I was recently reelected to DAWN’s Board of Governors and the Training and Certification Committee. I am also a founding member of the organization. The following opinion (pitch, if you will) is all mine, however, and should not be seen as a statement by DAWN or representing DAWN.
Last weekend, the third annual spring meeting of the Democracy at Work Network (DAWN) convened along with the certification of its third cohort of Peer Advisers. It was an incredible weekend and we were reminded by our the folks on the Marketing Committee that we need to get the word out.
What is DAWN?
DAWN is, as it names implies, an organization of people aimed at assisting worker owned businesses in improving their functionality and governance as a democratic workplace. What makes DAWN different from a consulting service or academic pursuit arises from the population of the group. DAWN focuses on Peer Advising. The majority of people in DAWN either work in a worker cooperative or have worked in a workers cooperative within the last five years. This is an essential element. While we do have members who work as professional consultants, DAWN looks to embody the concept of inter-cooperation and solidarity. Peer Advisers don’t need to learn about the dynamics of workers cooperatives since they live those dynamics.
However, this isn’t just people who work in co-op sharing war stories. The certification process ensures that the PA can provide the level of assistance needed. The first year of membership is spent engaging in intensive training through webinars and weekend retreats. while learning about financing, legal structures, strategic planning and a host of other issues, PA apprentices conduct research about coop models, teach each other about those models, and participate in an internship utilizing their host and a mentor for guidance. All of this culminates, if successful, in becoming a Certified Peer Advisor.
DAWN ‘s stated 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.
I think that an unstated part of this is to also get our worker cooperatives (over 300 in the United States) to not always rely on a “do-it-yourself” method of development. Too often, in my opinion and experience, co-operatives either ignore development as something too expensive or too corporate or just too complicated. If co-ops do engage in development, then it is usually the result of a small group within the coop driving it and not necessarily part of a strategic vision. At best, everything is successful and the people leading have the knowledge, skills and ability to manage the manage the program and are around long enough to see it through to fruition. At worst, it creates a series of false starts that further stigmatize coop development or organizational development as expensive, time consuming and not worth the effort. For most cooperatives, I imagine, the reality lies somewhere along the continuum between those extremes with most co-ops just feeling too busy managing operations to deal with the larger picture issues until an issue reaches a boiling point and demands the attention of the group.
Why DAWN Can Help Worker Coops Succeed
Operations tend to be what we are best at as co-operators. I think that this is a nature aspect of worker cooperation. We get the gritty details of getting people cabs, fixing bicycles, running retail operations, and making/roasting coffee. Sometimes the bigger picture of long-term planning, capital planning, organizational culture, governance and accountability gets lost in the mix as we try to keep our customers coming back, pay ourselves and our vendors. Some of these development issues get us outside of our comfort zones and don’t seem to really make a difference, so why spend our members’ hard-earned equity on it?
Worker Co-ops need to create new ways of managing. We aren’t our competitors and don’t want to be. Taking the time (and money) to think and create new ways of managing the collective assets of the cooperative in a manner that strengthens the organization along cooperative values and principles should help make our coops stronger and more resilient to the demands of the market place. It should create added-value for the consumers of our operations. Sometimes, this can be hard to do by ourselves. We may not always have the right mix of knowledge and skills or there may be underlying social issues that prevent moving forward. This is true of any type of business, not just worker coops and is why consultants often get brought into any business.
DAWN offers the ability to efficiently deal with development issues and build structures tailored to the individual cooperative. Outside facilitation can assist the members is seeing their organization from a different perspective, learn from other worker coop models (cross-pollinate if you will) and develop systems and strategies that will help their cooperatives meet missions, core values and be successful. DAWN is a fee-for-service organization. It isn’t cheap, but it does provide value.
DAWN was created to help coops help themselves through a peer assistance program. If you think that your coop needs some outside assistance, please consider DAWN as a resource created specifically for worker cooperatives.