As we reflect on EO in 2021, we are revisiting this episode with Diane Ives of The Kendeda Fund, a philanthropic fund that started by supporting the environment, which led to support for green jobs, and now employee ownership.
... or watch the video of Episode 178 below.
This episode originally aired on September 28, 2021 as "Episode 168: Diane Ives of The Kendeda Fund."
Episode 178 Transcript
[00:00:00] Bret Keisling: As 2021 comes rapidly to a close, I can't help but reflect on the state of employee ownership in the United States and around the world. There is so much excitement, new organizations, new campaigns, and new people, as well as general optimism about the future of ESOPs and co-ops. I've been fortunate to be part of the growth and excitement myself with the introduction of the EO Podcast Network and the Owner to Owner podcast with Jesse Tyler.
[00:00:27] We kicked off season five of this podcast in September with Diane Ives of The Kendeda Fund. They've been responsible for so much incredible development in the EO sandbox that I wanted to bring the episode back for those who may have missed it.
[00:00:40] We've had an incredible lineup of guests throughout season five and season four was pretty rock solid if I say so myself. In addition to this episode that you're about to hear, Diane Ives and Alison Lingane of Project Equity were on Episode 170 of The EsOp Podcast discussing the launch of EO Equals. You can find that episode and our entire archive of almost 350 episodes of The EsOp Podcast and the ESOP Mini-cast at www.EsOpPodcast.com, and you can find all of our titles at www.EOPodcastNetwork.com.
[00:01:18] Enjoy this episode.
[00:01:19] Bitsy McCann: Welcome to The EO Podcast with Bret Keisling, part of the EO Podcast Network.
[00:01:31]Bret Keisling: Hello, my friends. Thank you for listening. My name is Bret Keisling, and as it says on my business cards, I'm a passionate advocate for employee ownership. On Episode 145 of the ESOP Mini-cast, I talked about The Kendeda Fund, which is a philanthropic fund that's doing amazing things to transform communities, society, and our world.
[00:01:52] I mentioned on the Mini-cast that I had invited Diane Ives, who is The Fund Advisor of People, Place, and Planet for The Kendeda Fund to come on the podcast. And lo and behold, I am very pleased to welcome Diane to the podcast.
[00:02:06] Thank you so much for joining me.
[00:02:08] Diane Ives: Thank you so much for having me, Bret. I'm thrilled to be here.
[00:02:11]Bret Keisling: Diane, we're going to have a great conversation because you and The Kendeda Fund are doing wonderful things. I shared on the Mini-cast that for somebody who has spent four years just trying to learn about employee ownership, I wasn't familiar with The Kendeda Fund. And the best example that I can give, and I've talked to people in the last week or two about The Kendeda Fund, almost everybody who follows employee ownership is aware of the Evergreen Cooperatives and just about everybody who follows it a little bit closer is aware that [The] Democracy Collaborative played such an important role in that. And very few of us, including me, were aware that The Kendeda Fund actually provided the financing for it and made that all possible and took it from concept to actuality.
You folks are doing incredible things.
[00:02:59] Diane Ives: Thank you so much for saying that. I do want to just acknowledge that we never stand alone in anything that we do and certainly the vision and the real blood, sweat and tears for getting Evergreen started goes to both the Democracy Collaborative and their partnership with the Cleveland Foundation, which really led the charge and actually making the kind of the principles and values kind of stick in order for that business to get started. And we sneaked in and started providing support long after they had done all of the hard work.
[00:03:29] So, I just want to acknowledge that, you know, we stand on broad shoulders as we go.
[00:03:33] Bret Keisling: I appreciate that. And very candidly, particularly because there are some people or even philanthropic funds who would be advertising me, me, me, me, me, and we will talk to this a little bit in terms of The Fund is winding down in just a couple of years. So, you're not trying, presumably, to attract a lot of donors or look at sustainability, so that may be changes it. But I love the fact that you acknowledged the partners who are out there doing the work, just as I'm acknowledging, couldn't have come to fruition without The Kendeda Fund standing with them.
