Work Group Proposes Projects to Drive Wealth Creation Through Shared Ownership

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This year the Beyster Institute led an initiative funded by the Annie E. Casey Foundation that brought together a variety of organizations that advocate sharing ownership to create individual wealth. The work group held its third and final formation meeting on December 3. The purpose of the meeting was to review the group�s accomplishments in 2009 and define plans for the initiatives it has launched. Fourteen stalwarts of the 46 total members of the workgroup were in attendance in person, with five others indicating interest in continuing the effort. Feedback was positive and members agreed that the group should continue to develop relationships among those who aim to create or enhance wealth for individuals through shared ownership vehicles.

Representatives of the Annie E. Casey Foundation congratulated the group for bringing together those who advocate shared ownership of business with those involved in asset-building efforts, collective financial institutions, personal financial education and other issues in an effort to make a difference for America's poor. It is clear to group members that making a meaningful difference will require the involvement of all of these disciplines and that none of these efforts can succeed on its own. Therefore, the group proposed three integrated projects it devised this year.

The first project proposes the formalization and marketing of an asset-building training program currently practiced by Cooperative Home Care Associates (CHCA). CHCA has developed extensive training in life skills including banking, credit management and retirement planning. The idea is to export this program in a more general format to other companies in order to help them guide their employees toward more secure futures. The National Center for Employee Ownership agreed to work with CHCA to develop their program into an online training program, which all members have agreed to promote.

The second proposed project is an effort to offer �benefit bundling� to the owners of inner-city businesses. A team of service providers would identify a bundle of technologies that would introduce the concept of shared ownership and the benefits of incorporating it into succession planning. The work group noted that sharing business ownership in inner-city neighborhoods and low-income areas has the potential to have the most significant impact. Many employee-owned companies have helped low-income individuals build wealth, but there has not yet been an integrated, comprehensive effort to share this concept with companies that primarily employ low-income workers.

The third proposal involves offering individual asset-building training to companies that already have an employee ownership program in place. This project would define and pre-qualify a network of wealth skills services and promote them to employee-owned companies, such as cooperatives and companies that offer employee stock option plans or stock options. By concentrating this effort on the employee ownership community, we could tap into the already established network of thousands of employee-owned companies. This program could deliver a ready resource to employee-owned companies in low-income communities, and could help these companies compliment their ownership programs with the financial training needed to manage personal wealth. Since implementing shared ownership can seem complicated and expensive to business owners, companies that have already chosen that route are likely to be more receptive to this offering.

The work group agrees that examining the results and effectiveness of any of these programs is critical, and will therefore include research plans in each proposal.

Of course, all these initiatives are only feasible if funding is obtained. Both the Beyster Institute and the National Center for Employee Ownership have committed to lead the development and delivery of these types of programs if support can be built. We have our work cut out for us in 2010.

We are grateful to the Annie E. Casey Foundation for facilitating the process up to this point, and we look forward to continuing to work with them.

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