April 20th, 2012: A week-long internal debate and planning session
At La Base Argentina, we decided to take the last week of March exclusively for a planning session focusing on the steps we need to take to take the organization to a new level of activity, resources, personnel, visiblity and lending capacity. It was, as expected, a very intense week, in which no aspect of our work was left unexamined. Several collective decisions have come out of that week, which we will be communicating and implementing as the workload allows.
One of the main goals is to incorporate two new members in june, one in administration and one to strengthen the loan agent team, and then a further agent in september.
Our interest rate will be updated to the inflation rates and our expenses, but we will not be deciding that new rate unilaterally: in line with our policy of transparency and participation, we will consult with key cooperative members so that the final rate comes out of consensus and mutual understanding.
We will also be applying to several possible sources of funding, as time allows.
We also decided to set time aside each week to focus on institutional work and implementing the goals decided during the week, and concentrate our attention to coops in our office in the last two days of the work week.
We are very enthusiastic with the new plan we have set for ourselves and believe that La Base Argentina will come out of it as a stronger, more sustainable organization with increased impact in the creation of democratic work.
December 30th, 2011: An expanded demonstration of trust in our work
We received great news from the printing cooperative network Red Gráfica: next week, they will double the funds they have handed over to La Base Argentina to manage. As we posted previously, this expanding network of printing cooperatives transfered to La Base AR$100 thousand in May for us to manage in loans to be made to member cooperatives. After 7 months of working together, they have seen the benefits of being able to outsource the management of these funds, and decided to transfer another AR$100 thousand next week, since more cooperatives are interested in making use of the funds and for bigger ammounts.
This represents a confirmation of their satisfaction with our work, and a further seal of trust from a community of cooperatives. We look forward to replicating this model with other cooperatives or groups that have funds, so that we at TWW:La Base can expand our impact on cooperatives further.
November 29th, 2011: TWW/La Base receives acknowledgement award from cooperative network
Last Friday November 25th, TWW/La Base received an acknowledgement award from the Red Gráfica, the network of cooperatives from the printing sector, for its work in support of cooperatives. The meeting was very formal and included the presence of Argentina's Labor Minister. TWW/La Base was recognized for its work in supporting this network of cooperatives, with which we have been working since March of this year. The Red Gráfica formed to provide its member cooperatives with better bargaining power and coordination in fulfilling different orders. The Red made a loan to the La Base fund of AR $100 thousand, which has enabled La Base Argentina to meet the needs of the coops within the network and of several that are not part of it. We are looking forward to expanding the joint work in 2012.
November 11th, 2011: The La Base family in Argentina expands
The last months of the year are bringing babies to the TWW/La Base Argentina family. Two team members are having children in the last quarter of the year, and this has brought about some changes in the team makeup, as the new parents have taken some time off to welcome their new child. So we have brought on a new team member, Pierre Simon, who will be working with us at least throughout the summer to help with the increasing workload as the year's end approaches and cooperatives need more working capital.
Pierre comes from France, but recently worked with textile cooperatives in Brazil, and his experience and his previous research about Argentina's cooperative movement are already proving very valuable incorporations.
July 15th, 2011: A La Base founding member begins phasing out
Over the last two months, one of the members of La Base who has been part of the team from the very beginning, Esteban Magnani, has been transitioning from three-day worker to, eventually, outside consultant.
Esteban is looking to dedicate himself more thoroughly to his profession as a journalist, through which he has written a large number of articles on recovered factories, cooperatives, and La Base's work, as well as his book The Silent Change (El Cambio Silencioso) on the recovered factories phenomenon.
Esteban has been one of the main pillars of La Base since its inception, both for his field work as loan agent and as member of the Board, helping to outline the larger strategy of the organization, so it has been a long and careful process to pass on his daily responsibilities to the remaining team. But the transition is almost finished and we are very satisfied with the way in which the more recently arrived members have been taking on the tasks.
Esteban will still remain in contact with the team, he will be present at key meetings, and will continue to participate in strategic decisions. The relationship he built with many of the cooperatives we work with will continue to be essential to the success of our organization's work, and we wish him the best of luck in his new activities.
June 24th, 2011: Turning the cooperatives' trust into action
At TWW:La Base Argentina, the last few weeks have been busy turning the trust of cooperative groups into loans. As we posted earlier, we have received two recent grants from cooperatives: AR$100,000 from the Red Gráfica network, and AR$15,000 from the UST waste recycling cooperative. We have already made four loans with the Red Gráfica money and are preparing the criteria for a further two; and the money from UST has gone into our La Base Fund, enabling us to serve at least one more cooperative per month.
