OC Foundation Presents: Solidarity School

OC Foundation Presents: Solidarity School

OC Foundation offers nonprofit status + fundraising + money management software to aligned groups. We are part of an international network of nonprofits and other fiscal sponsors that use the same open source software to create efficiencies with money. We do the paperwork so that unincorporated groups, or Collectives, can focus on their mission. We connect Collectives to learn about each other and, in the process, the idea of an educational ecosystem that allows them to interact more was born.

Find out more about the philosophy and practical tools of the emerging Solidarity School in this conversation with educators Caroline Woolard and Mike Strode.

Solidarity School is the name for events in the OC Foundation ecosystem that increase the capacity of the Collectives to practice spreading power and wealth and rooting it in hyperlocal communities.

Members of Collectives are invited to attend events and to propose offerings to each other. The arc of learning for Solidarity School is rooted in popular education and project-based learning, as Mike Strode is a practitioner of popular education, and Caroline Woolard is a project-based educator teaching in the Interdisciplinary MFA Program at UNM.

Each Collective arrives with unique hyperlocal projects, yet all Collectives are connected to OC Foundation because it provides non-profit status, fundraising technology, and money management tools for transparent budgeting.

What is Solidarity School?

Caroline Woolard:

We asked ourselves: How can a money management platform contribute to the Solidarity Economy movement?

Our answer: Offer regular containers for post-capitalist practices of Openness and Collectivity.

This includes seeing time and wisdom as equally important to money, offering education alongside grant writing skills. It is necessary to learn how to write a grant to survive the current capitalist system, and we cannot ignore the violence of philanthropy itself and the more important work of valuing the post-capitalist futures that we and our Collectives are already building.

We begin by welcoming Collectives into a shared space (Mass Orientation, Welcome Party, Community Forum) and move into practices of building community by sharing skills (Offers and Needs Market), of talking about money, class, and power (Money Health Conversations). From there, we offer ways to think about collective practices such as deciding how to spend money together (Participatory Budgeting) and how to share power and responsibilities in groups (Distributed Leadership). We continue to invite Collectives and partners to propose any workshop that aligns with our mission to build shared capacity to collectively own our jobs, housing, and culture in the Solidarity Economy movement.

Mike Strode:

Solidarity School was organically born through relationships that Open Collective Foundation has with the projects that we fiscally host. We started to think about how we can expand our relationships beyond simply the provision of a shared infrastructure; to think about what learning, structural, capacity building, and operational improvement needs we can offer to our Collectives. We want to support the Collectives we are fiscally hosting to address those challenges. We want to think broadly about the entire Open Collective ecosystem and how the projects are part of it.

What is the specific learning that we can draw up from the problems that we commonly see a project face?

Many Collectives have trouble spending the money that they raise. We provide one of the best fundraising platforms in the industry. However, once Collectives begin to accumulate money, they may have trouble conceiving what they should be spending this money on, and what the most responsible way to provide this funding is. We start to think how we can invite in external facilitators or use our own facilitation skills – or bring in some of the skills that Collectives already have inherently! – that will allow these projects to think collectively about how they can solve problems together.

What is the Solidarity Economy?

What is behind it? Why is it happening now?

Caroline Woolard:

Did you know that people around the world are making businesses together without bosses? Yes, you can go to work and make decisions with your co-workers about your pay, your schedule, and more. Did you know that people are meeting each other’s needs without money? Yes, there are organized networks where you can offer an hour of your time, for example, an hour of grant writing, cooking, cutting hair, or sewing. Yes, around the world, this way of valuing people and the planet over profit is called the Solidarity Economy. The idea is that the economic system that mutual aid and open source groups want is not only possible — it already exists — and can be strengthened and cultivated with intention. This system connects worker co-ops (businesses without bosses), land trusts, non-extractive loans, time banks, and more. These are entities that center community ownership and democratic governance for political, cultural, and economic power. In the US, this emergent movement goes by many names — economic democracy, just transition, the commons — but internationally, it is known as the Social and Solidarity Economy, or the Solidarity Economy for short.

Mike Strode:

When I’m trying to summarize it inside my own community, I frame the solidarity economy as collective self-determination and collective economic autonomy. Communities are attempting to address and meet their needs in ways that allow everyone to participate in making decisions around what the solutions can and should be. Here in Chicago, Illinois, we have a very long history of community organizing. For a long time, they have been trying to organize to assert their right to have a say in decisions that affect and impact their lives. Many of them launch efforts, campaigns, and various neighborhood associations. Communities want to create a sense of belonging, connectedness, and groundedness in the places where they live, and they want justice that has been denied to them for so long.

The frame of solidarity economy is something more recent. Within Collaborate to Co-Liberate (a program of the Nonprofit Democracy Network), we are all learning PBJ (Power Belonging and Justice). There is even a funny phrasing: “Put some PBJ on your turkey!” Why is it happening now? It has been happening before, but there are lot more people taking notice of it now. A resurgent movement starts to bubble up beneath the surface whenever justice reigns.

We also have had certain resistance movements that have been asserted in a sense of political democracy. The solidarity economy is really about the pursuit of economic democracy and justice, which is a part of the unfinished work of the US Civil Rights movement. If you have political but you don’t have economic democracy, you don’t have full democracy. You don’t have the ability to really control the conditions of your life. If someone has control over the economic democracy, they can deny your political rights in a very roundabout way. In its turn, the solidarity economy is about total change and total transformation.

What are the skills required and desired?

