Meet Kai Andersen, North Star Research Assistant!

  • September 9, 2021
  • By: efireside
  • In: Staff

Kai Andersen is a Gemini, Minneapolis born and raised, and chock full of thought-provoking questions. He joined Nexus in July 2021 as our North Star Black Cooperative Fellowship – Research Assistant. He also is a student pursuing his Master’s of Urban and Regional Planning (MURP) at the University of Minnesota.

For Kai and North Star, Black cooperation is a path to self and collective healing and transformation. As a part of The North Star Team, Kai will be helping to expand and deepen their curriculum on Black cooperative thought and practice. He will be taking a deep dive into the history and cultural lineages and legacies of Black cooperation, a journey that will span cooperation and survival after Slavery, cultural ways of living and working collectively, and present-day, formally incorporated cooperatives led by Black folks. Some people and co-ops already on his list include Fannie Lou Hamer and Freedom Farmers, Cooperation Jackson, Boston Ujima, and East Bay Permanent Real Estate Cooperative.

Cooperatives are an economic development strategy that are particularly interesting to Kai, as an Urban Planning student. Historically, planners and their practices have harmed Black communities through extracting resources, redlining, disinvestment, Jim Crow laws and racist policies. As a Black, mixed race Urban Planner, Kai is reckoning with that history and learning about reparative planning practices that can help return those resources to Black communities. 

For Kai, shared ownership is one of the most powerful and promising solutions out there. Unlike traditional economic development, cooperation and collective ownership are paths to big structural changes. He said, “doing work with coops is really energizing because of the self-determination that is central in it. Cooperatives allow our communities to explicitly develop what we want, and that can be reparative, transformative, and healing.” 

When Black and Brown communities have ownership—of their own businesses, housing, or spaces—they are able to become powerful decision makers, protecting themselves and the interests of their neighborhoods, while also building community and intergenerational wealth. Community ownership offers an alternative to the all-too-common story: outside developers buy land and/or buildings in BIPOC neighborhoods, make decisions with little regard for the people who live there, resulting in the displacement of families, small businesses and communities. In his year with Nexus, Kai’s driven to explore “how cooperatives play a role in growing and dreaming…and in protecting our neighborhoods from displacement, gentrification, disinvestment and extraction.”

Before coming to Nexus, he worked at the Alliance for Metropolitan Stability and co-facilitated a workgroup on livability from a BIPOC, healing justice lens. Outside of work, he loves soaking in the energy of the Mississippi on river walks, enjoying herbal tea, and sharing food with people. Kai self-identifies as eclectic and renaissance-y, loving creative writing, theatre, music.

 

Since Christina Nicholson joined the team last November, her energy, humor, and deep knowledge of cooperative economics have already made an impression. Christina is the Worker Ownership Initiative Program Manager, an Aquarius, and a talented quick-bread maker. We sat down over zoom to talk about her role, her journey to Nexus, and her hopes for the future.

Interview edited for length and clarity

What do you do at Nexus?

Everyday for me in the Worker Owner Initiative is a new learning experience! For example, through our role as a Minneapolis C-TAP provider (Cooperative Technical Assistance Program), I’m working with a small language-learning cooperative. We meet weekly to develop their new bylaws and articles, as well as helping them build their internal culture and their ecosystem of outside resources. Together, this foundation will help the cooperative grow and thrive once it’s established. I am also doing work as a financial analyst – looking at another business who is considering converting to a cooperative, and helping them understand how to create a fair sale price for the worker owners who are considering purchasing the business.

In general, I have found in business that people are disinvited from their own agency when it comes to the language of finance. In my new role, I have found that helping teams understand the technical side of things can help build a cooperative’s culture— this is exciting because it becomes a more empowering relationship. The goal for me is for the teams I serve to be able to say “We understand this model, we’re taking this model, and moving beyond it.”

What did you do before Nexus?

In my 25 year cooperative career I’ve done every job from front line bagging to leading whole organizations as a general manager. In 2019, I got my MBA to understand how current capital systems move, at a more technical level, to help people build the bridge between their work and their ability to claim their own agency.

I’ve learned that you are always a better leader if you are doing the work with people. Successful leaders aren’t only thinking about the work, or visioning, but they are IN it. My work has been about leading on the ground and being influenced by those around me. Cooperatives help foster that environment and give you a sense that you are truly interdependent in the work you do.

What do you hope to learn next year?

I want to learn how to support people’s health, agency and wellbeing while seeing them move away from conventional, white supremacist, capitalist models of business. As more people from historically marginalized communities continue to grow in their power, I am energized to see how their cultural and individual gifts will shape the future of cooperatives!

What do you like to do outside of work?

I love to cook, and I always overplant kale in my garden. We have a LOT of recipes for raw kale salads. Thankfully, my daughter appreciates the earthiness. I also love to travel—I love oceans and mountains, but I am the happiest when I get to spend time with my wife and a good book!