Turning Workers into Owners through Democratic Education

The ICA Group is the oldest national organization dedicated to the development of worker cooperatives. They focus on converting traditional businesses to cooperatives, forming ESOPS (employee-owned stock option plans), promoting worker-cooperative business development, and other methods of building worker-ownership. Over the last two years, TESA has been supporting the ICA Group in a long-term process to evaluate, analyze, and build out their existing  curriculum and programming for converting business to worker-ownership. 

The ICA group brought TESA onboard as a part of a broader effort of theirs to develop a more interactive and participatory process that fosters leadership, self-determination, and a culture of ownership amongst the workers who are converting into owners. 

How TESA Helped

TESA and ICA launched our work together with a thorough curriculum audit: reviewing existing materials and programs, how they operated, and what they were supposed to achieve. After that, we designed and facilitated a series of discussions with ICA staff where we explored their goals, assumptions, pedagogical techniques, and ways in which they wanted to reimagine their curriculum and process for converting traditional businesses to worker-owned businesses. Mirroring what we wanted them to take away – participant agency and dialogue-based education – these conversations proved to be the foundation in our collective effort to understand where the ICA group was with their curriculum and conversion process, and where they wanted to go.

TESA’s next task was to take these goals and develop a report focused on how to implement them into their curriculum and programming. Primarily, we tackled these questions:

  • Does the existing structure and conversion process effectively balance the needs of the current owner, the future employee owners, and the financial viability of the business?
  • Does the existing structure and conversion process prepare future employee owners to be active members of a transparent and democratic workspace? In other words, does the conversion process prepare workers to be owners? 
  • Does the current pedagogical techniques best allow for learning, retention, and critical analysis?

Following this collaborative process, TESA and the ICA Group selected a handful of focus areas that we could strengthen through the development of resources and curriculum. This marked the second phase of the project. 

Over the next year, TESA and the ICA Group worked together to identify new learning goals and pedagogical methods, and to create the resources and curriculum that could help them achieve their new goals and bolster their existing training program. When it was all said and done, we developed curriculum and created strategies centered on cooperative culture and cooperative business skills, such as: conflict resolution, meeting facilitation, financial literacy, and navigating the conversion process. 

This was a really exciting process to be a part of, and TESA is thrilled to have been able to take this deep and holistic approach to curriculum development with the ICA Group. We believe that, as a result, the ICA group will be strengthened in their critical efforts to help turn more workers into owners by transitioning traditional businesses to the cooperative model. 

What would you say to others about TESA?

“As we expanded the number and kinds of businesses we support in transitioning to employee ownership, we knew we needed to think about ways to improve our client engagement tools and processes. Working with TESA helped us identify simple strategies for planning and facilitating more effective and participatory meetings with clients. It also highlighted some of the gaps in our work with clients, and with TESA’s support and guidance, we were able to fill these gaps with new curriculum and content. During our time working together, TESA was incredibly adaptive and flexible as our priorities and needs shifted.”

– Jennie Msall, ICA Group Senior Business Consultant

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