[00:04:07] So with that, Diane, as you know, we open all of our podcasts with our guests and ask if they've had an EO A-ha Moment. And how we define that is not when you first heard about it or when you liked it or thought it was a good idea, but was there an A-ha Moment, an EO A-ha Moment that was transformative that made you, or The Kendeda Fund say, we have got to be in this space.
[00:04:30] Diane Ives: Thank you for that. I love the fact that you start your podcasts with this A-ha Moment. I just feel like it's so drives to people's personal passions and really gets to the core of the work right away. So, I appreciate that.
[00:04:43] And I was thinking about this because I knew you were going to ask the question and I was thinking about how I approach any time that I am learning something new or experiencing something new. What is that experience like for me? And I realized I want to describe it a little bit like those Russian nesting dolls. Where there's a moment. And then there's another moment. And then there's another moment. They're not always all good moments, but together they begin to create a pattern that you begin to see.
[00:05:09] And so for me, if I was going to start with my first A-ha Moment, I would be 11 years old. I'm in the kitchen. I'm on the kitchen floor and I'm sobbing because my father has just told my brother and me that he has lost his job. And I have no idea what that means, but I am so clear on the fact that things are going to change and that we are not in control. And so, to me, that was like, this is like setting that kind of a DNA of I don't actually understand how the world works.
[00:05:40] And I feel like this has been an emotional touchstone for me that I've come back to over and over again in dis-aggregated ways. And it is part of my meaning making as I move forward.
[00:05:51] So, my parents were part of the generation that was trying to move from working class to middle class. And with that came a lot of really challenging decisions that they had to make. And for my parents, like many of their peers, they really focused on three core things: the health of the family, our education as children, and whether or not we had adequate housing. And jobs were the way to ground each of those values in meaningful ways.
[00:06:21] So, when my father lost his job, it was 1973. It was the beginning of a recession and finding better work was not easy. And he ended up having two, and then when he started, they were good jobs, but they ended up being ill-fated jobs between 1973 and 1979. He spent a good deal of time unemployed. We moved several times. And there was always this complicated knot of decisions about healthcare, education, and housing in our family.
[00:06:51] So in 1979, my dad he started a new life in Cleveland, which was his hometown. So, he moved back to Cleveland with a chance to be his own boss. And he opened and ran at discount linen store in a strip mall in Cleveland in the suburbs for about six years and they were the best work years of his life.
[00:07:09] And I have learned so much from watching my father go through these difficult times with work, and then this happy time being the owner of his own business and watching the decisions that he and my mother made, always focused on health, education, and housing for us and trying to figure out and navigate that path.
[00:07:28] And for him, it was meaningful work. It was the dignity of employment and the opportunity to be a decision maker and a business owner that really drove him to a place of feeling a sense of joy and accomplishment.
[00:07:41] So, I'm going to fast forward because I feel like that's like in my DNA and I probably could not have articulated that in any meaningful way for a very long time, but it was always in the back of my head as I was looking for my own work and trying to understand my own place in the world.
[00:07:56] Bret Keisling: That is such a powerful framing of what, I assume, not just the context of employee ownership, but your life work, your life mission and even beyond work and mission how you live your life on a daily basis. That, what you just shared, is the fundamental Diane and thank you very much for sharing that. And now fast forward, if you would like.
[00:08:19] Diane Ives: Yeah, I would love to fast forward. So, I feel like perhaps there were several nesting dolls in that one example, but I feel like in 2003, I had the opportunity to meet the donor of The Kendeda Fund, Diana Blank, and to start working with her. I was hired on as a subcontractor as she was starting a national environmental giving programs and was immediately struck by her passion and care for individuals and communities and the dignity of people and the sustainability of communities. And we have that in our mission statement. That's what we're about. That's what we invest in.