Meanwhile, we are preparing the stage for our second La Base meeting with the coops, replicating the one we organized in 2009 and which we considered a complete success in terms of cooperatives networking, La Base's accountability before the coops, business oportunities, discussions of common problems, and a deeper understanding for the coops of La Base's origins, funding, principles, etc. We are looking forward to improving on these successes with the event in early August.
May 30th, 2011: A badge of trust in our work from the cooperatives
At TWW:La Base Argentina, we have been made the recipients of a loan from the network of recovered printing companies, Red Gráfica, for us to manage on their behalf and to make loans to the cooperatives that make up the network. This request to manage funds belonging to cooperatives marks the most concrete demonstration of trust in the work we have been doing that we have received from the cooperatives themselves.
The Red Gráfica is a network of 16 cooperatives formed out of bankrupt printing presses, a sector that suffered greatly under the 2001-2 crisis. These cooperatives have been partnering as a network to jointly buy supplies, negotiate prices and fulfill orders since late 2006. This year, they received a AR $500,000 (around US $125,000) advance from the Argentine government for future orders, and they began using the funds to make loans among the 16 cooperatives of the network. But they quickly ran into internal troubles, since they had no clear method for approving or rejecting requests from their cooperatives.
So, in April, the Red Gráfica board contacted TWW:La Base to ask us to manage the funds for them, applying our well-tried methodology of loan project design and approval. Last week, after signing the agreement, we received the AR $100,000 and have already made our first loan, of AR$7,0000, to the Chilavert printing press. We expect the rest of the network's coops to begin requesting loans over the next month. As stated in the agreement, if the network finds that it has demand for more than the AR$100,000, then the amount managed by TWW:La Base could be doubled.
We are very excited and proud to be given this token of confidence in the work we do, and are committed to managing the network's funds with the utmost responsability.
In the same vein, we are about to receive a second loan from the UST waste management cooperative, of AR $30,000, doubling the AR $15,000 we were lent and returned in 2010. The loan is at 0% interest to be used for loans with all of the cooperatives that we work with, demonstrating the alignment between the UST cooperative and La Base regarding long-term objectives and confidence in our capacity.
May 16th, 2011: The Working World Branch in New York Opens
The Working World has officially opened its third branch in New York. All the learning from the past six years in Argentina and Nicaragua about grassroots financing of cooperatives will come to play in helping us face the challenges of nurturing cooperative businesses in New York City. We are extremely excited about the possibilities of bottom up economic development in the US, and we have already begun looking at a number of possible projects. Right now we are still taking preliminary steps, getting to know the community, raising interest, and assessing investments, but hopefully we will have some interesting news of progress soon. Thank you to everyone out there in the world for your tireless support and enthusiasm!
April 13th, 2011: Exciting developments and new staff members
The last two months have been fraught with exciting news and many changes in TWW/La Base Argentina. Several prospects that had been on hold finally came to fruition, painting a very different picture for 2011 than what we had forecast earlier in the year:
- we finally received the long-overdue second transferral of funds from the Argentine government's microcredit program, CONAMI. We received AR$184,000 for loans, after the first AR$150,000 we had received back in early 2009. And, as is the rule with this program, we received another AR$87,600 to cover operational expenses. The loans made with these CONAMI funds are ruled by Argentina's microcredit law, which limits the size of the loans and the capital assets owned by loan candidates.
- TWW/La Base has begun training another organization, Nueva Argentina, in its credit selection and design methodology. Nueva Argentina will also be making fair loans to cooperative workplaces, so they were adviced by the National Ministry of Social Development to obtain their training from TWW/La Base. The training has lasted through most of March and is in its final stages.
- In further evidence of our strong reputation for doing solid, reliable and objective work in the cooperative world, two groups of cooperatives have approached us to manage funds in their possession for making loans among their cooperative members. These two groups are: the Red Gráfica, a network of 16 printing cooperatives encompassing many regions of Argentina and a varied range of sizes; and FECOTRA, a federation of worker coops which is one of the largest groupings of coops in Argentina. Discussions are already underway in both cases to organize the logistics and inform all the coop members about the intention to have TWW/La Base be in charge of loan project selection, design and follow-through.
- The CONAMI funds include funding for an organizational event. We will be repeating the meeting of TWW/La Base with all of the fund-user cooperatives, which was such a success in 2009. The prospective date for the event is the last week of June.
These new developments have led us to decide the recruitment of two new staff members, to handle the increasing work load:
- new loan agent María Eva Raffoul will be handling new loan projects, while also taking over the projects handled by "veteran" loan agent Esteban Magnani, who will be phasing out of the organization over the next months for personal reasons.
