A $6,000 Madison Public Library Foundation annual fund grant fueled the creation of a cooperative business program at Madison Public Library. The library partnered with the Madison Cooperative Development Coalition (MCDC), the City of Madison’s funded initiative to form and support worker cooperatives. A collaboration of community-based organizations and cooperative developers, MCDC addresses the factors affecting local communities of color, low wealth and traditionally excluded workforces in hopes of building a sustainable system to strengthen Madison’s long-term economic health.

Called Pathway to Cooperative Entrepreneurship, the program served 90 unique participants — most from Madison, but some from Stevens Point and Milwaukee — in six monthly sessions from December 2018 through February 2019 at Central Library and from May to July 2019 at Goodman South Madison Library. Of these participants, 14 continue to work with MCDC to further explore their business idea. Two cooperatives are in development, and three are about to begin development. In addition, members of six prospective businesses attended Co-op 101 meetings, which served as an opportunity to learn and network with other cooperative entrepreneurs.

Georgia Allen — co-founder of Soaring Independent Cooperative, which offers home care services to the elderly and those with mobility issues — started her journey in worker cooperative development at the library and inspired the foundation grant.

“I spent so many months at the (Goodman) South Madison Library trying to figure out the operating agreement and learning how to write a business plan where it would incorporate the worker-owner model,” Allen says. She and a group of colleagues had started thinking about creating a business because they were fed up with low wages, high turnover and low-quality care. 

“We knew about the worker-owned concept, and that’s what we wanted because we knew that that would contribute to everybody wanting to actually work if they knew that … if we’re profitable and we do really well, it’s not going to go to investors to buy second vacation homes,” Allen explains. 

Another direct outcome of the Pathway to Cooperative Entrepreneurship grant is the beginning of a collaboration between the Northside Planning Council (NPC) and Madison Public Library. NPC is working to develop a childcare worker cooperative on the city’s north side as part of its ongoing economic development strategy. Librarian Martín Alvarado will provide librarianship services to NPC and community members as they work on this project, as well as in exploring cooperative business solutions to meet community needs. These efforts will be supported through the cooperative development manuals, tool kits and other educational materials purchased with grant dollars.