US | California

US | California

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The Cheeseboard Collective

"I want to show more and more people the advantages of working cooperatively rather than competitively. Whether we will be successful in the end nobody knows"

Michael McGee – Member of the Cheeseboard Collective

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The Cheeseboard Collective

Location: Berkeley, California

Year of Foundation: 1971

Number of Members: 65

Sector: Food cooperative

Key themes: Decent work, self-management, horizontal governance, community development

  • 8 Decent work and economic growth
  • 10 Reduced Inequalities
  • 17 Partnerships for the goals
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Coop Story

In 1967, Elizabeth and Sahag opened a small cheese shop in Vine street. Three years later, in 1971, the Cheeseboard Collective became a worker-owned cooperative. Together, members own and manage a neighborhood bakery, a cheeseboard, an espresso bar, and a pizzeria.

The cooperative is based on the concept of “equal pay for equal work”, meaning that members’ pay is not based on seniority or hierarchical positions, but on the basis of equality on an honorary basis. Moreover, the Cheeseboard governance structure is fully horizontal and all decisions undertaken by the members are voted and agreed by all of them. In order to preserve the democratic process and guarantee members' participation, the cooperative is supported by a professional facilitator who attends cooperative meetings.

Another interesting aspect related to the governance of the Cheeseboard Collective is that the jobs are rotated. This means that cooperative members have the opportunity to change jobs frequently.

Inspired by the Cheeseboard Collective, other cooperatives have been set up belonging to the Arizmendi Association of cooperatives. Between the dilemma of becoming bigger, with the risk of losing part of its identity, and staying small and marginal, the cooperative has found a third way: to franchise the Cheeseboard Collective by replicating their model.

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Key Learning Points

  • Business models run without hierarchy and through egalitarian principles are possible, even in countries where capitalism is seen as something irreversible.
  • When a cooperative becomes larger, it becomes harder to maintain fluid democratic processes. This cooperative, however, has found an innovative solution by supporting other cooperative initiatives instead of becoming bigger, itself. 
  • Self - managed worker - owned cooperatives, with a totally flat governance structure are possible. Challenges in decision-making processes can be overcome by hiring a professional facilitator who helps members to make the best decisions for the group.