Cooperatives, Direct Democracy, and Sustainable Business Enterprises Changemaker Lab

Spring 2020
Sophomore - Senior
Class Size: 40
16 Credits per quarter
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For a complete program description and activities please see:

The unsustainability of advanced capitalism is no longer in doubt, with environmental degradation accelerating at unprecedented rates along with massively widening wealth inequality on a global scale. Worker-owned cooperatives offer an alternative model of entrepreneurship that bring direct democracy and genuine accountability to business. In what ways can worker-owned cooperatives be more sustainable, even regenerative, for the environment and for the various communities (at all points of the food chain) that they work with and affect? What potential do cooperatives have in creating a more socially and ecologically just world? What roles can cooperatives play in facilitating equity among historically marginalized groups? 

In this program, we will examine the history of worker-owned cooperatives in the U.S. and internationally, along with contemporary case studies, with an emphasis on collective enterprises in the area of food and agriculture.  Indeed, given the rising prices of prime farmland, prohibitive startup costs, unpredictability, and labor-intensive nature of agriculture, worker-owned cooperatives offer a more sustainable path towards starting and maintaining successful farm-based enterprises, with recent research indicating that worker-owned cooperatives are more productive than conventional businesses.

Cooperatives must be effectively managed using sustainable and sound business management principles. In this program we will examine the legal structures of entities and their tax implications, operationalizing of business plans and the general management of cooperative enterprises including accounting, human resources, marketing, payroll and income tax planning.

Historical and contemporary case studies include: 19th-century labor utopian cooperatives, African-American cooperatives from early to late 20th century, The Evergreen Cooperatives of Cleveland, Green Worker Cooperatives in New York, Cooperation Jackson, Mondragon in Spain, the Zapatistas in Southern Mexico, the horizontal cooperative movement in Argentina, urban agriculture collectives in Cuba, and small farmer cooperatives in India.  Other topics of study include comparisons between family and monopoly capitalism, solidarity economics, and social entrepreneurship. A community-based learning component will include site and work visits to cooperative businesses in the Olympia area.


Spring 2020 Registration

Course Reference Numbers

So - Sr (16): 30154

Academic details

Preparatory For

Agriculture, Entrepreneurship, Sustainable Development, Urban and Rural Planning, Coooperative Enterprises

Maximum Enrollment
Class Standing

$150 per student to cover entrance fees for tours of coops, gardens, farms, and museums, as well as for any miscellaneous supplies needed for these day trips.

Internship Opportunities

A community-based learning component will include site and work visits to cooperative businesses in the Olympia area. An internship component is available to interested students.


Time Offered
Schedule Evergreen link
see Schedule Evergreen for detailed schedule

First Meeting

SEM 2 C4107 - Workshop
DateRevision 2020-03-06 This program has been cancelled for spring. Students may be interested in Entrepreunership Food and Agriculture, which has now been extended to include Spring quarter