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System Change: Cooperative Entrepreneurs Building the Next Economy

Erik Forman May 29, 2021

There is a growing interest in new paradigms of economic development that serve consumers, workers, the planet, and all stakeholders. While conventional social entrepreneurship tends to take as its starting point an individual entrepreneur with access to capital or an investor who then attempts to understand a community’s problems from an outside perspective, what if we began with and centered instead the stakeholders who have the least access to capital– workers and the community that are directly impacted by a problem?

This panel will highlight three exceptional examples of new cutting-edge social entrepreneurship led by those most directly impacted by specific social problems: the digital divide, job quality in the gig economy, the racial wealth gap, gentrification, and lack of affordable housing. In all three examples, the entrepreneurs have chosen a multi-stakeholder cooperative model to not only create sustainable enterprises, but to generate system change. We will hear from:

  • People’s Choice Communications is a worker cooperative launched by members of IBEW Local #3 who have been on strike against Spectrum/Charter since 2017. It is now the longest strike in US history. The strikers created the cooperative to not only put themselves back to work. but also to bridge the digital divide during the pandemic by building out a community-owned Internet infrastructure in NYC. Chief Steward Troy Walcott will share how People’s Choice has completed Internet installs across the Bronx, and plans to achieve national scale.
  • The Drivers Cooperative has launched Co-op Ride, a ridehailing app that provides a high-road alternative to Uber in New York City while transforming the lives of immigrant workers through a cooperative purchasing program. With over 2500 driver members, it is now the largest worker cooperative in the United States. A driver leader and former Uber manager behind this effort will share the story of how a cooperative business model , the barriers that they have encountered, and how the cooperative plans to expand across the world in partnership with driver organizations.
  • Through the United Clergy Task Force, labor advocates and affordable housing developers have teamed up to create good, union jobs and build permanently-affordable union-built limited-equity co-op housing on church-owned land in the Bronx and metro NYC. This new model of housing development will provide a path to the wealth-building tools of home ownership for communities that were excluded from mortgages through redlining, restrictive covenants, and other racist housing policies. Community involvement in the projects will be facilitated through Union Co-op NYC, a participatory action research collaboration between the Harry Van Arsdale Jr. Center for Labor Studies at SUNY Empire State College and The Architecture Lobby, a labor organization of architects, in which building trades workers and architecture workers re-envision affordable housing construction and generate buildable projects, inspired by the legacy of the 40,000 units of affordable co-op housing built by NYC’s unions in the 20th century.

The presentations will be followed by a Q&A with the participants.



Meta Themes

  • Stakeholder Economics & Leadership

  • Equity & Inclusion

  • Social Entrepreneurship


system change, cooperatives, digital divide, gentrification, gig economy, platform economy, housing, community wealth

Purpose and Desired Outcome

Participants will come away with a new understanding of how social entrepreneurship can change systems through deep engagement with impacted communities.


  • Allocators (Family Offices, HNW Individuals, Foundations)

  • Intermediaries (Financial Advisers, Investment Bankers)

  • Government

  • Accelerators & Incubators

  • Entrepreneurs


  • NameErik Forman
  • TitlePrincipal
  • OrganizationUnion Co-op NYC
  • StatusConfirmed
  • NameAlissa Orlando
  • Titleco-Founder
  • OrganizationThe Drivers Cooperative
  • StatusConfirmed
  • NameKen Lewis
  • Titleco-Founder
  • OrganizationThe Drivers Cooperative
  • StatusConfirmed
  • NameTroy Walcott
  • TitlePresident
  • OrganizationPeople's Choice Communications
  • StatusConfirmed
  • NameDavid Aviles
  • TitleExecutive Director
  • OrganizationUnited Clergy Task Force
  • StatusConfirmed
  • NameJohn
  • TitleMcDermott
  • OrganizationConsortium for Worker Education
  • StatusConfirmed
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