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  • Vivek George

What If The Next Amazon Is Sustainable And Owned By All Of Us?

An Innovative Plan To Create The Most Inclusive And Eco-Friendly Global Store.

My father is a successful entrepreneur and humanitarian. I learned from him that anyone could positively impact the world with enough effort and some smarts. As I grew up, my father regularly talked about going back to India to do something to help the poor. So from a young age, poverty captured my attention. It didn't make sense to me that we lived in a beautiful house, with all the comforts one could need, while I'd see families in NYC, India, Latin America and various places I’d visit living on the street and hardly able to feed themselves.

While I continued to think about social issues, as I got older, my passion for the environment grew as well. As Climate Change, the plastic epidemic, decreasing biodiversity, and various ecological issues developed into more apparent problems, it became harder and harder for me not to help somehow.

My entrepreneurial mind combined with my love for both the planet and all life, pushed me to look for ways to solve these problems. Unfortunately, always leading to dead ends.

Then back in June 2020, the initial ingredients of an idea came to me that could address both of these issues directly. I thought, what if we created an online marketplace that only sold sustainably made products and immediately distributed most of its profits to the company's key stakeholders (ie. workers, customers, etc).

I imagined Amazon, but only for sustainably made products. We would share our profits with the workers, vendors, customers, and nature versus simply the shareholders.

This type of business would have the double benefit of helping to create a more sustainable society, but it would also be far more financially equitable to all parties involved. Instead of being a company that creates value that gets stuck in stock markets and banks that never gets spent. I mean, look at Bill Gates — he has been literally trying to give away his money for thirty years, and he has only gotten richer!

These numbers will likely continue to go up, extracting more and more wealth from our neighbors and towns and shifting it to Wall St.

Why We Exist And Our Plan

I want to introduce myself quickly. My name is Vivek George. Alongside my two super talented, hard-working co-founders, Erika Leguel and Urszula Niemczewska, we have created a multi-stakeholder cooperative (co-op) business called, Yuti.

If you are wondering what a co-op or multi-stakeholder cooperative is, don't worry you aren't alone. As our friends at Resonate (a community-owned music network) explain, "a co-operative is a kind of company (for profit) that allows everyone involved to be a co-owner; everyone gets to share in decisions and profits."

Let me repeat for emphasis — "everyone gets to share in decisions and profits." By everyone, they mean anyone who chooses to become a member. And by sharing in decisions and profits, this usually is determined based on member activity and involvement like many communities or groups.

This is a video from an old project of mine. Sorry for the branding confusion!

We plan to create the most inclusive and sustainable online store. One that we hope can compete with Amazon or Walmart in scale one day but owned by our various stakeholders, pays fairly, is democratically run, supports the protection of our planet, distributes its profits to all of its members, and is environmentally regenerative. Nothing too daring :)

We can organize in various ways as a multi-stakeholder cooperative, but as the name indicates, we are a business that's owned and run by multiple "stakeholders." These stakeholders can be the workers of the company, customers, vendors, nature (as being designed in our situation), and/or other groups as needed. Yes, Nature will help determine how we are run (via environmental non-profits) and share in our profits!

While slightly complex, especially to start, once established, being a cooperative can be extremely powerful and is a key ingredient to our mission for three fundamental reasons:

  1. Grounded in community - our community or member owners, help determine how we run, goals we should focus on, how profits are shared, and other critical business components. Being owned and run by community allows us to go beyond just being "transparent." In addition, because funding for cooperatives primarily comes from the community, not uninvolved traditional investors, it's easier for us to remain purpose or mission-focused instead of profit-focused over the long term.

  2. Democratic and inclusive - we can create a more thoughtful and inclusive business by working together. One in which, as the platform grows, everyone is better off. And by being a democratic-run company, every member has a voice and an opportunity to become a leader. This is key because transitioning to becoming a genuinely sustainable species is incredibly complex and will require a more inclusive, democratic approach.

