Marjorie Kelly
Dec 21, 2017 · 5 min read

Strategies for Getting to 50 Million Employee Owners by 2050

By Marjorie Kelly

As we wrap the second year of the Fifty by Fifty project — aimed at getting to 50 million worker owners by 2050 — we’re more convinced than ever that the time is right for strategic interventions to catalyze the employee ownership field to a much larger scale. The retirement of the baby boom generation — the silver tsunami — paired with rising concern about income inequality, is creating an unprecedented opening for this solution. Yet employee ownership numbers have not grown as they could over the past 25 years. The field has not seen itself as a unified employee ownership field, uniting worker co-ops with ESOPs and other forms of employee ownership. Creating that unity is one of the aims of Fifty by Fifty.

In interviews and work with all the many sophisticated players in the employee ownership field, it’s become clear that a key piece missing, across the field, is getting the word out about employee ownership. Expertise exists in restructuring finance, selling companies and corporate management. But telling the world about this important work has taken a back seat. That’s where Fifty by Fifty has stepped up to help fill this crucial need. The Democracy Collaborative is excited to start this work: using our communications staff and employee ownership blog to tell the stories of our allies and identify key points of leverage in getting employee-ownership to the scale it merits. That’s what we did in 2017 with the launch of this Fifty by Fifty blog.

Another key aim is to tap the charismatic and deep knowledge of our coalition member leaders, with creation in 2018 of an Executive Council to give a public face to employee-owned companies. The Democracy Collaborative also brings to the table national expertise in multi-stakeholder initiatives, at the city level, an important new approach for the field. This approach is now used by worker cooperative developers; we hope Fifty by Fifty can serve to bring this knowledge into the ESOP world as well. By communicating to policy makers, local government, market stakeholders and others as a collective voice, Fifty by Fifty aims to help advance this work.

Yet another missing concept in the employee ownership field is the idea of “next generation enterprise design.” What should companies look like, what should their core design be, for a new era of sustainability and equity? We believe employee ownership is about much more than employee ownership: it’s about the future direction of our economy. The backbone team of Fifty by Fifty has committed to advancing this dialogue and concept, doing research and convenings in 2018 and 2019 on the relationship between sustainability and employee ownership.

The Design Team, in addition to ourselves, includes Camille Kerr and David Hammer of the ICA Group, Loren Rodgers of National Center for Employee Ownership, Melissa Hoover of Democracy at Work Institute, and Thomas Dudley of Certified Employee Owned. Getting the groundwork laid for Fifty by Fifty would have not been possible without the drive and expertise of this team. This past year we have not been able to meet in person or on the phone as often as we would have liked, due to constraints on securing support for the backbone organization. We think we have addressed these challenges and, as the project takes shape in 2018, we are looking forward to continuing to leverage the incredible collective intelligence of this amazing group. We want to find ways their energy and insight can be harnessed for the benefit of the network.

This team will be meeting in early 2018 to lay further plans for the year ahead. We’ll be back in touch as those plans come together. Below is a list of some of our accomplishments as a group for 2017.

Meetings in 2017:

· In January 2017, we held meeting at Rutgers University on the role of finance in taking employee ownership to scale. It was co-convened with Mary Ann Beyster of the Foundation for Enterprise Development. There were exciting presentations by Camille Kerr and others.

· In April 2017, we hosted a second meeting of the core marketing group, including NCEO, the State Centers Task Force, representatives from ESOP associations, and others.

New research this year:

· June 2017, we published an analysis by Mary Ann Beyster, “Impact Investing and Employee Ownership,”assessing the landscape of current employee ownership investing opportunities across asset classes. The report received coverage in Forbes, Impact Alpha, My Social Good News, Greentech Media, Green Money Journal, Locavesting, Globe News Wire, Benzinga, Entreworks, Digital Commons and elsewhere.

Strides in development of a research and development hub for the role of finance in taking employee ownership to scale:

· Marjorie Kelly was named a 2017–2018 Beyster Fellows, by the Rutgers University School of Management and Labor Relations and Jessica Rose, a Rutgers research fellow. These competitive academic awards, decided by a panel of scholars, will be used for research into understanding how finance can most effectively be deployed as a catalyst in scaling employee ownership.

· In November 2017, Jessica (Bonanno) Rose spoke at a Summit of Council of Development Finance Agencies, on a panel about the importance of employee ownership in development finance.

We launched a regular blog focused on employee ownership:

This currently takes the form of a regular blog for the Fifty by Fifty community, with contributions both by backbone staff and by leaders in the network. View the blogs already produced here. And please consider contributing! Contact the blog’s editor Erin Kesler at to learn more.

Other publications by Fifty by Fifty this year:

· “Hacking the American Dream: Progressive Senators Go Big for Employee Ownership,” by Jessica Bonanno Rose, published on Common Dreams.

· “Half of American Workers Could Be Employee Owners” — by Thomas Dudley .

· “Tired of Paying for Jobs? There Is a Better Way,” an op-ed by Marjorie Kelly, was published in the Capital Times and Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

· “Powerful, Under-Used Tool for Reducing Income Inequality: Broad-Based Ownership,” by Marjorie Kelly, was published in The Hill.

· “Worker Co-ops: Hope in the Desert,” by Marjorie Kelly, was published in Shelterforce.

· “Addressing the Roots of Inequality: Inclusive Ownership,” by Marjorie Kelly, Stanford Social Innovation Review.

Marjorie Kelly is Executive Vice President of the Democracy Collaborative.

Fifty By Fifty: Employee Ownership News

News and analysis from the movement to grow the number of employee-owners in the US to 50 million by 2050

Marjorie Kelly

Written by

Senior Fellow @democracycollab; director of ownership strategy @CuttingEdgeCap; author of Owning Our Future: The Emerging Ownership Revolution.

Fifty By Fifty: Employee Ownership News

News and analysis from the movement to grow the number of employee-owners in the US to 50 million by 2050

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