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 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 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 is getting an MBA in Sustainable Management at Presidio. In her spare time, she can be found powering up a hill on her road bike, nesting with her wife and three kittens, or trying to squeeze in some shut-eye while finishing her last year of grad school.
Patty Viáfara, Incubator 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.
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.
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.
- Steve Dawson, Founder, PHI National
- Adrionna Fike, Co-owner at Mandela Foods Cooperative
- Mike Hannigan, Founder and President, Give Something Back
- Melissa Hoover, Executive Director, Democracy at Work Institute
- Ted Howard, Founder and Executive Director, The Democracy Collaborative
- William Shutkin, Senior Advisor, Aravaipa Ventures
New studies shows 1,000's of regional businesses at risk, points to employee ownership as a solution.