[00:08:56] And I feel like it was an opportunity for me. This has been since 2003, so it's been a long time, but it's been this long opportunity for me to learn and grow with her and alongside her, as we explored different kinds of opportunities. And over the years we have created these, what started as I would say, adjacencies to the environmental work that we were doing, that became the core of what we were doing.
[00:09:21] So, right from the beginning, Diana's interest in the environment was always something that was more complex than just -- like, I always described her as not a birds and bunnies or trees and rivers kind of donor. She was always someone who was looking for the complexity and understanding all the connections that kind of came with taking care of and preserving the environment.
[00:09:42] So, at some point, I think this was around 2007, we started hearing about this opportunity for green collar jobs, looking at the environment as a way to create meaningful, dignified work for people. And that was like another kind of, one of these moments for me, where I felt like, wow, that's what I have done for myself is I've created meaningful work in the space of the environment. And this is something that really should be something that we get to grow and see happen in all kinds of ways and places.
[00:10:13] And from green collar jobs. It morphed into what we call community wealth building, which is really looking at the ownership and agency of communities. What is it that they have? What is it that they have control over? What is it if they can make decisions about and how does that change how communities thrive and prosper?
[00:10:33] So, I'm asking a lot of questions. These are all questions because our donor really believes that her grant making is about going on journeys with people who are asking big questions. And that's the work that we had been doing right from the very beginning. And it certainly was this, as we started looking at community wealth building.
[00:10:50] And then I would say that there was this moment in 2018, when we had been funding community wealth building. I always like to describe the work as field building, that we were supporting these anchor organizations like The Democracy Collaborative to do meaningful work in important ways to build the understanding of big picture ideas.
[00:11:13] And Diana said to me, in 2018, she said, "hmmm," I love doing this work. I want to keep doing it and I also actually want to see something very specific happen. And I don't know what it is, but I want it to be very specific. So, we went on this journey once again to figure out what it was. And it ended up being transitioning businesses to employee ownership as a way of creating meaningful work, dignity for individuals, and prosperity for communities. So, it's just been this fascinating journey that we've been on.
[00:11:45] Bret Keisling: Wow. First of all, I want to thank you, but I'm like, what do I do now? Because I have always said we've been doing the A-ha Moments for a year pick the one, but I realized I took it out of context because all of us got to where we were for a reason. And I love that you framed it. Your EO A-ha Moment, nested as they were, could really launch an entire episode on their own. You talked about adjacencies and I hope we'll talk about that a little bit later on. I've been talking for months about what I call the adjacent spaces, where there are folks that are doing similar things to employee ownership, to build communities. They are not doing employee ownership and how can we reach them? And that's what you've already been doing.
[00:12:33] The one thing that strikes me, I was in employee ownership. I was a trustee for seven years and I realized that a lot of the issues that were important to me, community, wealth inequality, wage inequality, were addressed by employee ownership. So, I said, let's bring it out to the world.
[00:12:52] You came from the mirror image. You identified community issues. You looked at the environment and it's such a great path to where you are. The environment, we want to make the environment better. That led to green jobs, that led to employee ownership.
[00:13:08] Employee ownership addresses the advocacy you were already doing. Whereas for me and others, we started doing advocacy because of employee ownership. Does that make sense, how I'm saying that?
[00:13:20] Diane Ives: It totally does. It's a wonderful way of thinking about, that there are many ways into and through employee ownership, right? There isn't just like one path and it doesn't just serve one purpose and it isn't just one thing. And it's really important not to become dogmatic about it because it can mean so many different things to so many different people.
[00:13:44] So, for the business owner that wants to sell to their employees because they want to retire, they have a whole set of goals and values for themselves and their family that may mean nothing to the employees, who then get the business, but they may mean the exact same thing. And you never know that. And just like being open to the possibility of where employee ownership lands in the larger, much more complex landscape of people's lives, I think is just super important.
