Karen Tyler-Ruiz

Quick Stats

Start of Board Term: 2022

CW Membership: Organizational, with the Center for Community Based Enterprise (C2BE)

Favorite Co-op Principle: Principle 6 – Cooperation Among Cooperatives

Favorite Co-op:  Pingree Detroit

Co-op Advice: Collaborate out of principle, not just for survival


What brought you into a career in cooperatives?

It’s been circuitous! Cooperatives are a place for agency and wealth building. That’s a huge part of what I have been trying to do during my career, so this fits.

If you were a kitchen utensil, what would you be and why?

I would be a whisk because I like to mix things up! (This happens to be the interviewer’s go-to answer as well!)

What is your favorite cooperative principle and why?

As they stand, it’s Principle 6 – Cooperation Among Cooperatives. I think it is a very aspirational thing. I think it’s hard to do in reality. It’s clear to me when you are a co-op and you see a need to have a relationship with another co-op to further whatever it is that your co-op is doing, it’s different when you are doing it because you’re adhering to a principle, and that’s really important. 

You’re talking the difference between cooperating for survival and cooperating based on principle. Can you talk about how that looks different to you?

As a co-op developer, I use that principle in how I work with other cooperative developers. It is not always returned. There are cooperative developers actively competing against each other, when we could go so much further if we just work together! We’re so small as an ecosystem, why the heck are we starting out competing so soon? That usually comes when it’s mature! Unfortunately, I think it is a spillover mindset from the nonprofit sector. 

This is your 3rd year on the CW board. What do you want to see accomplished in 2024?

I hope we put the updated Madison/CooperationWorks principles to bed and they get published and out in the universe. We should take a little bit of pride and pat ourselves on the back. I hope we have consensus about the next big project, even if it is not started yet. Ultimately, I want CW to get bigger. 

You’ve really expanded Center for Community-Based Enterprise’s focus since you stepped in as ED. Can you talk a bit more about your work with and vision for the organization?

It’s a work in progress! My vision for C2BE is that we are able to work in spaces of community need and market in a way that always remembers to put – in that space I’m talking about worker ownership – the worker-owner in the lead role. The other thing is, we’ve publicly stated that we’re Black-led, and not just me! The Board has shifted some. We really want to work with, ultimately, Black worker-owners. If it’s a conversion, we’re agnostic about the ownership. I want to see some more outcomes. It’s been a jaunt!

When I came in, we wanted to be Detroit focused, but we didn’t know how. When I came in, C2BE was doing things in Florida, Georgia, Kalamazoo! I had a “let’s get real” focus. Let’s be clear about where we are going to work and why. We used to take anybody that sounded like a good fit, but now we don’t just take anybody. Specifically, it’s metro-Detroit first, and there’s a criteria for how we make decisions for new clients.

Do you have a favorite local co-op?

There aren’t a ton here, so I’m going to have to say Pingree Detroit – we helped them get started. They are a manufacturing co-op and they make leather goods! They were a start-up we helped. The business started in 2016 or 2017, but they started working with C2BE in 2014,

Do you have a favorite project you’ve worked on?

I get excited about entering new spaces, so when we got the contract to do succession planning that could lead to conversions in Lansing, MI, I was really excited for that.  I like that the project is an acknowledge from that government that this is a sector! That co-ops are worth investing in. Those are my favorite. I don’t know if it’s a project exactly, because it’s ongoing. We’re always trying to get into those new spaces. 

This brings me back to a previous question. I will say that I am a collaborator. I’ve actively initiated collaborations here in Detroit since I came on. We’re excited to partner with the Detroit Black Community Food Sovereignty Network

What do you think makes a good collaboration, and how can we all be better collaborators?

1) it’s time. Collaboration doesn’t happen overnight, so you have to give relationship-building time. A lot of people just want to get to the project, but building relationships is part of the project! That’s one of the biggest ones. People say that being curious is important. I liken that to being open to stuff that you’ve just never though about. Sit with it for a minute, even if it sounds odd.

Do you have a favorite collaboration?

I have a couple. I’m in a partnership with an organization that works primarily with the Latino community in Detroit. We have all sorts of collaborations that ebb or flow depending on need. This is possible because we have spent the time building the relationships between our organizations. It makes it easy to just support each other organizationally. I look forward to our meeting and she does do! We’re both excited for when we meet next. 

A similar relationship – I’m collaborating with a brick-and-mortar co-op development center because they want to do co-op housing, which is not in our mission. So I’ve been trying to figure out how to get there. We’ve been collaborating for about two years now. But what does that look like? Projects have come and gone that haven’t gotten off. There’s not money for this, so I need to figure out how to do it!

What’s the biggest barrier to growing the worker co-op sector?

 Capitalism.  Seriously, that’s it.

If you could wave a magic wand and see one thing change for the co-op sector, what would it be?

I have two. Federal resource commitment and academic commitment. I’m still shocked that the business schools in the United States don’t teach this. I’ve spoken twice at business schools – I’ve been invited in – because the professors are interested but the school has zero courses. University of Michigan Business School has no courses on cooperation. WHAT? And they’re supposed to be one of the elite B schools. No, you’re not! My daughter is at Dartmouth. That’s another one of the elite ones – nope. I asked her if there were any courses and she said no! She’s in business school.

For federal resource commitment, we either need a whole department or the SBA to create within itself something that is focused on cooperative business. RCDG is for rural, but supersize that too! Consider the overlaps. We need dedicated resources and the will. We’ve got to keep hope alive!