- new accountant and loan agent Alejandra Latendorf will be focusing on book keeping and technical and legal issues, but will use her background working with social organizations to also follow loan projects.
So, after a hesitant start over the Southern summer, 2011 is now full of vertiginous changes and challenges. Our team is very motivated to take on these opportunities for the growth of our organization.
February 28th, 2011: Facing a tricky 2011
As we have begun planning our goals for the year, we at TWW Argentina are looking at a range of possible scenarios, most of which present several uncertainties regarding the possibility to continue increasing our efficiency. As Argentina's combination of constant inflation and a stable dollar continues to eat away at our fund and donations, we will have to stretch ourselves thin in order to continue the trend of decreasing the ratio of dollars spent per dollars loaned, as we have every year since our inception.
At the same time, there are exciting prospects from the branches of La Base in Nicaragua and New York. In Nicaragua, the Working World team has been expanded into three members over January, and they have really hit the ground running using our methodology for the design of new projects with agricultural cooperatives.
As for TWW New York, Ethan will be moving there in March to begin discussions with the cooperatives he already contacted, and should be ready to do the first project of the branch over the next few months. Although funding is still uncertain for this branch at this point, the Working World tradition of jumping into the pool first and seeing if there is water second will be carried on by Ethan, who will put in many volunteer hours until there are some results to present possible fund sources.
Meanwhile, we at TWW Argentina continue working dilligently to respond to the ever-growing demand from the cooperatives we know and some new acquaintances.
January 3rd, 2011: Preliminary 2010 performance results
While we're still unwrapping brand-new 2011, we already have a few key figures on our performance last year. Total money loaned grew 14% year-over-year to ARG $1,486,733, around US $371,683. Meanwhile, our expenses in Argentine pesos only grew 8.9% to ARG $197,056, around US $49264. (It's important to consider that Argentina's 2010 inflation is uncertain, but estimated between 18 and 22%).
This means that our key efficiency measure of dollars spent per dollar loaned actually decreased for the 6th consecutive year since our inception: from $0,139 to $0,133.
These figures could have been even better had we received the 2010 portion of funds from the Argentine government's microcredit program. However, the delay meant that we had to make do with our prexisting funds to meet a growing demand. We still expect to receive these funds in the first two months of 2011, which should enable us to continue surpassing our own perforance numbers.
December 13th, 2010: Fundraiser by New York University students for a La Base loan
Last Tuesday, around 60 students from New York University who are studying in Buenos Aires got together for a fundraising evening on behalf of La Base and one of our prospective projects with catering cooperative Evencoop. The night featured sushi, wine, several excellent music sets, many bizarre raffle prizes, and a general spirit of fun and enthusiasm for contributing to the story of cooperatives in Argentina.
The end result of the fundraising activities was AR $3300 (around US $825) which will go to the fund for La Base Argentina, and earmarked for the project to buy a breadbaking oven for Evencoop. The Working World wishes to thank and congratulate all the students and the people at NYU Buenos Aires who contributed to the evening. We hope this will be the happy precedent of more like these to come.
November 16th, 2010: Talk on recovered factories for NYU students in Buenos Aires
Yesterday, two members of TWW's team met with around 20 students from New York University who are studying in Buenos Aires for a semester, for a Q&A on recovered factories after the students had watched The Take, the documentary that was involved in the origins of TWW. The students asked very poignant questions on the process of transformation of a bankrupt company into a cooperative and the historical context of 2001.
The University also made a donation of AR$300 to TWW's fund, and are organizing a fundraiser for La Base Argentina at NYU's Buenos Aires office for the first week of December. All this activity goes to strengthen the relationship that TWW and NYU have been building for the last 3 years.
November 2nd, 2010: TWW partners with an activist group of professionals
In response to the diverse and sometimes overwhelming range of needs that we detect in the coops we work with, we have begun to work closely with a group of professionals who are pooling their technical knowledge and offering it to cooperatives, pro bono. The name of the group is TRAFO, taken from the jargon among electricians for 'transformer'. They are lawyers, accountants, industrial engineers, electrical technicians, etc. They are already working with many cooperatives that we have or have had projects with, helping them to repair machinery or installations, make their production line more efficient, tidy up their book keeping, make strategic planning, and other important activities.
The partnership with TWW will develop by providing them with a list of needs that we detect in different coops, and then visiting those cooperatives together as an introduction, after which TRAFO will continue their relationship directly with the workers. In this way, we hope that the cooperatives will become stronger bussinesses, and we will use TWW's profound knowledge of the cooperative world in Argentina to benefit these enterprises.
