CoLab Cooperative is a worker-owned technology cooperative based in downtown Ithaca. They work with their members world-wide to support changemakers and do-gooders on technology projects that make the world a better place.
Other companies talk the do-gooder talk, but CoLab is absolutely walking the walk. Step into their coworking space on the Commons and you’ll immediately sense the energy, sincerity, and genuine intent to have a positive impact on everything they touch. A Q&A with worker-owners Rylan Peery and Ethan Winn.
What is CoLab?
EW: CoLab is an international worker-owned cooperative. We’re focused on shaping a brighter future. We co-create purpose-driven, simple technologies to help changemakers, students, people all over the world solve problems and realize their dreams.
Who is it good for?
EW: We’ve been talking about this a lot recently. We all know first-hand that CoLab is really great for its members and for the wider community of collaborators in the workplace. There’s about 30 collaborators worldwide who work on these projects. It’s also good for social entrepreneurs, changemakers, and people with disruptive innovations who are looking for a way of making their visions become reality and doing so through partnership and collaboration and discovery together, not just through a standard contract business relationship.
RP: We’re a really human-centric organization that takes care of everyone, both as a part of our team and as a part of our broader network of collaborators and partners.
EW: I’ve got one more! Our heart is that CoLab is good for the world and the projects that we work on really do shape the world in a way that helps us all to be more sustainable, more just, more free.
RP: And it’s good for the local economy because we funnel resources back and help our people here.
What change are you trying to make?
EW: CoLab is trying to change the way technology is made. We’re trying to change the capitalist paradigm that creates technology.
RP: We’re also really excited about the opportunity to innovate on models that have implications for the broader world. We think there’s something really unique about Ithaca as a microcosm for what’s possible in other locales. We can do things here that have the potential to scale.
How did CoLab start?
RP: CoLab actually started with a concern for the earth, the environment, with a specific concern for the old growth redwoods being cut down. We did some deep contemplation about what we could really do to stem the tide of deforestation and generally address larger environmental issues, and made a decision to bet on technology and the use of it with compassion and love and high intentions to impact environmental challenges. Now that’s been extended to economic and social challenges as well.
How does this impact our community?
RP: Right now, we’re working with local startups who are seeking to really address issues here in Ithaca and using Ithaca as a site that’s the perfect scale to try some new solutions to classic problems of community networking.
How has the community supported you?
RP: There’s been resonance locally with our mission and the fact that we’re doing things differently… our collaborative, cooperative, democratic process… this sincere, altruistic intent to better the world and shape a brighter future, and honesty and transparency about how we work. So that, along with our culture, has earned us some allies in the community. People who really value what we’re doing and appreciate how we’re doing it and look out for us.
What struggles have you encountered?
EW: In the spirit of honesty and transparency, I think we struggle with multi-locality. I think that everyone here has a really really rich, deep investment in the community here, and everyone throughout all of CoLab has deep investments wherever they are. We have member-owners and collaborators who are spread from the West Coast to Taiwan, and that allows us to take on big projects that are incredible and scale, but it’s not easy.
RP: I would identify our biggest struggle is with the prevailing capitalist system of competition over collaboration. The general idea is that there’s problems so big that need to be addressed that there’s no way that we’re going to address them in isolation.
What should we be celebrating?
RP: Ithaca has the potential to be a model for other communities, other urban areas, other regions of the world. We can develop and export models that really are successful in addressing some of our fundamental challenges as human societies. I personally celebrate just how amazing the community is here, the people, the resources, the passion, the heart, the love, the sincerity. If Ithaca can really collaborate and realize it’s fullest potential in that collaboration, there’s tremendous hope for the planet.
How can we participate?
EW: Anyone can come work out of our space. And the dream of Ithaca as a changemaking innovation hub… we’re not the only people dreaming that here. We’re here to facilitate and help people who have visions of what that can be. Anyone can walk through that door and talk with us about how we can help.
RP: Our position is to be an enabler of do-gooders and changemakers, so we would see ourselves as a trusted advisor to anyone who wants to have a positive impact and to realize dreams of doing good and shaping a brighter future.
Any final thoughts?
RP: A cooperative requires a great deal of trust. We’re taught this rugged individualism of capitalism. That’s the fundamental shift of what cooperatives advocate for… don’t trust that you’ll do it yourself, trust your partners your peers and your fellow members. That leap of faith, that trust… putting your trust in your brothers and sisters rather than yourself is risky and scary but it’s a leap of faith that we collectively need to make.
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