarity with those who are suffering.

The Beneficial State family of organizations was founded with the principle that we must serve our communities by helping to build an equitable society in which everyone prospers. In that spirit, Beneficial State has made donations to several disaster recovery funds, and we urge our allies and friends to do the same. We believe that it is the power of many coming together to support the victims of these disasters that can help alleviate the pain of our fellow citizens.

We made donations to the following organizations. Please feel free to share this list with friends and family.

In Mexico, we donated to UNICEF Mexico.

In Texas, we donated to the Texas Organizing Project.

In Puerto Rico, we donated to UNICEF.

5 ways to go back to school with social entrepreneurship

5 ways to go back to school with social entrepreneurship

By Kate Rood | LinkedIn

Kate is Beneficial State Foundation’s Community Engagement Officer based in Portland, OR.

It’s been three years since I turned in my last final for the MBA program at Portland State University. Enough time has passed that back to school season this year is making me long for the structure of homework and the camaraderie of classmates. The more I work on movement building to align our financial systems with triple-bottom-line business models, the more I want to learn about social entrepreneurship in action around the world. I think movement building benefits from an attitude of lifelong learning, of always going back to school in some way. Whatever social, economic or environmental justice issue you’re committed to serving, I invite you to join me in starting a brainstorm list or a doodle in your notebook and setting new goals for learning about the dynamic field of social impact business.

Here are 5 ideas for how to “go back to school” with social entrepreneurship and resources to explore.


Why you should care about Dodd-Frank

Why you should care about Dodd-Frank

By Fiona Ruddy | LinkedIn

Fiona participated in Beneficial State Foundation’s 2017 Summer Fellowship as the Movement Building, Policy & Strategic Communications Fellow.

Last week I was on a walk discussing my fellowship at Beneficial State Foundation with a friend who is starting a PhD program. I began rattling off findings from my research on financial injustice, offering my opinion on how to support divestment movements, and extoling my love for the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act.

Amid this extremely nerdy conversation, I was shocked to find out my pal (who is deeply interested in equity and justice) had no idea what Dodd-Frank was.