September 21st, 2010: Personel changes in Argentina
September is a transitional month for us at The Working World: La Base Argentina, as Ethan Earle prepares to relocate to New York in order to begin working with cooperatives there, and we also welcome Yubari Valero as the new member of the team to take over Ethan's duties.
Ethan is moving to New York in early October and will be inaugurating The Working World: USA, where he will be working closely with some of the cooperatives we have already contacted there.
Yubari is a Venezuelan industrial engineer who is in Buenos Aires for a master's degree in social economy. She was selected over a surprising number of qualified candidates who answered our call for a new worker. She was selected for her background, experience and enthusiasm, and is already handling many of the projects that Ethan will be passing over. We are all very happy to see our institution grow and see that our work is attractive and inspiring to professionals who might choose a more materially rewarding career outside the non-profit sector.
August 2nd, 2010: Lending helping hands: New funding sources in Buenos Aires and New York
In the last couple weeks we initiated relationships with two organizations that have committed to help build our projects. First, the group Unión Solidaria de Trabajadores (or UST) made a $15,000, zero-interest loan to our Argentina fund to facilitate more productive projects with viable worker-run businesses. Second, we received an $8,800 "seed money" grant from the Sparkplug Foundation to begin supporting job creating cooperative efforts in the New York area.
We're grateful for the support of UST and Sparkplug, and hope that each of these relationships bears the fruits we're expecting, to be measured in jobs created and cooperative businesses supported, both in Buenos Aires and soon in New York.
July 20th, 2010: Overwhelming response to newspaper article
An interview of TWW founder Brendan Martin in Argentina's oldest newspaper, La Nación (read article in English at our "Press and further reading" section), evoked a surprisingly enthusiastic response from people with all sorts of background, offering to contribute to our work. Apart from the more predictable media feedback effect of more interviews being requested, we were contacted by professionals in economics, accounting, law, development, political sciences, etc., all offering their knowledge or services out of interest in our work. This comes in good timing, too, as TWW Argentina is entering a transitional moment in the next months, as two members of the staff are leaving (one, to begin operations of TWW U.S.A.). So we have been using this response to the article to begin our search for replacements. Through other channels of candidate searches, we were also pleasantly surprised by the interest TWW awakes in qualified professionals:; we received over 35 CVs in a week. We plan to use this opportunity to come out of this transition with a stronger work team, enabling us to jump to the next levels in our growth.
June 24th, 2010: Interns in La Base
Over the last month we've added a number of new faces to our work team here at La Base:Argentina. At the beginning of June we were joined by two grad students from New York's New School to conduct independent research and also help us with some of our longer term projects. The following week we added two more interns through contacts at NYU's Study Abroad program and the organization Connect-123. These university students from the United States will be with us through mid-August, learning about the work we do and helping with a variety of tasks. Finally, we've also taken on a Buenos Aires resident to learn more about our work, with the hope she can lend us a hand over an extended period of time.
We take this as an opportunity to welcome these new interns to our organization. We hope and believe it will be a great opportunity for both their personal and professional development, and also for the improvement of The Working World as an organization.
May 26th, 2010: Review of our work thus far in 2010
On the event of Argentina's Bicentennial, which took place May 25, we've taken the time to review our work so far this year.
In the first four months of the year we reached or exceeded our own prediction for number of loans made, and as of May 1 we have already reached the half-way point of the number of loans and total amount given in 2009. We have also improved our internal efficiency, reducing our total organizational cost per dollar loaned to a mere 13 cents. Through all this, and despite a difficult business climate with political maneuverings and high inflation, we have maintained a repayment rate of greater than 95%.
And remember, this repayment rate signifies much more than just loan money recovered: it means that more than 95% of our projects were able to pay for themselves, leaving the businesses we work with better off than they were before.
April 13th, 2010: A change for the better in bankruptcy law
Argentina's president, Cristina Fernández, has introduced a project in Congress to replace the current bankruptcy law, making it much easier for a bankrupt company to continue operating under its ex-workers in the form of a cooperative. If passed, this law would constitute a 180-degree shift in the treatment of worker cooperatives as an option to preserve jobs when businesses shut down.
The main changes in the project are: it gives judges the authority to approve the continuity of production under the workers' cooperative, even if it's still in formation. It also gives workers the same status as the rest of the creditors, meaning that they can buy the company's assets using their unpaid wages, benefits, etc.
The workers would not receive these benefits for free, though; they would have twenty days to present a project for the viable exploitation of the company, assemble a technical team, and other conditions. Without working capital or business consultation, coops would find it difficult to present such a project. Nevertheless, it represents a sea change in the state's view of recovered companies, which have so far received much more indifference or aggression from the government than positive support.
