Last month, on May 7-8, worker justice organizations, funders, investors, experts and field-builders who are committed to improving the lives of low-wage workers across the country joined us at the Rockefeller Foundation for the first in-person session of the 2019 Transform Finance Cohort: The Future of Workers is Now. The Cohort brings together six prominent labor organizations to learn about key financial actors and their potential leverage points to develop creative capital tactics for worker justice. For example, some participating organizations focused on supporting construction workers are looking at avenues to collaborate with foundations and labor pension funds on how they can re-imagine their real estate investments, as well as how to influence private real estate investors and developers.
After two days together, several themes materialized that shed light on key considerations for the intersection of finance and worker justice:
Where is the power within finance? Many of the Cohort members are organizers and know how to navigate situations with imbalances of power, and leverage the worker power of their base. There was great enthusiasm to explore power within a new arena - the financial system - as the first step towards action, asking: who wields the greatest power and who can be influenced?
Systemic or soon? The discussion often came back to the balance between large scale, systemic change for driving worker justice and the more immediate need to serve constituents today. Several organizations elevated the importance of incremental “small” wins and highlighted that immediate wins are not mutually exclusive from “large” systemic change, but rather, are crucial parts of the change at scale that is needed. Marrying more immediate wins with shifts to how worker justice organizations engage with financial actors has the potential to activate and align all those interested in transforming worker justice.
Translation and alignment: Both participants and coaches agreed that winning campaigns in the finance space is not about creating brand new arguments but translating worker justice to financial actors in a language that they understand. This point, which illustrated a convergence (or at least does not suggest a misalignment) between worker justice organizations and financial actors, highlighted the need to identify and flesh out more points of potential alignment or leverage that could benefit workers.
NOW AND NEXT
Between now and the next in-person session (August 8-9 in New York City) Cohort members will, with the support of Transform Finance and values-aligned experts, identify a specific capital tactic for worker justice they want to implement in their work. At Session 2, organizations will workshop this specific capital tactic with experts and their peers.
We are thrilled to announce that Vonda Brunsting has formally joined the Cohort as its Head Coach. Before joining the Harvard Kennedy School's Initiative for Responsible Investment, Vonda was the Director of the Capital Stewardship Program at Service Employees International Union (SEIU). She has also worked as a community organizer in Chicago, New York, and Boston with the Industrial Areas Foundation.
WANT TO GET INVOLVED WITH THE COHORT?
Share your expertise! If you or someone you know has strong knowledge of real estate investment, venture capital, or foundation endowments and wants to support the Cohort, please email Eric (firstname.lastname@example.org) by Friday, June 21 to explore ways to engage before and during Session 2.
If you are more broadly invested in the intersection of worker justice and finance and would like to stay updated, please get in touch!