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B2BID: Andrew Stachiw, The Toolbox for Education and Social Action 

NAME: Andrew Stachiw

JOB TITLE, COMPANY: Worker and co-owner, The Toolbox for Education and Social Action

WEBSITE: www.toolboxfored.org

AGE: 26

WHEN THE BUSINESS STARTED: May 2010

WHAT YOU DO: We work with groups to build a more resilient economy, more just communities and a more Democratic society. Our work has taken us all over the country, and our products have been distributed to more than 20 countries. We are a small organization of four people, and a non-hierarchical organization at that, so our roles are a lot less defined than at a lot of other organizations. Brian Van Slyke, another co-owner, and I do most of the curriculum design and content creation, while the other worker-owners handle most of the sales and development, along with video and graphic design.

EXPERIENCE: We have been working on issues of social change, education, community organizing and cooperatives for years. Our backgrounds help us build a strong organization internally as well as provide a wealth of experience to our clients.

THE MARKET: TESA develops and distributes resources for social and economic change. For example, we created the board game Co-opoly to teach about alternative economic models such as co-ops. TESA also provides services to support individuals and organizations that are developing and implementing their own educational materials, programs and digital resources. Our market is varied and can’t be pinned to a single group, industry or geographic region. This is great for us as there is a never-ending range of people we can work with and issues we can engage in.

HOW YOU REACH OUT TO IT: Social media, op-eds and articles, and we rely heavily on word of mouth.

WHAT FINANCING HURDLES HAVE YOU FACED AND HOW HAVE YOU HANDLED THEM?

As a group of recent college grads, we all share a couple things in common: we already have debt, and we don’t have much in the way of collateral to acquire loans. However, not having loans has provided us with flexibility and less long-term worry, but in the short-term it can be stressful to access funds.

KEY TO SUCCESS: Our hybrid nature, offering products and services in a range of fields allows us to appeal to wide array of folks and needs. The fact that we are a worker cooperative (all the workers equally own and control TESA) makes us all that much more invested and empowered by our work.

CHALLENGES: As a small, low-budget organization, it is a challenge to maintain our high standards for ethical and sustainable production and make sure that our products are financially accessible. That said, we won’t compromise on either of these points.

MISSTEP YOU LEARNED FROM: Our first pressing of Co-opoly made the board game box one inch too big for the flat-rate shipping boxes with the post office. This has cost us in terms of shipping the game, and we’re reviewing this for our second pressing.

WHAT OTHERS COULD LEARN FROM YOU: Working together makes you a stronger, smarter and more effective organization. If more businesses would start as co-ops or transition into co-ops, they would find that their employees would happier and more invested, stable and empowered.

WHO HELPED MENTOR YOU PROFESSIONALLY: We received a tremendous amount of support from people in other cooperative businesses and organizations, including Equal Exchange, the Cooperative Development Institute, the Valley Alliance of Worker Cooperatives and more.

TOP GOALS FOR 2012: We are currently about to print the second edition of Co-opoly: The Game of Cooperatives, and we’re also beginning work on new products – a graphic novel about fair trade, a “Hidden History” booklet and curriculum series and a new game.

ADVICE FOR OTHERS SEEKING BUSINESS SUCCESS: Do something you enjoy, are going to be happy working way overtime for and, at least in the beginning, without pay. Search for constructive criticism. Work hard for your community because they are the people helping you, spreading the word about you and providing that lifeline when you need it most.

PARTING THOUGHT: Democratic and participatory education is crucial to creating a more just, equitable and Democratic society.

B2B ID is compiled by Janice Beetle, owner of Beetle Press in Easthampton. Beetle Press offers writing, editing and graphic design services. www.beetlepress.com. To suggest a subject for B2B ID, email Beetle at beetlepress@charter.net.

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