  3. Stronger together - having the support of all stakeholders will create a powerful, stable grassroots movement. A movement like this will allow the store to quickly get off the ground and gain broader buzz. This is crucial not only to compete against traditional, well-funded tech startups or Amazon but in our broader efforts to accelerate humanity's evolution to living sustainably. Plus, and equally importantly, what’s the point of promoting sustainability if we can’t take care of our workers, honestly serve our customers, and fairly treat with our vendors?

In co-ops, the power and org structure is flipped, with the members/workers having the most power.

While cooperatives are less familiar in the US, they are widespread in most of Europe and Canada. Mondragon Corp, in Spain, is the largest worker cooperative in the world, with over 74,000 worker members in various industries ranging from high tech to banking or consulting to retail. In countries like Italy, Switzerland, Singapore, and Finland (the happiest country in the world), the largest retailers are cooperatively owned businesses, not traditional companies.

Co-ops aren't just limited to great grocery stores or housing. They excel in almost any industry, including highly competitive industries like tech.

Blue = owned by a co-op. Data from Coop Exchange

What's Next?

We are in the process of doing all the necessary preparation and development to launch Yuti. Imagine Etsy, but with only the most environmentally friendly goods and owned by its various stakeholders - the workers, vendors, customers, and nature. We have begun conducting customer interviews, beta testing specific business components, researching technology, talking to vendors, and much more. We have a lot of work ahead of us, but we are chipping away each day.

“Most of the important things in the world have been accomplished by people who have kept on trying when there seemed to be no hope at all.” - Dale Carnegie

So this is our flag in the ground. This is our call to action. CO-OPs, unlike traditional businesses, are truly community projects. Creating a co-op requires grassroots community support because we are owned, run, and partly funded by our members. If what we are building sounds exciting to you, join us in creating this vision. We are looking for help and involvement in various ways:

While we have a picture of what could be built, we will produce something far more creative, powerful, and thoughtful by working with a broader community.

We Are The Solution, Not The Problem

While the media and large companies constantly want to blame consumers and make us feel bad about our actions, what about Coca-Cola, Amazon, Nestle, Colgate, and so many other big-name companies? We the people are the solution! Together, we can create the change we want to see in the world.

I don't know about you, but I believe we can. We all have to believe in something, so I choose to imagine us creating a healthier, more connected, and more just world. We are incredibly creative and inspiring when we decide to work together versus against one another. There is no limit to what we can accomplish.

One of the most incredible stories of cooperation occurred in 1987. For the first and only time, all 198 UN member states agreed to phase out the production and consumption of various ozone-depleting substances (ODS) in hopes of protecting and closing the massive hole created in the ozone layer by these chemicals. Because of this extraordinary cooperative effort, we have "slowed the rate of stratospheric ozone depletion," and there now signs that the hole is closing, protecting all life on Earth from the Sun's radiation!

Photo by ActionVance on Unsplash

So please join us to create this change today. You can do this. We can do this together! Forget the past. Forget the challenges ahead. We can't influence these things, but each moment is an opportunity for us to do our little bit to help. Your support is not only an actual vote for what we are creating, but a powerful way to have an impact. Plus, by supporting our mission, we send a strong message to potential customers, vendors, partner organizations, and the broader world that what we are creating is important. That sustainability, worker rights, justice, and equity are important and that there is a real community behind this concept. There are various small, medium, and large ways to get involved, but however you can help, it's greatly appreciated and valuable. Details below. While the road ahead for Yuti may not always be smooth, as my father taught me, we can all have a positive impact with some hard work and a little smarts. The team at Yuti is 100% committed to doing what we can. We hope you'll accompany us to create a new type of marketplace. One that takes a whole system approach to building a healthier planet and more resilient communities! Thank you.


Curious How You Can Help?

If you got this far, wow! Your support and interest is sincerely appreciated.

The top three ways to assist us

  • Sign up to our email list for updates and future membership details.

  • Spread the word to one person (or more!) who maybe interested.

  • Financially support bringing Yuti to life via GoFundMe (even $5 helps). More details on our GoFundMe page.

Click here to learn about various other ways you can get more deeply involved.

Thanks again. Best wishes from the Yuti crew!

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