[00:14:12] Bret Keisling: You mentioned you joined The Kendeda Fund in 2003. Why don't you take us back about 10 years, as I recall, and can you just tell us about The Kendeda Fund?
[00:14:20] Diane Ives: The Fund was actually started by our donor Diana Blank. She is an individual donor. She started the fund as a way to just express her values and concerns for the world and to give back because she found herself in a place where she could do that. And she's always wanted to keep The Fund very streamlined, very simple, not very complicated. She wasn't looking for a lot of visibility or credit for the work that she was doing. And I feel, and this is one of the things that I have always enjoyed about working at The Kendeda Fund and working with Diana, is that she thinks about it as who are asking the big questions in the world? And what is the journey to find those answers? And can we go on that journey with them? That's what our investments are, they're investments in the journey.
[00:15:07] So, it's not -- there are other foundations that kind of figure out what the problem is and figure out what the solution is and then they go shopping around for an organization that they're going to invest in to help them prove that they have come up with the right answer. And that is just not the way that the Kendeda Fund works.
[00:15:23] And so, over the years, we have found amazing people who have big ideas and want to figure out some knotty problems that they're trying to understand about the world and make the place more resilient, more, just more safe, more peaceful. And we've been able to go on the journey with them. And so, that's been really powerful for me. And I said earlier, but you know, The Kendeda Fund's mission is to support the dignity of individuals and sustainability of communities through investments in transformative leaders and ideas and that carries with us into every program area that we work on.
[00:15:59] And then, I guess, the other piece I would just say, just to bring the point home is that we knew from day one that we were going to be a limited life foundation. This wasn't some a-ha moment that came a few years ago, this has always been the case. We never actually thought about what is the timeline and what does it look like and what do we have to do to be limited life until about seven years ago now when we decided we had 10 years left. And that's what we were going to focus on for the next 10 years was how to, with as much dignity as we possibly could, make the spend out meaningful.
[00:16:29] And none of the issue areas that we work on are going to be resolved in the time that we have left. So, we're trying to leave the spaces that we're in better places while we go.
[00:16:38] Bret Keisling: I had said on the Mini-cast, and I mean this very sincerely, I am so delighted that I've met you and The Kendeda Fund has come on my radar, because if I continue what I'm doing, I'll be talking about The Kendeda Fund and the effect that you've had for the next 10 or 15 years in my career.
[00:17:00] And again, the work you and all of your colleagues and thank goodness for Diana Blank. And by the way, we'll point out, Kendeda is named for her three children, is a mix of their names. But I don't even know how I would describe it except, everybody, you're not solving the problem, so to speak, in the next couple of years, but you are laying the foundation for transforming many parts of our world, and that's just a powerful place for you and your colleagues to be.
[00:17:31] So Diane, we're going to talk about employee ownership as a little more focus, but as we get to the what The Kendeda Fund does. You're involved with girls' rights worldwide. You have a program -- and by the way, all of these are available on your website, we'll include a link in our show notes -- you're involved in gun violence prevention. You have programs in Atlanta, Montana, the Southeastern United States, and we've already discussed Cleveland. And I love that even as you've spoken the thread is building individual dignity. All of this is making people safer and healthier, better, more empowered.
[00:18:15] Diane Ives: I think one of the things that is so interesting about our work at Kendeda is that it follows this kind of hive mind theory, if you know what that is, where it's like, things don't necessarily have to relate, but you find relation. You find relation in the work in ways that you're not expecting.
[00:18:35] So, each of The Fund advisors in each of our program areas, we have we have autonomy to pursue the work that we do in the ways that we do. We check in with each other all the time about kind of the work that's happening. And a lot of the time we feel like we're not connected in any meaningful way, but then every now and then there will be something where we'll realize, oh my gosh, our work is so interconnected! How did we not see this? Or it is amazing, we knew this. We knew that this work was interconnected and it's great to see it.
