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Co-founders

Alison Lingane and Hilary Abell co-founded Project Equity in the spring of 2014. Creating an initiative to take worker ownership to scale was both an expression of their shared passion for reducing income and wealth inequality and a great way to leverage their complementary backgrounds in scaling mission-driven companies and on-the-ground worker coop development. In 2016, Project Equity grew from the two co-founders to a team of five.

Alison Lingane

Alison Lingane

Co-founder

Alison (left) started her career in community-based work, designing and leading micro-enterprise programs for urban youth. Inspired to gain skills to bring programs to scale that create real opportunity for people, she left to get her MBA, and co-founded what is now the Global Social Venture Competition, the largest international business plan competition for double or triple bottom line businesses. Prior to launching Project Equity, Alison spent 15 years in executive roles at mission-driven businesses that are designed to have human impact at scale, including Benetech (where she built and launched their first product, a digital book service for individuals with visual or reading disabilities), GreatSchools (the 6th largest parenting website, a nonprofit using information to drive school improvement), and InsideTrack (a venture-backed scaled services company that has delivered 1:1 coaching to over 1 million college students to increase college completion rates). A serial ‘social entrepreneur,’ Alison co-founded a thriving PreK-8th grade dual immersion school in Oakland (Escuela Bilingüe Internacional) in 2006 that now serves over 360 students. Alison has her B.A. from Harvard University and her MBA from the Haas School of Business, and she is a 2014 Echoing Green Fellow. Alison can be found running trails in the East Bay Hills, hanging out with her three boys (especially at soccer games!) and drinking Peet’s Coffee.

Hilary Abell

Co-founder

Hilary (right) was “bit by the cooperative bug” when she was a worker-owner at Equal Exchange in the 1990s and forever changed by witnessing how Latin American farmers used coops to transform their communities. After a decade of internationally focused community empowerment work, Hilary has worked in coop development in the Bay Area since 2003. As Executive Director of WAGES (since rebranded to Prospera), she led the organization through a period of major growth, resulting in a network of five worker-owned green cleaning businesses that created 100 healthy, dignified jobs for low-income women. Worker-owners increased their family incomes by 40-80%, built assets through robust profit sharing, and gained business skills and social capital. Hilary co-founded Project Equity while writing Worker Cooperatives: Pathways to Scale and consulting for coop development initiatives and nonprofits. For her work with Project Equity, Hilary was awarded Presidio Graduate School’s Big Idea Prize in 2013, an Echoing Green Fellowship in 2014, and a 2016 Local Economy Fellowship. She has her B.A. from Princeton University and her MBA in Sustainable Management from Presidio. In her spare time, she can be found powering up a hill on her road bike or nesting with her wife and three kittens.

Our Team

Patty Viáfara

Patty Viáfara

Client Services Manager

Patty Viáfara has built a career supporting small business through her work in tourism promotions, as a small business owner, and operations specialist. Her past experience in both the private and nonprofit sectors includes change management, business continuity, process improvement, and leadership development. She was a key player in the employee engagement and leadership development initiative at Bupa Latin America during three years of major growth. Prior to joining Project Equity, Patty worked with Beneficial State Foundation developing a new program aimed at lowering the cost of capital for social enterprises. She received her B.S from Florida International University and MBA in Global Impact Management from Middlebury Institute of International Studies. In her free time, you can find Patty enjoying outdoor yoga, hiking, and trolling the East Bay for the perfect empanada.

Elan LaLonde

Elan LaLonde

Business Development

Early in his career, Elan worked in his family’s music store in northern Michigan and in worker food cooperatives in Madison, WI (Nature’s Bakery) and Minneapolis, MN. After moving to the SF Bay Area in the early 90’s, Elan spent the next 25 years in leadership roles in marketing, sales and business development at Charles Schwab, E*TRADE Financial, New Leaf Paper, Opes Advisors, and most recently as co-founder and GM of the celebrated start-up, Bacano Bakery. Elan is passionate about helping to grow employee ownership. His focus with Project Equity is a combination of business development and fundraising that will enable us to scale our efforts so that the benefits of our work can be realized throughout communities across the country. In his free time, Elan enjoys traveling with his partner, yummy meals with family and friends, playing guitar and making pottery.

