Creating generational opportunity: A San Francisco cooperative connects Latino families through worker ownership

Project Equity was proud to assist Promotoras Activas SF located in San Francisco, CA, with its transition to worker ownership as a cooperative in July 2021.

Prior to July 2021, Mercedes, María and Fabiola, community outreach workers (“promotoras” in Spanish) in San Francisco, worked as independent contractors through a program of the Mission Economic Development Agency. As promotoras, they provide their community with health and resource information and fulfill a number of city-wide contracts, alongside other promotoras. Like many independent contractors, though, they found that their work often fluctuated, and they did not have the opportunities for decision making, planning or agency that business owners typically enjoy.

Maria Sanchez, Worker-Owner (Left), Abraham Gonzalez, Worker-Owner (Right)

Laying the foundation for opportunity

The Mission Economic Development Agency, “MEDA,” is a neighborhood and community development organization in the Mission District of San Francisco that celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2023. They envision creating economic opportunity for Latino families across generations, through a wide variety of programs, and policy and social change. With those goals in mind, MEDA approached Project Equity for help in forming a cooperative out of their promotoras program. In 2021, Promotoras Activas SF (PASF) was born.

A “promotora” is defined as a resident and identified leader in a community. There are roughly 20 promotoras in the PASF cooperative who work across various lines of work including housing, health, and connecting households to social services. All but one of the promotoras are women.

Dairo Romero, Community Initiatives Manager at MEDA

“Project Equity was incredibly helpful from the beginning. They helped us determine that a cooperative was the best model to empower and build the community and to help the co-owners become financially independent members of their family.”

Connecting families with critical resources

Members of PASF have done outreach work for the San Francisco affordable housing program since 2017. They have also provided services around COVID 19 vaccine outreach and housing assistance. They have helped over 2,160 families fill out more than 6,739 housing applications, and assisted more than 720 families in applying for rental assistance, enabling them to avoid eviction. This was a critical offering, especially during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic (2020-2022) when many lost their source of income.

Creating opportunity through collaboration

Originally, the promotoras were independent contractors, but forming a cooperative put each of the worker-owners at the helm of their work and their future opportunities.

MEDA reached out to Project Equity to first determine the potential and process of turning the Promotoras program into an independent worker-owned business and how to equip their promotoras to become business owners. Project Equity’s support included business planning, coordinating legal, translation and training services, and showing MEDA’s staff the ropes of cooperative development. Project Equity provided capacity building training for the cooperative’s board of directors, and supported Colmenar Cooperative Consulting in training all of the promotoras who are now worker-owners.

“Project Equity gave me the tools to be able to take on this role. I’m in charge of managing my own business and making decisions. I think that’s the dream of many Latina women.” – Maria Sanchez, worker-owner

Driving success through major contracts

Gaining any kind of contract with government or large private institutions is notoriously difficult. With assistance from MEDA and the well-known performance of the promotoras, PASF became a subcontractor for a different contracts that MEDA had secured with the City of San Francisco and a direct service provider for UCSF, Mission Neighborhood Health Centers and others. Contracts like these open the door to future opportunities for worker-owners to continue to provide for their families and start to create that generational wealth that would otherwise be unlikely.

“My daughters were surprised. They are watching the work that I do and the effort it takes. I want to be an example for them.”

Thriving and looking to the future

Because Promotoras Activas SF is a start-up rather than a conversion of an existing business to employee ownership, it required an entirely new type of training through the Project Equity Thrive Program. This coop’s Thrive program focused not only on board training, which is typical, but also on training for all of the members and technical assistance to MEDA itself. As a result of their start-up status, additional training on topics such as becoming a sustainable business, developing a 3-5 year business plan, and learning how to be self-sufficient without relying on assistance from MEDA were all customizations provided by the Project Equity team.

Fabiola Torres, Worker-Owner & Family

"Some cooperatives struggle with having all of their members engaged, but in this case, every single member is actively participating. They are truly democratically engaged and exercise their opinions and decisions. This gives them the opportunity to do that."

Promotoras Activas SF has given many women from the Mission District Latine community the freedom and support they need to earn, work, and support their families. And the coop members themselves have given so much back to their communities, to MEDA, and to us at Project Equity. We appreciate the opportunity to partner with MEDA on this important work and congratulate the worker-owners of Promotoras Activas SF on their success. Felicidades¡ a todas las socias de Promotoras Activas San Francisco!

Interested in transitioning to employee ownership?