Of OC Foundation Collectives in the Solidarity Economy movement overall, and how does Solidarity School contribute to these skills and desires?

Caroline Woolard:

The Solidarity Economy movement is all about Collective Ownership and Collective Decision-making. This challenges most of us to build muscles that are weak because most of us have little to no experience of shared decision-making or shared leadership at work, at school, at home, or online. Do you have the power to change your salary? Do you get to choose who your teacher is? Do you get a cut of the profits made by your participation in online platforms?

Typically the answer is no. We are here to change that, and it starts with the practice of Collectivity and Openness. Milliaku Nwabeze says that “relationships are the playground of the revolution.” How we treat each other on a daily basis, how we show up, and how we challenge each other to transform is how we transform the world. People are behind organizations, policies, and governments, and people who embrace collective effort can shift norms toward community control so that the people who do the work make the decisions and share the surplus.

Dr. Stephani Ethridge-Woodson, Dr. Allison Hall, Dr. Megan Workmon Larsen, and Xanthia Walker at The Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts created a framework for skills and learning competencies that places career and project management alongside collaborative skills. This framework, approved by the National Association for Continuing Education, ensures that Foundational Competencies, such as technical skills, creativity, and innovation, are supported by Transferable Competencies of collaboration, reflection (especially around self-care, power, and ethics), and career and project management, as well as developing key Cognitive Skills of critical and creative thinking, digital technology, and professionalism. These skills are learned through daily practice in Collective work and are key to the Solidarity School.

Mike Strode:

The main skill necessary to successfully operate in Open Collective Foundation is the willingness to experiment. Most of the Collectives that found us in 2020 are efforts that were highly experimental and were born out of them desiring power, belonging, and justice. The agencies that we’ve counted on, the sectors of government that were supposed to respond to the pandemic were not ready, and communities needed to respond themselves. They needed to pursue resources, and generate activity around a creative network.

What happens when you begin experimenting that way? What happens when you start to build a sense of collectivity around the project? You realize that you need a structure that does not necessarily mimic the structure that is present at the workplace. Collectives are in a relationship to each other, and they need to understand what type of structure they need for the type of revolutionary activities they are engaged in. What type of relationships do we build here?

It’s all about collective decision-making. “I want to make a decision with people for whom I feel a sense of trust and affection because we struggled together on a project. But I also want to assert my identity here. There is something I believe about the world, and I want people to honor and recognize and respect that belief”.

How do we make a collective decision about how we allocate resources? How do we spend money (which is what the OC platform is all about)? Do we want to pay ourselves? If yes, how do we get to a decision about how much we pay ourselves, and when we do this? What does participatory budgeting look like? What does it look like to have a budgeting discussion with the entire community? In Solidarity School, we want Collectives to have access to fundamental facilitation skills that will allow them to navigate the decision points that they will have as a group together. In addition to that, we are interested in social-emotional learning that will develop skills Collectives need around conflict transformation, emotional CPR, and emotional support. Those are the entry points for our Collectives to begin with.

What are the short and long-term goals of the School?

Mike Strode:

A short-term goal is to run a series of thoughtful, intentional, and impactful experiments that can provide us with information about what the Collectives want to know and learn. Experiment, iterate, and assess! As Collectives go through these training modules, we see improvements in their collective operations.

The long-term goal is that OC Foundation becomes a collaborative container, an incubator for highly successful projects. We want to be a supportive space for grassroots community efforts. We want them to have an internal operational structure that enables them to make that next decision well and to decide what the next best steps are for them.

Will it spread throughout the OC ecosystem?

What is the scale of participation in the Solidarity School at the OC Foundation level and in the OC ecosystem overall?

Caroline Woolard:

Open Collective is a tech platform for money management that is shared by 30 non-profits and other fiscal hosts around the world who offer their legal status to 15,000 Collectives. The beauty of using one platform and shared staff for 30+ fiscal sponsors is that both the technical features for money management and the cultural practices of our teams can flow between groups. Already, OC Foundation is collaborating with Social Change Nest, a fiscal host in the UK, on the Grant writing course. Our CEO of the tech platform, Pia Mancini, has announced the Solidarity School and received interest from a number of Collectives, Fiscal Hosts, and Donors in supporting us to pay Collectives for the time spent learning. While this might seem impossible in the United States context, where a college degree can easily cost a person or their family $120,000, many countries with advanced Solidarity Economy movements have been paying Collectives to learn for years. Further, higher education is low cost or free in the majority of counties where Open Collective staff and fiscal hosts operate: Mexico, Brazil, etc.

Mike Strode:

The first thing that should be established is a community house or shared building. When you have that, you can run there all sorts of experiments. Open Collective platform is the building. It is a digital virtual decentralized co-working space. OC was born as a dream of open & transparent financial budgets. And as we learn more about each other, we learn that we collectively have some of the same needs. Solidarity School is that type of space where we can learn to do that.

What are future classes in development?

  • Distributed Leadership
  • E2C Listening Cohorts
  • Grant Writing/Fundraising 101
  • Theatre of the Oppressed
  • Transformative/Restorative Justice
  • Conflict Transformation/Kitchen Table Mediation
  • “Tell me more” – listening to collective problems and needs
  • Democratic Decision Making

How can Collectives join the Solidarity School?

View previous workshops or sign up for an upcoming one!

We welcome non-OCF members but invite those who are not Collectives to consider making a donation to OCF or to a Collective we host.

View Info and Recordings of Past Solidarity School Sessions here.