We at The Working World will be following this project closely because of the important changes it would bring for the world of workers' cooperatives.
February 25th, 2010: Difficult start to the year in Buenos Aires, La Base loans more in demand than ever
It has been a tough start to the year here in Buenos Aires. February has been the rainiest month in recorded history, and repeated flash floods have led to disruptions, damage and chaos throughout the city and greater metropolitan area. To make matters worse, steep increases in the prices of such basic foods as meat, milk and grains have hit consumer wallets hard, and also produced a ripple effect leading to the rise of prices of raw materials in a number of different industries. Added to the fall in demand that always takes place in the summer months (namely January and February), many of the cooperatives with which we work have been struggling to adjust their business models and ensure appropriate levels of production.
In this context the tools provided by La Base and The Working World have proven particularly useful. A number of cooperatives have taken advantage of our check-changing function to avoid capital fluctuations and gaps in the productive cycle. Others have needed extra help to buy raw materials in the face of rising prices, or else have decided to use this time to make repairs and improvements to fixed working capital.
The result of these needs is that our loan fund is being stretched to the max. On the bright side, this means that a greater than ever number of cooperative businesses are profiting from the services we offer. However, our limited lending capabilities also mean that we are having to turn down otherwise worthy loan requests. In this time, we have found that a lot can be done with relatively small amounts of money. We invite anyone interested in making a big difference with a modest donation to contact us and find out about all we can do to make their money work!
January 11th, 2010: U.N. declares 2012 International Year of Cooperatives
The United Nations has just made it known that 2012 will be declared International Year of Cooperatives. We are excited about the visibility this should give to the many advantages of the cooperative model of development.
The U.N. declaration states that "cooperatives impact poverty reduction, employment generation and social integration. As self-help organizations that meet the needs of their members, cooperatives assist in generating employment and incomes throughout local communities. Cooperatives provide opportunities for social inclusion."
The Working World is looking forward to seizing this opportunity to increase the presence of cooperativism in the mainstream media, and to turn it into direct help for the creation, maintenance and growth of worker cooperatives.
December 15th, 2009: End of the year: holiday push followed by summer slump
With the holidays near at hand, businesses here in Argentina are making an end-of-the-year push to raise sales and maximize profits. But after the storm comes the calm, and both January and February (at the height of the summer here in the Southern Hemisphere) are historically poor months for business. We at the La Base Loan Fund are
working hard to help enable the cooperative enterprises with which we work to make the most of the holiday spike, while still counseling them not to overextend production and fall prey to the summer slump that follows.
November 2nd, 2009: Our Fund is 100% outstanding - good for our work, but bigger needs
For the first time in La Base's history, we have reached the point where there are practically zero pesos in our Fund. On previous occasions, we have been able to prevent this through a mixture of foresight, chance and delays from cooperatives with their loan projects, but our all-time record amount loaned out during October (US $41,683) has left us counting each peso to loan out to the most carefully planned projects.
This situation has both positive and negative implications: positive because it means our entire Fund is being used by the coops to generate production and income for their enterprises, as opposed to sitting idle in an account; and we have increased our knowledge of viable coops to the point where there are enough to put all of our Fund to use.
But it's negative in that we are already having to delay some projects from being carried out until the Fund "recovers" - that is, until we accumulate enough repayments to be able to make a large loan again, which we estimate will happen in about 2 weeks.
It's important to point out that this lack of funds does not come from failed projects; on the contrary, what is happening is that we have been receiving loan requests from coops that we have already worked with and are therefore confident enough to raise the amounts included in each project. And as the word has gotten around in the coop community, more new groups are aproaching us with viable projects, so that there has been a geometrical growth in the demand for our fund. This has coincided with a point in the year when we always see an increase in activity, as coops get ready to meet the peaks in demand that come right before holidays and New Year.
We expect our ongoing fund raising efforts to yield some strong results in the forthcoming weeks and replenish the Fund, enabling us to meet this growing demand.
September 28th, 2009: WW:La Base founder Brendan Martin, Ashoka Fellow
Brendan Martin, the founder and President of The Working World, has been made an Ashoka Fellow. Ashoka is a global non-profit organization that supports social innovators and entrepreneurs. Brendan is now part of the community of social entrepreneurs who benefit from the global support network of their peers, partnerships with professional consultants and support structures tailored to their needs, including seed financing and capital, bridges to the business and academic sectors, and strategic partnerships that deliver social and financial value. Once elected to the Ashoka Fellowship, Fellows benefit from this community for life.
Brendan's profile can be seen at:
September 2nd, 2009: The factory FaSinPat, formerly known as Zanón, finally belongs to its workers.
