Excerpt from “FY2017-19, Working Together, Addendum,” NYC Small Business Services

What if a nonprofit wrote a report and city policy actually changed as a result?

Truth is, reports by nonprofits that advocate policy changes are written all the time, but most, even when full of good policy ideas, gather electronic dust.

But in New York City, in January 2014, the Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies (FPWA) published a report, authored by its executive director Jennifer Jones Austin, titled Worker Cooperatives for New York City: A Vision for Addressing Income Inequality. There have been a lot of reports written on worker cooperatives over the past decade, including many by national nonprofits and one published by the Surdna Foundation. But none have been as influential as that 40-page report published in New York City in 2014.

The report, in its executive summary, made the following top-line policy recommendations:

  • Recognize worker cooperatives as natural vehicles for reducing the various inequalities in its economic system.
  • Support and grow worker cooperatives within the City through the New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC) and Department of Small Business Services (SBS).
  • Make worker cooperatives a preferred contractor for City agencies.
  • Provide funding to worker cooperative developers.
  • Award capital or incubator start-up funds for worker cooperative businesses.
  • Connect workforce funding to worker cooperatives.

 

By June, less than six months after the report was published, New York City, which had never before spent a dime to support worker cooperatives, had launched its Worker Cooperative Business Development Initiative, seeded with $1.2 million in city funds. In so doing, New York became, as Jake Blumgart wrote in Next City at the time, “the first city in the United States with a line item in its budget specifically for the development and cultivation of worker cooperatives.”

It was a big step in an astonishingly short period of time, even if the $1.2 million was a drop in the bucket of the $75 billion budget the city approved that year. Fortunately for worker co-op advocates, the program has been largely successful. City spending accordingly has increased over time to Fiscal Year 2020’s allocation of $3.6 million.

Of course, it wasn’t simply the report’s policy logic that led City Council to respond so promptly. The “who” behind the report mattered—a lot. First, there was the FPWA itself, a large nonprofit which in 2014 had over $6 million in revenues. It mattered too that a leading city anti-poverty agency backed the campaign, rather than just worker co-ops themselves. Additionally, Jones Austin herself was an influential city political leader, who then-mayor-elect Bill de Blasio tapped to co-chair his 60-person transition team. And FPWA was backed by its many coalition partners, who mobilized to support the budget allocation, testifying at a city council committee hearing held a month after the report came out. For example, at the hearing, Elizabeth Mendoza, a worker-owner of the Beyond Care childcare co-op incubated by the nonprofit