Cooperatives are revitalizing communities, satiating hearts with feelings of belonging. By participating in coops, individuals are more effectively stewarding resources and taking responsibility for meeting the needs of the community in mutually beneficial ways. People are creating vibrant local economies through utility cooperatives, food and pharmaceutical coops, community-supported agriculture, and housing cooperatives.
“Money-Wise Women” guest Janelle Orsi is a lawyer and cartoonist focused on cooperatives, land trusts, shared housing, and local currencies. She is co-founder and executive director of the Sustainable Economies Law Center, building the “solidarity economy” through education, research, and advocacy.
Collective governance and finance models are the backbone of the solidarity economy. Circulating money back into local communities with greater transparency is essential. People have a deep desire to feel like they belong, to feel safe knowing that we’ll take care of each other.
She says, “Social change is happening through cooperatives, land trusts, and mutual-aid organizations. A sharing economy accesses the wisdom of a group of people, tapping infinite resourcefulness to solve problems in a way that sustains and nourishes people and keeps them connected.”
One of the Law Center’s clients in Northern California is the People Powered Solar Collective, which helps everyday people finance, build, and co-own their energy through organizing communities. With the frustrations of regular power outages felt by many in California this fall, clearly there is an urgent need and desire to decentralize our energy production.
Over the past decade, Janelle has assisted organizations in food, regenerative farming, soil, energy, housing, and organizational governance. She empowers people to understand law and finance. She began putting cartoons in all legal documents when an immigrant-owned popsicle company hired her to create an operating agreement and also wanted her to offer a workshop to explain this legal document to all the owners. Here’s what she did instead to make it more understandable and accessible: Cartoon Operating Agreement for a Coop LLC
Fundamentally we’re in this together, that’s the spirit of the cooperative. We become more effective as we coordinate through legal and financial structures that recirculate value back into the people participating. The cartoons provide a visual way to grasp legal governance, resulting in greater understanding and more meaningful conversations that shape the agreements.
In the economy we are creating there are no off-shore tax havens and pay-day loans. Impoverished communities, often of racial minorities or immigrants, suffer most from pollution, monopolies, and financial extraction. Many have been tapping into ancient ways of collaborating through shared ownership as a matter of not only survival but genuine pride in their responsibility for resources with their people.
Through her “The Next Egg” project, Janelle aims to pull back the curtains on finance, accounting, tax, and securities, demystifying these tools of the people. When she explains the financial and legal structures in a down-to-earth way, people are able to more easily acknowledge their agency and assert their rights. There are also extensive free educational programs and materials from the Law Center that are instrumental in inviting people to become involved in creating personal prosperity and community wealth in alignment with their values.
The Next Egg supports everyday people to get their retirement savings out of Wall Street and invest in projects that build vibrant communities. This group is learning the ropes of self-directed investing together. People with self-employment income are starting retirement plans together, while participating in a fun and educational online community.
Listen to this episode and hear how Janelle and I are bringing out the feminine in the world of finance. Transparent cooperative structures reveal the true wealth and generosity of people.
Janelle Orsi is a lawyer, advocate, writer, and cartoonist focused on cooperatives, the sharing economy, land trusts, shared housing, local currencies, and rebuilding the commons. She is co-founder and executive director of the Sustainable Economies Law Center , which facilitates the growth of more sustainable and localized economies through education, research, and advocacy. Janelle has also worked in private law practice, focusing on sharing-economy law since 2008.
Books: Janelle is the author of Practicing Law in the Sharing Economy: Helping People Build Cooperatives, Social Enterprise, and Local Sustainable Economies (ABA Books, 2012) and co-author of The Sharing Solution: How to Save Money, Simplify Your Life and Build Community (Nolo Press, 2009), a practical and legal guide to cooperating and sharing resources of all kinds. See all of her cartoons here. Learn more about cooperative law at: Co-oplaw.org.