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True profits.

West Bridgewater, Mass.

* As a progressive, for-profit social change organization, we were pleased to see Michael H. Shuman and Merrian Fuller's "Profits for Justice" [Jan. 24]. When we were dreaming up our organization in the mid-1980s we debated many of the pros and cons discussed by the authors, and the choice to be a for-profit, worker cooperative was a close call. We wanted to be organized democratically, so we chose a worker cooperative structure. We wanted the needs of our farmer suppliers to be protected, so we committed ourselves to buying only on fair trade terms. We wanted to protect the social mission, so we crafted our by-laws and capital structure to prevent selling out or hostile takeovers. And we wanted to demonstrate that business could be viable while advancing these goals, so we chose to be a for-profit, competing in the marketplace with conventional for-profit corporations.

The marketplace is a hotbed of imitation. If you can take a progressive cause (fair trade, organics, responsible investing, etc.) and show that there's a market for it, imitators will pop up all around, multiplying your impact. Yet despite our progress over twenty years, we've only scratched the surface, and the marketplace can use every progressive-minded entrepreneur it can get.


Equal Exchange

Bozeman, Mt.

* From reading "Profits for Justice," one would presume the American Independent Business Alliance, which I direct, is just one in a long line of entities that have promoted "socially responsible" or "sustainable" business, based on the notion that a world dominated by corporations can be humane and sustainable if we can just get corporations to be nice. But AMIBA is a completely different model, promoting independent ownership of businesses (including co-ops and worker-owned ones) at the local level and providing tools for communities to stop corporate chains from driving out local business. The Independent Business Alliance model has proved successful in numerous communities, but to reach the numbers required to shift national consciousness, dialogue and policy, AMIBA is pursuing foundation support and unfortunately encountering the destructive policies the article so accurately describes.

We've developed and successfully replicated a model that has proved its potential to advance not solely economic democracy and entrepreneurship but to shift the balance of power between giant corporations and communities. Yet foundations claiming to fund systemic change or community development tell us we don't fit their definitions or are not focused narrowly enough on certain demographics.

While the authors' urgings for nonprofits to explore economic self-sufficiency are important, I'm not ready to let progressive foundations continue their losing ways unchallenged. They have the massive potential to help advance the progressive movement far faster than we can move without them. Progressives campaign against corporations to stop negative practices; why not apply the same pressure to foundations?


American Independent Business Alliance


* "Profits for Justice" argues for progressive nonprofits to begin breaking their dependence on foundations and other big funders by setting up their own socially responsible businesses, but there's something else they can do: is a socially responsible business designed to create a revenue stream for any progressive organization that wants it. It's an online shopping mall that sells nothing of its own but links to more than 340 well-known retailers. When a shopper visits and clicks, for example, on the Office Depot link, he or she cybertrips over to its website and buys, say, paper for the next mass mailing. Office Depot then pays a referral fee to, which sends the bulk of that fee to the progressive organization. An organization that encourages its supporters to use creates revenue that will grow as increasing numbers of its supporters shop online. And unlike revenue flowing from foundations, funders or in-house business ventures, it can't threaten that organization's progressive agenda.


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Title Annotation:Letters
Author:Dickinson, Rink; Rockne, Jennifer; Fitzgerald, Frank T.
Publication:The Nation
Article Type:Letter to the Editor
Date:Apr 11, 2005
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