Two weeks ago, one of the longest and most significant struggles in Argentina´s recovered factory movement came to an end: after eight years of worker management, legislators in the province of Neuquén finally voted for the expropriation of the Zanón ceramics factory. In the universe of recovered factories Zanón is one of the most visible, with 450 workers (double the number it had when it first opened under worker control) and a large degree of involvement in political projects. Despite this high profile (or perhaps because of it), they had spent the previous years in a sort of legal limbo, with the provincial government unwilling to settle the case in spite of the various resolutions presented by the cooperative and the overwhelming support of the surrounding community in Neuquén.
Zanón is also one of the principal protagonists of the 2003 documentary The Take (La Toma), which is intimately related with the origins of The Working World:La Base. For those of us lucky enough to get to travel to the factory and witness their struggle, their disciplined productive organization, and all they gave back to the community, it was a joy to hear about the triumph of these workers who so generously opened their doors to us and many others over the years.
August 6th, 2009: Interns from New School leave an Impact Assessment study on our work
Last week we were sad to say goodbye to the interns from the New School in New York. This group of International Affairs graduate students spent two months here at WW:La Base, preparing an independent impact assessment of the work we're doing. In addition to providing us with invaluable outsider information regarding what we're doing well and what we could be doing better, they also established a model we can use to continue monitoring our own impact in such diverse areas as business strength and stability, job creation and overall quality, human capital, democracy and cooperativism and community impact. Finally, they left behind for the next group of interns that should come to WW:La Base a plan to continue expanding upon the work they did. We enjoyed working with them immensely, thank them for their contribution, and look forward to our next opportunity to work with such a qualified group of students!
To see their final report on WW:La Base's impact, visit ¨Annual Report¨ under the link ¨The Organization¨ on the left-hand side of the page.
July 20th, 2009: Swine flu brings down sales, forces readjustments
Argentina has been one of the countries in which swine flu has hit the hardest; and particularly in the first weeks of July, the mix of government measures and media frenzy has created a climate of quarantine that has brought down consumer spending in all areas of the economy. Combined with the general retraction caused by the actual or feared consequences of the global economic crisis, the impact has been felt throughout the different economic sectors. For WW:La Base, this has meant that many projects have had to be reassessed, particularly those involving cooperatives that sell to the public and not business-to-business. It has been our task to readjust the steps and calendars of these projects to the current circumstances, aiming for a return to a more "normal" economic climate as the flu epidemic passes over the next weeks. This kind of flexibility would not be possible for the cooperatives with a loan from a private bank, which would send them into a spiral of debt and inhibit their chances of recovery.
June 22nd, 2009: Cooperatives now an election issue
As Argentines get ready for mid-term legislative elections next Sunday, June 28th, the cooperative model has made a surprise appearance as part of the debate: President Cristina Fernández gave a speech at an event organized by one of the associations of recovered factories in which she promised to promote a change in the bankruptcy law so that workers are the first to be given the opportunity to buy the assets of a company before it's auctioned off to other creditors.
And the Argentine government has carried out an unusual type of rescue in the case of a large bankrupt paper factory called Papelería Massuh: the company has continued operations through a trust fund financed by the government and co-managed between the government and worker delegates. Once the fund expires in 2011, the workers will be able to continue operating as a worker cooperative.
Both of these recent events have made the national newspapers, along with updates on the most recent wave of bankrupt companies recovered by worker coops. Because of our close work with several of them, WW:La Base has even been mentioned in a couple of these articles. Check out our "Press" section for more details.
The conservative opposition has included these government actions among their accusations of state appropriations and improper tampering with the market; but it is clear that the cooperative model is increasingly becoming an attractive alternative in the midst of the recession brought on by the global crisis.
June 9th, 2009: Meeting with the cooperatives, receiving students and shipping out products
So far, June has been a busy month here at WW:La Base. On the 3rd we held an event with several purposes, among them to introduce to each other different cooperatives that have made use of our rotating Fund, strengthen links in the cooperative community here in Buenos Aires, and celebrate four and a half years of La Base in Argentina. The event was a huge success, with around 70 people attending, talks given by members of the Cooperatives SG and Arrufat, and a short presentation we made in which we opened our books to the cooperatives, asked for suggestions, and talked about all we´ve done and all that´s left to do. Several in attendance were particularly surprised and excited to hear about our low-interest check cashing service. Also, a number of cooperatives working in related or complementary industries got the chance to meet and interchange ideas and experiences, with several even discussing concrete business possibilities.