[00:19:04] So, I'll give you an example. We did a team retreat in Montana several years ago now. And one of the grantee partners that we went to visit owns land in a rural part of Montana. And we're walking around on the property and they're talking about kind of their relationship to the land and their responsibility to the land. And I'm sitting there and I'm thinking this is ownership. This is about ownership and agency. It's not employee ownership, but they're not employees, they're landowners, but it's the same concept of economic democracy. And we had a conversation about that. The Montana program is about conservation. It's not about employee ownership and yet it exists. And so, we find this kind of commonality in the work that we do.
[00:19:54] And, honestly, we find it all the time and it's very meaningful for us because of that overlap.
[00:19:59] Bret Keisling: How do you decide either big picture, we're going to focus on Montana. We're going to do, I understand, water in the Southeastern United States, if I'm saying that. There are two prongs of it. One is presumably how you administer the individual collaborations, but how do you come to say Montana is our focus?
[00:20:20] Diane Ives: So, the specific places where The Kendeda Fund works are related to where our donor has spent time. So, Atlanta, the Southeast, is where she has spent a lot of her adult life and Montana is also a place where she has spent a lot of time. So, those areas are very much grounded in her reality and her understanding of the work that's there.
[00:20:40] In my program, in the People, Place, and Planet program, it has always been a national program. And yet we have found over the years that there is a real need for us to anchor our work in place. That we can't just be talking nationally without having very specific ideas about what's happening in different places.
[00:20:59] At one point, we decided that we would invest in some of the work in Cleveland. We decided we would invest in work in the Twin Cities, through Nexus Community Partners. We decided that we would invest it through some of the work in Buffalo, through a group called PUSH Buffalo to just ground us in the reality of the work that was happening.
[00:21:18] And then we brought on a fund advisor in Atlanta to focus on equity-based issues. And she came in and this is so beautiful. This is the hive mind again, she comes in and she says, this is Tené [Traylor], and she says, the work that we're doing on community wealth building would be very meaningful here in Atlanta. Let's see how we can lift up community wealth building in place, in Atlanta. And so, she's been building just that remarkable program in Atlanta, on community wealth building.
[00:21:46] Bret Keisling: Atlanta is one of those places that I think is a great example of the adjacent spaces, because there's a lot of activity regarding like historically black colleges and they are making efforts in terms of wealth building in black communities and people of color. And we're trying to do employee ownership. And there just seems to be so much going on in Atlanta that that seems to be a great -- petri dish sounds really harsh, but you know what I'm trying to say. And by the way, I love the fact that Diana grounded some of her efforts where she has been, or where had been meaningful to her. Candidly, every so often I daydream about the $300 million Powerball and there is a lot of really cool things that I would do if I had that access, but a whole bunch of it would be grounded in employee ownership because that's, what's meaningful to me. So, the fact that she is providing benefits to places that are meaningful to her speaks again to power.
[00:22:49] And I assume that ties in with girls' rights worldwide. That's not a community issue. And I took note of the fact that I don't really do politics here because as you know, an employee ownership, we come from all sides and I support them all. But I did take note that even the gun violence prevention is a really narrow phrase that hopefully everybody can get around. Nobody wants gun violence, regardless of where you are on any other side of the issue. So, I think that's great.
[00:23:23] Diane Ives: Yes, that's exactly right. I think that each of us takes an analysis of where the opportunities are. I think one of the things that each of us does in our individual program areas, is we look for solutions, and when you start looking for solutions, you find a lot of commonality and that's what each of us has been trying to advance with our work. And especially in the gun violence prevention work is trying to find common ground to address that.
[00:23:46] Bret Keisling: Diane, are there any things in employee ownership that you either see are trends coming or things that in the next couple of years you're hoping to play a role, again, through The Kendeda Fund and anything that as you're looking at 2023 as the end date, anything that you hope would. I feel so sad saying that The Kendeda Fund has lived its life.
[00:24:13] Diane Ives: I spoke with a director of a foundation that did, spent out recently and they described, they said, it's not, we didn't spend out we're a supernova! So, we could think of it that way.
[00:24:24] So, there are a couple of things on that. I don't know if they're on the horizon or if they're in front of us and I've always been in front of us and we're now grounding ourselves in the reality of it, for employee ownership. But I think intentionally focusing on and addressing ending the racial wealth gap is a critical role for this work. In our kind of journey from green collar jobs to community wealth building, to employee ownership, one of the things that we have come to understand is that ownership and agency is critical. And it is the missing piece in so much of the racial wealth gap that we have right now.
[00:24:58] And so, creating more opportunities for more ownership that specifically focuses on people of color is critical. And honestly it could mean something like a business owned by a white business owner who's retiring, who sells to their employees, who are people of color that we get that transfer of ownership and agency and wealth to those workers.
[00:25:21] And that, to me, is important. So, I feel like that is one area where the work is really critical and that's where I feel like Kendeda's work in Atlanta is so important, is that it is an opportunity to intentionally address the racial wealth gap.
[00:25:34] I think the other area, and I know that you've had folks on before on your podcast to talk about this, but as the silver tsunami and looking at this kind of this transfer of businesses, or perhaps the closing of businesses, over the next 10 to 15 years as baby boomer business owners retire, and how do we capture their interest and imagination in employee ownership as a strategy, as their exit strategy.
[00:25:59] In a way, once again, this is like, there are so many different ways into this. There's not just one way to do this, and there's not just one strategy. There are many different ways, including like the employee ownership trusts. There's just so many different creative ways that people are exploring. And I feel opportunities to lift up these new strategies and testing them out and trying to figure out how to make them work and work better.
[00:26:21] Combining the two, combining the ending the racial wealth gap along with the silver tsunami is really, to me, is something that's that is just an opportunity that's just waiting to happen. We have a grantee partner, the Common Future, that is currently testing a strategy for lending that is based on your relationships, it's not based on your credit score, which for employee ownership would be a huge benefit. But we have to figure out like, how do the systems work if you have lending that is based on who you are and your commitment to the work and not on how much money you have in the bank?
[00:26:58] I would say, the other thing that I would say, that kind of like after Kendeda is gone and what we're looking at. I had a chance in 2018 to visit Mondragon in Spain for a week on one of their learning journeys. And I went in intentionally with one question that I wanted to see the answer to. And I feel like this to me is, like it grounds me in what I see for the future of this work, which is what does employee ownership look like in the next generation?
[00:27:25] In this generation, everything feels new. Everything feels hard. Everything feels expensive. Everything feels complicated. There's always pushback. There's always the naysayers. But Mondragon has been going for over 50 years. They have children and grandchildren who have grown up with employee ownership as the core economic strategy for how they think about the world. And what does that look and feel like? To me, that is the future that we are really trying to advance with the work that we're doing at Kendeda is to do something that has generational benefit. Not just the benefit of now, but the benefit of 50 years from now.
[00:28:03] Bret Keisling: And there is so much interconnectivity. For example, solving, and let's be candid, addressing the wealth inequality because that's we're a long ways away from solving, but addressing it also affects the next generation of those that you have helped with the wealth inequality. And I assume that wealth inequality has two components. In the ESOP space, particularly, it's a retirement plan. So, we are talking about retiring with wealth that you've helped create. But the other component of wealth inequality is wage inequality, among men and women, among people of color and whites. And this is where I take a moment from my joyful exuberance when I say employee ownership is better on the wage gaps between both gender and race and why the freak is that still a thing anywhere in the country, let alone employee ownership? If we are not ramped up to parity really, really soon, we are either doing something wrong or we are not willing to walk what we are talking. So, forgive me, but the combined components of addressing the wage gap is a big part of the wealth inequality, as you know.
