I am a 36 year old father, 17-year resident of Austin, and co-owner/member of an Austin-based worker-owned cooperative, Polycot Associates. In the early 2000's, I grew my awareness of the systemic problems facing our planet and I began searching for solutions. I immediately identified intentional communities as one powerful way to reverse the wasteful and isolating effects of typical Western culture. I put together a self-guided tour of intentional communities in 2006 and visited 8 communities across the US. It was during that trip that I met the founder of Gaia Host Collective, my first worker-cooperative.
Over the next 7 years, I helped grow Gaia Host from 2 to 5 members, and was influential in building the technical and organizational infrastructure necessary to help us stay competitive in a highly commoditized industry. On my return to Austin in 2007, I soon joined the co-housing group Kaleidoscope Village. With KV, I practiced a formal Consensus process which helped us to surface hidden concerns, work through emotionally charged issues, and come to group agreement on divisive issues. I helped draft community policies and nurture the community culture, until the housing market crashed in 2009 and the project became infeasible.
In 2011, I started working with a group of freelance web developers gathered by Jon Lebkowsky under the name Polycot Associates. Guided by his generous leadership and our own entrepreneurial backgrounds, we ran the business with an egalitarian ethic from the beginning. In 2013 we worked with Carlos Perez de Alejo of Cooperation Texas and Jim Johnson of the Democracy at Work Institute to formalize our business into a Worker Cooperative structure. With legal assistance from John Vinson, we finalized our transition in 2014 and have since added a fifth member to our coop and have a sixth on a provisional membership track.
Cooperative structures provide a way to root our economics in our local Austin culture. For a business owner, a worker-cooperative can be a best-of-both-worlds scenario, retaining the independence of owning your own business, while at the same time operating in a context of teamwork with trusted partners on whom you can rely. Housing coops help to reduce expenses through the efficient management of common resources, and create opportunities to leverage pooled assets for greater collective benefit than would otherwise be possible individually. Consumer coops provide customers a voice in the governance of the organization, ensuring that power is shared with all stakeholders.
Cooperative business is one way to anchor the economics of the city locally in a way that is resilient to outside influence and the extractive economics of globally-oriented corporations. Cooperatives support local entrepreneurship and help to strengthen the network of local businesses which create the infrastructure of relationships on which our daily lives depend.
I am proud to be a member of a worker-cooperative and hope to have the opportunity to bring my years of experience to serve all of Austin's cooperatives with the Austin Cooperative Business Association.
Cooperation has been a big part of Benjamin's life since the early 2000's. Professionally, he is an active contributor in the open-source community, cooperating with other software developers to create useful software for millions of users. He researched intentional communities first-hand through a self-designed year-long national tour in 2006 and participated in the development of Austin’s co-housing group, Kaleidoscope Village. Benjamin has been a member of worker cooperatives since 2007 and was instrumental in the growth and conversion of two worker-owned technology coops. In the Burning Man and Maker communities, Benjamin creates opportunities that provide creative spaces for play and artistic experimentation. Benjamin is dedicated to re-localization and works towards a sustainable Earth community through continuous evolution.