Also in attendance at the event was a group of graduate students from the New School in New York. Four of these students will be spending June and July here with WW:La Base, preparing a report that, among other things, will provide suggestions to improve productivity and measure impact. We´re looking forward to working with them and ensuring the two months are constructive for both the students and the Fund.
Finally, after a lot of leg work and a long wait, last week WW:La Base made a major shipment of cooperative products to the United States. The products -- 1650 pounds of shirts, shoes, and alpargatas -- will be sold as fair trade, with the vast majority of the money going back to the cooperatives, and will be available through ¨The Market¨ on our website and also on Amazon.com. We were excited to see the many boxes leave our office, and we´re looking forward to working more with cooperatives here to ensure their products can reach new markets at fair prices.
May 26th, 2009: A meeting of all the cooperatives that have worked with WW:La Base
We at WW:La Base are gearing up for our upcoming event: the first meeting of all the cooperatives that have made use of the Fund in the past or present. The goals of this meeting are to enable the coops to be aware of each other, thereby encouraging any possible working relationships between them, as well as to make them aware of the size and variety of the community of cooperatives linked by the responsible use of the rotating Fund. And last but not least, to celebrate these 4 and a half years of WW:La Base's activities with the groups that have helped make it a successful alternative to mainstream economics.
April 13th, 2009: Present from the beginning
As the global economic crisis hits Argentina, the country begins to see another wave of company owners who decide to shut down their enterprises, with its cost in social terms. But after the experiences and lessons learned in the crisis of 2001-2, many of those dismissed workers now have at hand the tool of forming a cooperative and appealing for management of the companies, with their owed wages as justification. And in the case of two of these recovered factories of the more recent generation, chocolate factory Arrufat and plastic bags factory Esperanza del Plata, the key element for the rebirth of these factories as cooperatives is the availability of working capital to comply with their first orders. We at The Working World are excited to be present at that uncertain but inspiring moment when a group of ex-employees restart the machines but this time, under democratic management. These two loans are sure to be the first of many as the new cooperative and WW:La Base develop their productive relationship.
March 9th, 2009: Good news!
Several months ago, WW:La Base formed a network together with a communal bank and a social-economy institution focused on investigation and capacitation. Together under the name Tekufen, our young network applied for a subsidy from the National Ministry of Social Development. After a several-month process, this request was recently approved, and the Working World now finds itself with additional funds to make subsidized loans to small cooperatives in Argentina.
And in another piece of good news, last Tuesday The Working World:La Base received notice of a Good Practice recognition award, given by the Dubai International Award for Best Practices under the United Nations Human Settlements Programme.
February 2nd, 2009: The successful end to a challenging year
Here at WW:La Base, we are wrapping up the statistics for last year, and we are very happy to see that we have exceeded the previous year's performance: the amount of money loaned to cooperatives was double in '08 what it was in '07, with a 96% success rate for our loans.
At the same time, we had to achieve this while dealing with several challenges: the first one was the pressure of Argentina's growing inflation (estimated around 15 to 20%, but there are no reliable official figures) which meant that our budget for the year was actually shrinking. So we reduced our hours by around 40%, and still were able to reach our yearly goals. In fact, our cost-efficiency has almost doubled: from $0.27 in expenses per dollar spent in 2007 to only $0.15 in 2008.
The other important challenge that came later in the year was the economic slowdown caused by the global financial crisis: it eventually did make its way into the Argentine consumer economy, and sales dropped just in time for the holidays, sending many coops and our projects with them into difficulties. This is where our relationship with the coops, based on trust and partnership, becomes so strategic: we work together to devise ways in which neither the cooperative nor the WW:La Base Fund lose out in the long run.
As 2009 begins with a grim outlook, we are more committed than ever to supporting this alternative way of organization, production and association; a way which protects the jobs that exist, encourages the creation of more, and preserves the wealth that society has created.
November 28th, 2008: The need for a new model of banking: finance as a positive force
As the global financial system continues buried in a crisis of unpredictable damage, The Working World:La Base Fund becomes an ever clearer example of the positive potential of financial institutions when they embrace a different philosophy: one of job creation, connection to the world of production, using trust as an asset and striving to realize the potential of democratic workplaces. As 2008 draws to a close, we are looking at the most productive year for WW:La Base: we have already completed 44 loans and currently have 19 more active loans; this will mean as many loans made in 2008 as all previous years combined! All of this, done while preserving the Fund thanks to a return rate that aims to be at or above 95% once again. But most importantly, all of these loans have gone to productive activities such as working capital for raw materials, for buying machinery, for maintenance, etc. This adds up to the creation of wealth, and we hope it can stand in opposition to the destructive forces of speculation that have sparked the current financial storm.