[00:29:19] Diane Ives: Absolutely. I would say that employee ownership alone does not solve that problem. It is the intentionality with which you approach the work. So, for example, one of the groups that we support is the ICA Group. One of their areas of focus is on childcare and home care industries and those are jobs that are poorly paid. The workers are overworked. They're under respected. And the system is driven by our government welfare system that undervalues and underpays them, period. Becoming an employee-owned company is not going to solve the problems for those workers. That alone will not solve the problems.
[00:29:58] So, the ICA Group strategy is not to just try and convert poor jobs into a poor worker-owned jobs. The idea is to build a community of folks who can advocate. They can advocate for systemic change of our welfare system, and they can advocate for greater value of the work that these people are doing that is critical. And we have seen this in the last year and a half. That is absolutely essential for us to show up as employees, whether as worker-owners, wherever is that we need home care providers, we need childcare providers, and we need them to be happy and healthy and well paid.
[00:30:37] Bret Keisling: This kind of is just another version of how we address things. I think you had said, if you use the word if I'm remembering the words exactly from just a moment ago, advocacy for welfare reform and that sort of thing, and that reminds me, and this is why we dropped statistics on occasion because they are important. And a lot of people point out that employee-owned companies during the pandemic, we now have actual data, were three to four times less likely to have layoffs or decrease in salaries than non-employee-owned companies. And it is easy, and I'm not belittling it at all, it is easy to use that in the context of, and this is why ESOPs are successful and you should transition to an ESOP. And this is why you should work for an employee-owned company, because you're less likely to lay off. And I'm not discounting that at all. It's very important. But employee owners who were not laid off, didn't go to the food bank. They didn't file for unemployment. They did not stress the societal safety net that I, for one, am glad we have.
[00:31:43] So, this again is not just the vibe -- and Rodney North who is, about the time this episode airs, will be hosting Why Worker Co-ops as part of EO Podcast Network, he and I have had this conversation that if you get not just the ownership, and this is the next phase of employee ownership, not just the ownership itself, but the representation in the workplace that then also makes you go out and be better citizens outside of your job and being more involved.
[00:32:10] Diane Ives: That's exactly right. That's exactly right. And I feel like the more employees become active in decision-making in their companies, it is like practicing democracy every day. It is practicing democracy every day. And we have seen that our voting system is fraught and a lot of it is because people don't understand our voting system. They don't understand democracy and they don't understand their voice and their vote. And being able to demonstrate how that can make a difference for them on a day-to-day basis for their own lives and their own communities is very powerful. And that is something that employee ownership can really advance in ways that are quite needed right now.
[00:32:51] Bret Keisling: Diane, by way of moving towards wrapping up, and this I'm just going to throw a question at you that I didn't in our conversation say that I was going to do, but I'd be curious if you have any thoughts. Last fall, I ran a series of podcasts episodes that I called "Where is EO?," why aren't we a movement? And this is one of those moments, and I've had conversations with if we say there are six major EO organizations, I've had conversations with the leaders of four of them. And this, again, as somebody who spends his time, enthusiastically supporting employee ownership, we are not a movement. We have zero consumer spending power, even though there are 3 million privately owned ESOP employees, 14 million if we count all of the publicly traded companies that we really love, but they're not employee owners like we talk about. We have zero political influence. If one of the things that I've said, and by the way if anybody's reaching out to you and was like, they really want to do one of your programs, but they don't have ideas. I'd spit off a half dozen of them. A league of EO voters. We don't have any political input. I have, October's coming up, and I've thrown this out -- and by the way, I'm just a talker, you know, I don't have an infrastructure -- but imagine an Employee Ownership Month where one Saturday at each of the state capitals there was a gathering of employee owners to celebrate employee ownership. Not political ugliness, not talking about any other issue, but employee ownership and just celebrating it and inviting the elected officials of every party and stripe. And say you folks aren't allowed to talk about anything but employee ownership and celebrate it.
