Alison Lingane and Hilary Abell

Photo: Joshua Franzos

Hilary Abell &
Alison Lingane

Economy
27th Heinz Awards - 2022

Alison Lingane and Hilary Abell, co-founders of Project Equity, receive the Heinz Award for the Economy for their leadership in the movement to create better jobs and a fairer economy by advancing employee ownership.

A positive exit strategy for business owners and a proven approach for increasing employee engagement and well-being, employee ownership benefits workers by creating quality jobs and wealth-building opportunities, fostering professional growth, and reducing layoffs during economic downturns. Project Equity works to harness employee ownership to maintain thriving local economies, honor business owners’ legacies, and reduce income and wealth inequality.

Ms. Abell and Ms. Lingane work with partners around the country to raise awareness about the benefits of employee ownership for business owners, workers and communities, and to build programs and policies to make it a preferred way of doing business. Project Equity helps companies transition to employee ownership, contracts with cities and counties to retain legacy businesses, and uses communications, public policy, capital strategies and ecosystem development to mainstream and scale employee ownership within the public and private sectors.

Project Equity’s work is timely, given that the nearly 3 million baby boomer business owners—who collectively own more than half of all privately held businesses with employees—often have no succession plans.

“My life’s work has been about finding ways to scale access to opportunity, and at the core, this is what we founded Project Equity to do. With employee ownership, opportunity is built right into your job. Whether we talk about the decline of the middle class, stark disparities in pay levels and job quality by race, or the gap between wages and housing affordability, employee ownership can address all of these issues. It also preserves local jobs and businesses and helps them be more competitive, strengthening local economies.”

— Alison Lingane

To date, Project Equity’s team of more than 20 changemakers has educated 10,000 stakeholders about employee ownership, advised nearly 800 business owners and provided in-depth technical assistance to more than 85 companies on the path to employee ownership. Their work has resulted in workplaces where employees have professional opportunities, a voice and meaningful—often life-changing—financial benefits.

When COVID-19 hit, Ms. Abell and Ms. Lingane worked at the state and federal levels to promote employee ownership as a recovery and resilience strategy. Project Equity co-founded a statewide coalition and model for employee ownership movement building, