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Apr 21

New Commons is a Business Cooperative!

Posted by Michelle Gonzalez in Untagged 

Michelle Gonzalez
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goco-op logocmykOn January 1, 2012 we officially converted our company from a single owned (S-Corp) to a business cooperative.  What this means: each worker can own a share but no one person can own more than 1 share.  According to the National Cooperative Business Association there are several types of cooperatives; we are a worker-owned business cooperative.  Our principles are simple:  as a consultancy firm we put the client first and hire the best people who can deliver creatively; we usher in a new way of thinking, linking and doing; and we are people who have an ownership mindset.  At the end of the day, we must meet a need with an exceptional and responsive product or service!  This goes beyond "quality" this is about anticipating as well as inquiring what must be done or uncovered.  We then look at immediate and emergent conditions and give a lens to our clients to foresee what is coming "around the corner," so they can be creative with options, rather than react to excuses!

For 2012 we are focused on growth and being a leader for innovative facilitation and breakthrough practices.  In fact, every one of our consulting partners brings a perspective that innovates or creates movements as well as a book of business.

How did we get here?

We have always been inspired by the bold experiment John Abrams of South Mountain Company put forward in 1987:  to convert from a sole proprietorship and re-structure as a worker-owned cooperative. This was no easy task...to let go of control, be open to shared decision making which can be so slow and sloppy. What prevailed was a business model that would invest in the producers, the "workers" of the product who cared and loved the work.  This wasn't just about power, this was about ownership of the outcomes and in John's case, building the house, the tangible product!  We believe we can take this into the creative "intangibles" where consultants as creatives can build something where the idea goes beyond a trademark and becomes a way or process that an organization can honor.  This way, in turn, can teach others to make a product that turns a profit and that benefits all of those who work on it...including the community! 

Read here for more about John Abrams journey to transform his company to a Cooperative: http://www.southmountain.com/?category=2&;section=5&place=Sharing+the+Reins  

What do we care about?

For New Commons, the 21st century requires new thinking, new ways of linking and new forms of doing.  To rise to these demands,  New Commons is not your typical organization.  Instead of everyone being an employee, we combine owners, associates, and strategic partnerships in our web of relationships.  With this diverse team we are better able to surround our clients with just the right talent needed.  We realize that structure is important but not the end--so the question of how can we behave in a way that allows for both innovation and stabilization is being tested daily and our structure as a business cooperative is facilitating this for all members.  

At New Commons members and associates enjoy what Charles Handy in his book “The Age of Paradox,” calls “twin citizenship”.  With such citizenship each person is deftly loyal to his or her brand as well as to the collective, the New Commons.  This twin citizenship is a loyality to respond to both a client;s local need while also staying consistant in the larger New Commons shared resources and principles.

This is the year of the Cooperative! 2012 is the International Year of the Co-op:  http://usa2012.coop/

All around the world, in the year 2012 people will celebrate a business model that puts people first, innovates to meet member need and provides local service while being part of a global network. We value this conversation as being about what is possible for shared risk and business.  Why do we have to put all the reinsof control on just a few "share holders" when the stakeholders reap the benefits and the long-term risks if a business fails or worse, pollutes, abuses, or fails the very people it is meant to serve or employ:  customers, vendors, employees, cities, towns, states and the US?

Yeah, we get that markets change and economist anticipate a boom and bust every 7 - 10 years.  But really, does that have to be the norm when clearly we realize that small businesses make up 99.7% of employer firms?*   Please...let's get real about what is possible: the cooperative is, yet, just one of many different models that can work in our new, brave world!

*Source: http://web.sba.gov/faqs/faqIndexAll.cfm?areaid=24

Mar 22

Call for Designers

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Michelle Gonzalez
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Wanted: a professional graphic designer to communicate solutions to shape the next economy  3/15/12

The Challenge

To grow its next economy, Rhode Island needs fresh ideas that change the game. We believe the game changing ideas will come from many people in Rhode Island and beyond its borders. Please review the short set of presentation slides included with this call for designers.

The process for soliciting game changing next economy ideas is being done by the Economic Development Foundation of Rhode Island (EDFRI) along with many strategic partners. The partnership is about to launch an online tool topublicly invite, debate and choose useful proposals to shape our next economy.

 Deadline is 4/11/12!

Scope of the Design Challenge

This project requires the right image and a name to embody the essence of what we are up to. We have yet to settle on a name, albeit the project is currently called RIDeation, this name has yet to be fully embraced. Other names presented in this call for designers are used only to reveal the spirit and aims of the project. And the names are presented in no order of interest or priority:   

•    RI creating jobs
•    Action for the RI economy
•    Innovation for the RI economy
•    Ideas for the future of RI
•    Challenges facing the RI economy
•    Crowd sourcing for the next RI economy
•    Crowd sourcing for RI’s future

In essence, there is no chosen name so help us create one.

The image and name will be used electronically on the website and the purchased online vetting tool. There is no plan for using the image and name for business cards, stationery and so on.

The process

The winner of the design competition will receive a fee of $1000. The fee encompasses the time required to create the design and render it, after the submission, for use online. Given the fee, we expect to attract designers just breaking into the profession. We want a Rhode Islander. Electronically submit sketches or treatments of the logo and proposed name (multiple logo images and names are welcome) that express the essence of the venture to Robert Leaver – This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it – by 5 pm on 4/11/2012. Reminder: this request for an image (s) and name (s) is not for the EDFRI brand. Rather it is for a separate, idea-generation venture to be launched by many partners of which EDFRI is one.

A selection team will review the submissions and make a choice. It is composed of: Scott Gibbs of EDFRI, Stephanie Fortunato of Providence’s Office of Arts, Culture and Tourism, Robert Leaver of New Commons, Lucie Searle of AS220, and Marcel Valois of EDFRI.

Once the winner is chosen, ERDFRI will work with the designer to render the logo and name ready for use online.

 Questions: call Robert Leaver at New Commons at 401-475-6762.

Aug 03

Digital Literacy

Posted by Michelle Gonzalez in Untagged 

Michelle Gonzalez
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In partnership with the Wireless Internet Institute (W2i) the leadership platform on applications of broadband wireless for local government, New Commons has been engaged by Broadband Rhode Island (BBRI), an initiative of the RIEDC that aims to promote broadband adoption and digital literacy throughout the state. On 7/30/2011, Rhode Island’s library directors met at the invitation of the Office of Library and Information Services (OLIS) at the Rhode Island Economic Development Corporation (RIEDC). We presented our key work in this two-year project for a statewide digital literacy project that will be designed and implemented in partnership with OLIS, the libraries throughout the state, and various community institutions. We expect to produce a standardized digital literacy curriculum that will provide Rhode Islanders who do not have a ready understanding of the Internet with a basic set of skills that will enhance their personal and professional lives.

"We feel we are especially prepared to take on this project," say Robert Leaver, Sr. Consultant to this project, "to serve the state in its ambitious and forward-thinking initiative, with capabilities that embrace the adult learner, needs of citizens and to make connecting and using the Internet as accessible as possible."

See BBRI's digital literacy video (LINK BELOW) and get involved as either a trainer, site to offer training, or as a community builder:  http://broadband.ri.gov/

Or contact Pablo Sandoval, Digital Literacy Project Lead at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it

Read more about Broadband RI in the Providence Business News from 8/8 - 15, 2011. Click link, or download here: icon Digital Literacy-PBN (70.03 kB)

Mar 16

Something New

Posted by Michelle Gonzalez in Untagged 

Michelle Gonzalez
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Our regional whole place inquiry Providence & Beyond is being redesigned.  We thought it was time to re-evaluate the format, focus, and think about what best would meet your needs in creating 21st century organizations and communities. 

We'll get back to you on what is next.  If you would like to provide your feedback or get involve in the design of what is next please do comment below.  As always we will be looking to have connecting conversations on what is possible in shaping our region for the common good.
May 06

Joint Event WCSWANS and Michelle Girasole

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Michelle Gonzalez
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WCSWANS, New Commons and the Sassy Ladies Help Women Connect On-line and Off-Line:


May 21st, from 6:00 - 9:00 PM at  McGovern’s on the Water in Fall River, MA

A great way to make it though the current economy is to find new ways to connect people and ideas. Connecting people and ideas is also a common goal of both Women’s Club SWANS and New Commons . So they have joined together again with that goal in mind to create another fun event for women.

While the event is about connecting in person, the topic is about connecting on-line. Maureen Umehara, Director of WCSWANS, states "Similar to WCSWANS, Social Media Networking is such a great way to connect with friends and/or business associates! We are excited to join with New Commons (who offers great exercises for helping people to actively learn, connect and create new ideas) to present such a relevant subject"

The topic of the evening, presented by Michelle Girasole of the Sassy Ladies , will be “Making Connections On-line and Off-line.” In her presentation she will shed some light on social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook. Maureen indicates,

I’ve met Michelle several times and was impressed with her warmth, knowledge and presence. As part of the Sassy Ladies, she’s able to help people learn in a fun way! As an added treat, Michelle Gonzalez of New Commons will also do an interactive exercise on our personal networks. Her exercise was so popular at our last event we invited her back!

Women of all ages and backgrounds are invited to attend this educational and fun event. Those women with businesses also have opportunities to promote them.  newcommonslogo_2.jpg

swanslogo.pngDate: Thursday May 21st ;6-9pm 

Location: McGovern’s on the Water in Fall River, MA;Click here for directions

Fee: $20members/$30non-members (includes dinner and presentation/additional fee may apply).

For more info and to register go to www.wcswans.com


About Us:

The Sassy Ladies help support and teach women entrepreneurs in a sassy and fun way, through their book, "The Sassy Ladies' Toolkit for Start-up Businesses", their online communities and subscription-based Club website and emails. www.thesassyladies.com

WCSWANS is a social club and networking group for women. We help women meet other women to connect, learn some new things and just have fun! Women with or without a business can benefit from this club and their events. www.wcswans.com


New Commons is a progressive Think Tank in Providence that brings thinking into action. www.newcommons.com


Mar 05

Joint Event with WCSANS and New Commons

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Michelle Gonzalez
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tara_crawford_roth-195x211.pngThe speaker , Tara Crawford Roth, is a certified intuitive Business and Life Coach. She is a sought after motivational speaker and teacher as well as a trainer for the International Coaching Federation (ICF) accredited iPEC coaching certification program and the Founder of the New England Holistic Chamber of Commerce. Her topic "Use your Intuition to Achieve your Goals" will both inspire and challenge attendeesMichelle Gonzalez of New Commons (and convener of Soul at Work Cafes) will add to the fun through leading  café style discussions.

The Café style discussions are just one of the ways that New Commons helps businesses in particular find new ways to solve old problems.  Maureen notes,

Café style discussions not only elicit creative thinking, but are also a fun way for attendees get to know one another, which is what WCSWANS events are about! So Michelle and I thought it would be a great idea to do an event together".

In this economy it is important to make connections and gather support from friends. It is also important for businesses owners to get the word out their services.  This event offers women the opportunity for both.  A fun event that helps so many people... what a great idea. A portion of the proceeds for this event will be donated to Starlight.  The event will take place March 26 ; 6pm to 9pm @ McGovern's on the Water;

$20.00 members/$30 non-members (reg fee may apply);

cost includes includes: fruit, cheese and cracker reception, soup, dinner, dessert, coffee,tax, tip, and presentation .  Pre-registration is required. More info: www.wcswans.com or 401-694-1284

Jul 22

Web 2.0 for Non Profits

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Michelle Gonzalez
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Comments from migrated blog:

  •  Joan // Jul 23, 2008 at 12:05 pm

    I am now a believer!. Thank you all for putting this topic on the fore front of my mind.

  •  Colleen // Jul 23, 2008 at 1:46 pm

    I had to try this for myself! I too didn’t know how BIG this whole web 2.o is. Thanks John for bringing me out of the dark ages.

  •  Frymaster // Jul 24, 2008 at 1:38 pm

    I believe the terminology I used was “if you perpetrate a website upon the general public…”

    Thanks to everybody, especially Joan who was on the phone with us for about 3 hours!

  • Michelle G // Jul 24, 2008 at 3:37 pm

    John, Yes you did say “perpetrate” it is not about building anymore, we have to be realize this web world is the realm of the user. Shame on me for “perpetrating” and am guilty to put that post on you all–thanks for keeping me honest.

  •  Patricia A. // Jul 28, 2008 at 10:01 am

    Michelle and John,

    Thanks for a great workshop on Web 2.o for non-profits-well prepared. You brought us up-to-date on the next wave. Last week, Charlie Rose’s Talk Show featured 3 guests Steven Levy from Wired Magazine, Walt Mossberg of the Wall St. Journal and Michael Arringotn of Tech Crunch-all talked a lot about Social Networking and the different uses of the cell phone, iphone and Black Berry. Your workshop helped me to understand the use and future of Web 2 products.


Jun 23

Provocations in change language

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Michelle Gonzalez
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I was captured by Chris Jordan’s art work and the presentation of turning our unconscious behaviors that are leading us downward, and to turn this around into conscious behavior change. This was just posted:


Artist Chris Jordan shows us an arresting view of what Western culture looks like. His supersized images picture some almost unimaginable statistics — like the astonishing number of paper cups we use every single day, number of prescription drug emergency room visits……and “how do we change?”

About Chris Jordan
Chris Jordan runs the numbers on modern American life — making large-format, long-zoom artwork from the most mindblowing data about our stuff.


Next is just a nutty way of looking at “everything.” Please do comment, folks are already doing this: Clifford Stoll on Everything.

Here it is and do comment below:

Jun 12

Providence & Beyond Cafe w/Jim Capraro Live Blog

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Michelle Gonzalez
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As we inquire about what lies ahead for Providence & Beyond, we keep asking:

What do we need to learn? What do we need to unlearn?

Robert is staring with an opening poem by Hafiz called: I Cherish Your Ears

Do come on July 18th as we take the conversation on the Blackstone Valley River.

Barbara Fields of LISC RI introduces Jim about the work he is doing on relational organizing. Jim and LISC are investing in 5 communities (Woonsocket, Cranston, Pawtucket, Westerly, and Olneyville-Providence) to bring the process of sustainable communities and Jim’s process.

Jim begins to present and is surprised how big the audience is, about 50 people. As an early community organizer working with Gail Sincotta to change Chicago, he never thought that another Chicago community organizer that would later become a lawyer would then be running for President of the US.

Into the PPT, he starts with images of developments, but they’re all commercial not residential. Housing is one starting point, and that’s where he started with Gail Sincotta in the early 1970. They forced home mortgage disclosure to fight Red Lining. They proved discrimination and developed Community Reinvestment Act. Banks now have to see where the loans are? Are they lending to people in all their markets. Brought big investments into city neighborhoods, and that money became “Magnetic North.”

Community reinvestment is more than housing, but it started with housing. Still CDCs would go bankrupt because housing developments didn’t include total community development. People need jobs to pay their own way, and not fall into the downward spiral of subsidies. So they worked on jobs development.

Second starting point. Rosanna Marquez new Clinton HUD chief asked Jim: How did you learn to think like you do? Answer turned out to be the way they handled relationships, without a lot of expectations. Instead of concentrating on the plan, concentrate on the relationship because they will create new possibilities for the plans.

So they worked on systems: if you fix the system, all other aspects will follow. What is the self-organizing model we should strive for?

Community development is about people becoming better people. And at the core is the families.

On top of this is the commercial layer. They own 1/3 of a supermarket, but it’s not economic development because there is no export. Instead, the SM was importing products. But the Nabisco plant they kept does export cookies and bring in money that goes to wages of people in the neighborhood.

Also included retraining money to convert from old baking tech to new automation. So the whole thing works together. Bedroom communities export labor to markets where the jobs are, and bring back money. And that money attracts the services because the economy is already developed.

Now they seek to unite the community development and the economic development. Requires a disparate group of leaders to combine them. This is a Quality of Life Agreement. Agreement because they agree to actually do it.

So how do you get this disparate group to engage and collaborate? They need vision.

A vision must be powerful. Really powerful. Otherwise it’s just an idea.

How do you keep yourself from just getting stuck in the agenda of solving problems? Ask visioning questions: what do you want to be when you grow up?

Now the middle: housing money goes to affordable housing. But that’s not nearly a broad enough definition. CDCs were doing everything, but only getting money for the housing component. Like a one-man band. It’s too complex to approach from a single organizational viewpoint. And everything is underfunded.

The partnership/collaboration model: Quality of Life plan is a social contract. And the execution is like an orchestra. [The music analogy: music is only music when somebody plays it. A plan is only meaningful if you actually do it. So QoL Agreement, not Plan.]

Lead agency is the conductor. Local LISC acts to pull together national inputs: gov, funders, corps. That’s the macro intermediary. Then there’s a neighborhood intermediary to get money to the local partners.

We can call this whole approach relational organizing.

Step 1: identify 100 emerging leaders that we know of, but don’t really know, and let’s interview them in their space one on one and ask: strengths, weaknesses, opportunity and threats you see here now. When the ideas emerge, it’s not our ideas, it’s theirs. Actually found 114. Also, interviewer must be attentive to the interviewee and not talk or get distracted or look at the clock. Make people feel engaged and “listened to.”

Begin by creating relationships and see what that energizes. Then get into the action items.

The results are paradoxical: top strength and weakness was the same thing - cohesion. Cohesion as a strength was the old neighborhood - Catholic. Cohesion as a weakness is the non-Catholic residents who ask “Where do I go?”

Step 2: Convene leaders and engage them in a visioning process. They invite the most energized 75 At the meeting there were 175. Held meeting at the hospital because it’s neutral ground. Used translation equipment for non-English speakers.

Spent 20 minutes (10 listening/10 speaking) with a person who doesn’t look like you. Energized and united the group.

Two kinds of power: organized money and organized people. This second power is what they were after. They got everybody to get contact info from 5 people they don’t know. Get together and repeat the 20 minute exercise. Then envision the best possible neighborhood for you AND for all the new people you’ve met.

Step 4: Working Groups — Planning committee was “commissioned” by the larger group to lead the effort. Created 87 items.

Step 5: Recruiting partners committed implementing specific elements. “Nothing stays in that we talked about, unless we have someone who agrees to do it.” Determine who could or who should execute an element, and then get the commitment.

As a result, only 62 items remained.

Jun 12

Providence & Beyond Cafe w/Jim Capraro Summary

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Michelle Gonzalez
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Megg Kerr presented the first table nuggets: whole thing takes patience and commitment to listening while waiting. In planning we have defined boundaries, have to be more open to new geographies (inter vs. intra neighborhoods. If you’re focused on relationships, they’ll take you beyond usual boundaries and be open to going beyond our boundaries. We thought about government, can’t just be CDC there is a need for a third party or public/ private relationship, becomes a new “intervenor” beyond the usual suspects.

John Speck comes up to present the nuggets for second table on the “cabal”: “My thought is this is about Pawtucket and on my blog New England can be very nasty, and well Pawtucket can be one of the nastiest places…and well Speck was attracted to it “light attracts light” Government are the real estate developers, what do we do with such a siloed. Option 1: infiltrate. Or Option 2: Do we surround them with a larger network…build another entity around it. Involvement in Government is disincentivized. Government is the worst at terrorizing talent. So where do we go? What about the immigrant neighborhoods…tend to be insular how do we break into that and how do we engage this community to find leaders? Nugget: don’t worry where you are going, but who is on the train you are traveling. Find one person you trust and let that person find more. The option becomes #1: infiltrate.

Colleen Daley Ndoye: presented for the identifying key leaders: Community mapping of where people live, work, pray, etc. and where the leaders are whether inside or outside the community. And small neighborhoods don’t always have leaders who live there. Gatekeeps can be a key– they may not be leaders themselves but they can identify leaders. For example, like a barkeeper who doesn’t live there but knows those who do.

Glenn Bachman present the nuggets for the moving from individual leadership to organizational leadership: Familiarity with the landscape is key. Need to identify the key organizational stakeholders who are engaged in the SWOT questions asked of them about their neighborhoods and who identified issues- ask them what they’ve done, are doing, and will do next.

Next, create a common language used by the leaders and by the implementing organizations.

Lastly, having enterprise agility. Ensure existing (current) ideas can be accommodated by enterprises. Organizations may have been started years ago and need to be rephrased, missions, values, constituents, so how do you address a more universal appeal for the mission rather than what was in past.

Nancy Whit: presents the using relationships to get resources to show up table nuggets: RI is a small state of limited resources, as a result numerous orgs. are competing. But here we have similar initiatives so there is opportunity to get the projects more in alignment, and the resources. We have to learn how to work together to make the most of programs available and to get the best results. There are other agencies that have not been including…who else do we look out for and help them as they work in the community. All need to learn/ get better at building relationships…without contention, is what

Robert adds: Relationships don’t have the intention… to sit in a relationship and just focus on that instead of how much money you have.

Reflections from Jim, what did he hear:

Jim: I sat in a couple of tables, the one about generating resources. Found himself thinking of the power that gets created to change how people think and do when new people enter the equation who didn’t have access before. There are very real people with a very real lives, in Pawtucket, Central Falls, many leaders who have trust relationships but don’t get involved. We need these people, invited into the equation.

Jim gives an example of bringing in 14 neighborhoods and asked folks to bring in their counterparts from other cities, the mayor to bring his council. They all work together, feed each other. So we tried to use their relationships to tap into it. About 400 folks and how do we recognize them for the time involved. So we thought what about a “graduation” but in reverse! We had the mayor and the MacAuthur funder up there and each person goes up and presents their idea and project. Saying Mr. Mayor this is our neighborhood we are dedicated to give our time and talent to make this happen, and this is your city. All representatives

This is what emerged: Mayor called and said he wanted a meeting with each neighborhood. NOw these folks had never been able to access the mayor. All commissioners were there: police, Economic Development, housing… Copy of the plan was dog eared, the Mayor had read all the plans–the agreements all neighborhoods, real people, doing real stuff that he was frustrated about…he can’t change it, these cast of characters are making something good happen why won’t he support it.

So the tactical power lead to the access to conventional power, getting access to real people with time, energy and talent and willingness to do something. Never chase money chase success…money follows. So what does it take to be successful in a neighborhood. THe social network becomes expontential.


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New Commons
545 Pawtucket Ave, Studio 106A
Mail Box 116
Pawtucket, RI 02860
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+1 401 351 7110 (tel)
+1 401 351 7158 (fax)

email: Info(at)newcommons.com