July 28th, 2008: Finally, legal status in Argentina
After over a year and a half of waiting for bureaucratic procedures to come through, WW:La Base has finally been granted legal status as a Foundation in Argentina. This will open many doors, for example enabling The Working World:La Base to apply for funding from the Argentine government's Commission on Microcredit. This will mean more money available to cooperatives, specially the smaller ones in need of subsidized interest rates.
May 14th, 2008: In stormy times, a tool for cooperatives
We at WW:La Base are always proud to help in the strengthening of cooperatives in Argentina; especially in a moment such as this, when economic conditions at both the global and local level are becoming more difficult.
We have noticed that we have more requests from loans coming in at a faster rate than any other previous year, because as credit from commercial banks becomes more expensive and rising inflation distorts prices, WW:La Base's Fund becomes a necessary tool to survive the rough waters of this period. In the first 5 months of the year, we have approved and made 28 loans, more than double the amount we made last year. This has stretched our fund to the limit, but fortunately coops have participated in the effort by returning the loans as quickly as their economy allowed them, so that we could meet other requests for loans.
We have also become an important tool for the cooperatives to acquire needed liquidity - in other words, cold, hard cash to pay for utilities and weekly salaries, instead of the post-dated checks which have become commonplace in Argentina's economy.
We have been setting our sights towards increasing the Fund substantially, so that we can make much larger loans that enable coops to plan ahead with large purchases that give them the stability which is increasingly difficult to maintain. We hope that our fundraising efforts are successful and enable us to provide a more powerful option for coops to continue their hard-earned growth.
March 10th, 2008: Breaking out of the shell: new loans outside Buenos Aires
After three years of working with coops located inside Buenos Aires and its sprawling suburbs, The Working World:La Base is beginning to stretch its legs: since November 2007, four new loans have been approved that take us into an exciting new stage of territorial expansion.
The first loan was made to the INCOB recovered slaughterhouse, in the city of Bahia Blanca, 630 km away from our central office. The other three are in Argentina's second largest city, Rosario, 306 km. away, where we have contacted a promising solidarity group of cooperatives, most of them formerly bankrupt private companies now run as worker-owned establishments.
It is with great enthusiasm that we throw ourselves into this new possibility of bringing our assistance to democratic workplaces located far away from the all-absorbing metropolis that is Buenos Aires. It will be a challenge to maintain our levels of efficiency and low overhead, but the potential impact is promising enough that we are willing to take the challenge head on.
February 11th, 2008: Washington State students visit our cooperatives
On January 23rd and 25th, students from Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, Washington, visited 4 of the coops with which we work. The group of 18 students from the Global Citizenship Course were interested in seeing alternative models of economic organization, and in gaining a deeper understanding of the consequences of globalization on the less powerful. So on two separate days, we took them on a rented van out to suburban Buenos Aires, to visit the twin footwear factories of Desde El Pie and Puporé first, and recovered factories Crometal and Huesitos on the second day.
The experience was moving, exciting and enriching for all involved: the warmth and openness of the coop members as they told the story of their hard-won triumphs made the students feel welcome and helped them to appreciate the difference in the working atmosphere of these democratic workplaces; such a sincere, smiling exchange would have been very difficult to achieve in a visit to traditional, privately-owned establishments. Big barbecues were set up by the coops to give the occasion its typically Argentine celebratory quality, and questions went back and forth as both groups learned from each other.
After such a succesful experience, the relationship between PLU and The Working World:La Base is set to continue over the long run, with students helping to publicize the cooperative's products sold on the Market website, and WW:La Base ready to receive new groups in the upcoming years.
See the photos: Huesitos - Crometal - Desde El Pie - Puporé
November 26th, 2007: New product: Women's shirts from Cerkoo
Designed by women, made by women, and made for women, three new blouses have just been introduced in a joint effort of Ceres and The Working World:La Base. We have helped them out with some market testing and reactions have been very positive, but please let us know what you think!
November 20th, 2007: Cerkoo acquires their own factory!
We are very proud and pleased to tell the world that Cerkoo has acquired their own factory! The women of the cooperative are now full owners of their entire production, finally selling shirts under their own brand. Their new factory will allow them to expand their lineup and add new members to the cooperative.
October 20th, 2007: Ceres changes their name to Cerkoo
The struggle to start their own factory and own their own brand has been monumental for the women of Ceres, but time after time, they have persevered and come out victoriously. They are on their way to being full owners of their entire production, instead of just having temporary "expropriation" status, and in recognition of their achievements they have decided to change their name as well. The name Ceres was that of the original factory, but now that they are own their own they have decided to change in order to reflect their new lives: Ceres + Cooperative has become Cerkoo.