[00:34:47] So, my question to you is we are not a movement. We are not. We have a really cool thing. We have some disparate pieces and some of us can see maybe we could be a movement. We should be a movement. I'm thinking maybe pre forties, fifties, perhaps in the early civil rights days, and I'm not just talking about black rights or people of color, but the LBGT communities, everything that we consider civil rights, were probably all these disparate pieces in the twenties, thirties, and that sort of thing. And then became a movement or several movements that at times coalesce as one movement.
[00:35:25] Diane, you travel all the different spaces, what are your thoughts? Why aren't we a movement? Can we become one?
[00:35:30] Diane Ives: I love that you said that EO is not a movement because I think that is absolutely true.
[00:35:34] I tend to think in terms of ecosystems and there is a nurturing, a care and feeding, symbiotic relationships that actually need to prosper in order for movements to grow. And I feel like at this moment in time, things are too dis-aggregated for us to actually be a movement. We haven't found common ground. We haven't found common purpose. We haven't found common voice in a way that leads to movement building.
[00:36:06] And I will make a statement here that may sound a little bit political, but I think that it is absolutely true that movements are built oftentimes because we see the edges of things. We see where things are not working. We are able to express things that are no longer tolerable, and that brings us towards common ground. And I think one of the things that we struggle with employee ownership is that the folks at Mondragon say we are islands of cooperativism in a sea of capitalism. So, we exist in an ocean of capitalism and nobody sees the edges of it or the ends of it or understands how it is impacting their lives and their communities.
[00:36:47] Without having those edges and understanding what those problems are that we are trying to collectively solve with employee ownership, we can't have a movement. And so, it actually helps to talk about things that don't work. It helps to talk about the racial wealth gap. It helps to talk about owners that are retiring on mass, because they're all retiring. These are edges. They give us an opportunity to say, we can pull together, and we can do something together.
[00:37:14] And I think that's what we need.
[00:37:16] Bret Keisling: And Diane, as I've learned, quite frankly, as a 50-year-old cis-gendered white male, it is important to have conversations that make us a little bit uncomfortable, because that is how we're going to grow as a society.
[00:37:31] Diane Ives: That's right.
[00:37:31] Bret Keisling: Diane, anything you'd like to add by way of closing up that I didn't give you the opportunity to share?
[00:37:37] Diane Ives: I'm just honored. I'm truly honored to have had this opportunity to talk with you.
[00:37:41] Bret Keisling: It's absolutely my pleasure. And we won't go into any details, but I'm very excited because we'll be talking about one of The Kendeda Funds projects coming up sometime in the next few months. You folks are doing incredible work. I expect to be talking to you and anything at all that I can do, you know, everybody's says more people should be talking about employee ownership and that's what I do. So, anything I can help do to spread your story would be absolutely my honor to do.
[00:38:10] Diane Ives: Thank you so much, Bret.
[00:38:12] Bret Keisling: With that, we will wrap up today's episode.
[00:38:14] I am so grateful to Diane Ives for coming on the podcast. And candidly I'm even more grateful to Diane for her work and the work of the folks that The Kendeda Fund.
[00:38:25] Thank you so much for listening. This is Bret Keisling. Be well.
[00:37:11] Bitsy McCann: We'd love to hear from you. You can find us on Facebook at EO Podcast Network and on Twitter @ESOPPodcast. This podcast has been produced by Bret Keisling for the EO Podcast Network, production assistance by Victoria Huerta, original music composed by Max Keisling, branding and marketing by BitsyPlus Design, and I'm Bitsy McCann.
Standard Disclaimer: The views expressed herein are my own and don't represent those of my own firms or the organizations to which I belong. Nothing in the podcast should be construed as guidance or advice of any kind in any field and the fact that I mentioned an organizational website or an advocate or a company on a podcast does not reflect an endorsement, but if you've heard your name or your group's name mentioned on this podcast, I'd love to have you come on and talk about it yourself.
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