Shifting Community Power:
A Conversation with Ana Urzua
“I might not put myself at the front but as long as I know where we are going as a “we,” I will use all my tools in service of that.” – Ana Urzua
Cooperación Santa Ana is an organization created for workers, by workers. Their work focuses on “transforming entire communities and local economies” by providing coaching, incubation, training, and networking for worker cooperatives in Orange County. Worker cooperatives are businesses owned and operated by their workers, where workers have a voice and a vote in company decisions, including profit allocations. They are values-driven and put worker and community benefits at the core of their purpose. Recently launched as its own 501c3 nonprofit after being incubated by Charitable Ventures, we had an opportunity to catch up with Cooperación Santa Ana founder and Executive Director Ana Urzua to ask some questions and learn about what it means to be partners, collaborators and change makers in the communities they serve.
Top Photo: Graduation of the first “Cooperation in Action” cohort with co-facilitator Abel Ruiz, graduate Luz María Martiner, and Executive Director, Ana Urzua
What challenges did you face as a social entrepreneur?
Our story started within the Santa Ana Building Healthy Communities Initiative. I was a Co-Director of the Initiative and focused on civic engagement, land-use planning and economic development. During my time there, it was apparent that [some] root causes of health inequities in Santa Ana were due to unequal distribution of resources and an economic system that disadvantaged communities of color. We began to explore what alternatives could be created to address these inequalities, because many community members were primarily immigrants and came from home countries where they had experiences of alternative strategies. From this, folks recommended cooperatives.
When you joined Charitable Ventures, what were your objectives and how has incubation helped you meet those goals?
When I joined and created a separate fiscally sponsored project of Charitable Ventures, I remember telling myself, “I just want to do the work. I don’t need to start a whole non-profit.” It was helpful being able to do that and focus on our mission. We had been working with worker co-ops since 2015 and there were many proposals from the community. We knew that building co-ops would take a long time, resources, and effort. We really hadn’t seen one fully developed, so being sponsored allowed me to focus with the co-ops directly and build them out. Through the support and incubation we received from Charitable Ventures, and in partnership with the Democracy at Work Institute, we were able to launch two co-ops, Radiate Consulting Orange County, LLC, and Careshare OC, LLC. We have a special relationship with our co-ops in that we don’t stop helping them even after they launch, we continue to work for 12 to 18 months after they launch to ensure their financial independence and maturity. That was a goal early on and the partnerships we had allowed us to continue to grow.
What one moment, accomplishment, or highlight from your journey to Cooperación Santa Ana could you share?
One of them predates Cooperación Santa Ana, but in 2016 we were able to pass the first worker cooperative resolution in the county. The City of Santa Ana was the first to stand behind and support worker cooperatives and economic development strategies for immigrant communities and communities of color. Since then, the City partnered with Cooperación Santa Ana on the launch of CooperAccion (or Cooperation in Action), a 12 week introductory course for worker cooperatives, made worker cooperatives a funding focus for the City Development Block Grants, and have made visible this strategy of worker co-ops for the Santa Ana community.
Another highlight has been the launch of Radiate Consulting Orange County, a community-based consulting company offering community outreach, facilitation, connection to other services and other responses to the pandemic. The worker owners are seven members, all women and all of whom have lived in the zip codes most impacted by COVID-19. They got together to receive training in contact tracing as the pandemic hit, learned about how to navigate technology and became equipped with the proper knowledge to launch their own business. Today they continue to do the work of COVID response and [work towards] community health.
Which professional qualities do you feel made you a successful project director and now a successful founder of an independent 501(c)3?
I could not and would not have done it alone. I feel that it takes a good team. It takes being grounded in the community’s visions and priorities; it also helps that we identify as community members ourselves. Having my daughter now, I see the impact on my daughter’s future. It is so important that the future is viable and healthy; that there is clean water and safety. That vision needs to be there. I feel it on a very personal level.
And then there is the team. There was an activity I had to do once where you had to place yourself somewhere in the room, in relation to others, where you felt most comfortable or called to. I remember I put myself not at the very center, but right there closeby to them, perhaps second to center. I might not put myself at the front but as long as I know where we are going as a “we,” I will use all my tools in service of that.
What does the future look like for Cooperación?
We want to be strategic. We are interested in doing an economic and climate analysis of our region so that we know how cooperatives can have the biggest impact in our economy. I think that’s a good next step for us. I want Cooperación Santa Ana to grow slowly and intentionally.