As WAGES approaches our 20th anniversary, we have been reflecting on our history and we realized that we have gone through five distinct phases since our earliest days. Our first phase was the Formation Phase, which is the story of our establishment as an organization. This was followed by the Pilot Phase, the Eco-Friendly Cleaning Niche Phase, the Expansion Phase, and finally the Renewal Phase, where we are now. Read on to learn more about the five phases and see what we have learned and accomplished.
The Formation Phase (1995)
In 1995, two social workers working in East Palo Alto, Gayle Haberman and Anna Olsen, partnered up to form WAGES as a 501c3 nonprofit. Gayle had worked with a cleaning cooperative in their transition from incubation to self-governance; she and Anna wanted to apply that knowledge and their experience in social work to help more low-income communities. They began working with groups of women who were looking for a better alternative to the traditional job market.
Pilot Phase (1996-1998)
The first two cooperatives that WAGES developed were Non-Toxic Professional Housecleaning in East Palo Alto and Fantastic Fiesta, a party supply store, in Redwood City. Although Fantastic Fiesta was unable to compete with big box stores and had to close its doors, the cleaning co-op flourished, helping WAGES narrow our focus on that industry. What was great about this experience was that the founders were eager to learn; they worked hard to build a network of support, engaging in communities that could help WAGES be better moving forward.
Eco-Friendly Cleaning Niche Phase (1999-2001)
In 1999 and 2001, two of the currently operating and successful green cleaning co-ops were developed and launched: Emma’s Eco-Clean and Eco-Care Professional Housecleaning (pictured above). During these years, WAGES’ business model became much stronger and the roles and responsibilities of the different people involved in the co-ops were still being defined.
Expansion Phase (2002-2011)
Our confidence in the model continued to grow and the next three co-ops were launched in the 2000s. These co-ops have full-time general managers, and each has a board of directors as well, a new concept for the co-ops. A few challenges that arose in developing these three co-ops were high member turnover, and honing the role of the GM so a democratic structure can still be prioritized.
Renewal Phase (2012-today)
Over the past couple of years we have been exploring a new industry (food!) for new co-ops, developing our field building program, and codifying our model. WAGES has learned so much since our beginnings and we have evolved significantly. Gaining insight and understanding into our past has allowed us to examine challenges we have faced, lessons we have learned, and also to celebrate our accomplishments. This will help us tremendously as we move forward and continue to develop new programs and strategies.
2015 will mark our 20th year of working with low-income communities to develop worker-owned co-ops. We are excited to celebrate this landmark and to share more of our history and experiences with you in the months to come.
Thank you to WAGES’ former VISTA Cooperative Development Associate, Claire Calderón, who worked diligently to do the research and heavy lifting for this history project.