Hilary Abell, co-founder of Oakland based startup Project Equity, talks about her organization's mission to help small business owners secure their company's future by transferring ownership to the employees.
Speaker 1:You're listening to cake, a l x Berkeley 90.7 Fam, university of California listener supported radio. And this is method to the madness coming at you from the Public Affairs Department here at Calyx celebrating the innovative spirit of the bay area. I'm your host Ali Nasar. And today we have Hillary [00:00:30] at bell with us. Hi Hillary. How are you? Hi Lee. I'm doing great. And Hillary is the cofounder of project equity. Um, it's a a, is it a startup or as relatively
Speaker 2:we are a startup. We'll have our third anniversary and a couple of weeks.
Speaker 1:Third Anniversary. Yeah, based in Oakland. That's right. And a really interesting idea we want to get into. And every, uh, cofounder I have on the show, Hillary, I usually start by asking, uh, the same question, which is, uh, you're someone who started an organization from scratch [00:01:00] because you saw an issue. So can you give us the problem statement? What is project equity trying to solve?
Speaker 2:We're aiming to address the growing income and wealth gap between the rich and the poor across this country in particular starting in the bay area and in other regions where we're already working. I personally have been working with employee ownership and worker cooperatives for the last 13 years intensively. And, and going back further than that, and I know from my own experience that there are powerful [00:01:30] force for improving job quality and building wealth for low wage workers. And my co founder Alison Lin gain has decades of experience in larger scale social ventures for profit and nonprofit. And we share this passion for addressing the wealth gap, the racial wealth gap and income inequality. And when we realize that my experience in worker cooperative development and employee ownership and her experience with larger scale social ventures, we're a perfect combination. We decided to launch something new to take on this problem.
Speaker 1:Okay. Well it's a really fascinating [00:02:00] idea. I'm really excited that you're here today. Really speaks to me. And before we get into kind of what it, what project we does and what a work we're cooperative is. Can you, uh, just give us a little bit about your background. How did you and your journey come to looking at and saw seeing this problem that you want to solve?
Speaker 2:Sure. So, so I started out right after college as a teacher in the inner city and that wasn't something I was able to do for a long time. I wasn't great at classroom management, but I did get to see urban poverty up close, get to see the resilience and the amazing [00:02:30] kids that were in those communities. Um, so that was one of my first, um, influences on why I care about this problem. I then worked for a worker owned company called equal exchange. And I got into that not because I was interested in business to be honest. I wanted to be on the front lines of social change. But I came to equal exchange through some community organizing I had been doing in relation to the wars in Central America. And when the war in El Salvador ended, um, equal exchange approached me and others at organization I was working for [00:03:00] at the time about using coffee and fair trade coffee in particular to help promote peace in El Salvador after the war.
Speaker 2:And so through that and through the fair trade mission, I got into using business as a tool for social change. And I was in my sort of mid twenties and learned how to be a salesperson, something I never thought I would do. I learned how to work with farmer partners in Latin America who were organized in cooperatives and also got elected to the board of directors of that growing company of equal exchange as a worker [00:03:30] owner. So I also experienced