Evan Edwards

Evan Edwards

Business Development

Evan began his career as the International Business Manager at an early leading technology start-up, Quarterdeck Corporation. Bitten by the start-up bug, Evan spent the next few years in leadership and consulting roles at a variety of early stage enterprise including Bid.com (Northcore Technologies), Mediaseek Technology and Planesia Corp. Guided by a shift in personal and professional priorities Evan moved into the non-profit sector as Executive Director at YMCA Corporation of Los Angeles, leading the turnaround of an under-performing business unit. Driven by the value of social enterprises and the vision of a generative economy, Evan’s work with Project Equity creates strong collaborative partnerships across sectors. When not working he’s playing sports, walking his dogs while enjoying a good cigar or cooking a great meal from scratch.

Franzi Charen

Franzi Charen

Marketing and Communications

Franzi has been an independent business owner in Asheville, North Carolina for 14 years. She is the founder of the Asheville Grown Business Alliance and the creative director of the Love Asheville, Go Local campaign. Her team organizes over 460 small business members to advocate for a strong and healthy local economy. She also co-owns a small vintage-inspired clothing shop in downtown called Hip Replacements Clothing. A first generation American, she grew up in a textile family in the South and experienced the devastation of mill towns with the loss of a core heritage industry. Franzi joined the team part-time at Project Equity because she is passionate about the potential that cooperatives have to deepen the local movement by democratizing wealth, growing good jobs and reshoring industry.

Laurie Bernstein

Laurie Bernstein

Client Services

Laurie spent the first half of her career in the for-profit retail world rising to the level of Vice President at Sephora before making the decision twelve years ago to move over to the nonprofit world. Driven by a strong belief  in equity and that employment is key to moving people permanently out of poverty, she worked first at social enterprise Goodwill San Francisco and most recently built and ran a $3M social enterprise and training program for non-profit Community Housing Partnership (CHP). While at CHP, Laurie recognized that securing a job is just the first step to move people out of poverty, other opportunities are needed for employees to grow and profit long term and working with Project Equity is working toward that goal. Laurie holds an MBA in Sustainable Management from Presidio Graduate School and is on the board of nonprofit At The Crossroads which serves homeless youth.  In her spare time, Laurie loves to hike with her dog, enjoy all things outdoors, and travel.

Nenneya Shields

Client Services

Nenneya has a Master’s Degree in Business Administration (MBA) concentrating on social enterprise management, finance and impact in emerging markets. Nenneya has focused her career on supporting entrepreneurship in emerging markets, promoting local ownership and community-driven innovation. Fluent in French and proficient in Mandarin and Spanish, she has a passion for culture and travel and has lived and worked in France, China, Nigeria, Côte d’Ivoire and Uganda. Nenneya highly values communication and believes that strong relationships are at the core of successful ventures. Most recently, she worked as the Director for Impact and Learning at Jibu, supporting entrepreneurial advancement in Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda. She has also consulted for internationally-focused nonprofit organizations, helping them build and expand revenue-generating arms for increased sustainability. She is very excited to join Project Equity and help support strong communities through increased employee-ownership. Outside of work, Nenneya finds her greatest joy in motherhood. She spends as much time as she can outdoors with her two boys. They enjoy rock climbing, hiking, biking and free-styling new songs together.

Our Advisors

We have a small number of initial Advisors who are providing key support in this stage of our initiative. We are thankful for their help and the confidence they have shown in the potential for community wealth impact through combining Business Development with Human Development.

Just released!

New studies in the SF Bay Area, Twin Cities, Western North CarolinaDetroit and Central Pennsylvania show millions of businesses at risk, pointing to employee ownership as a solution.

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for businesses interested in employee ownership

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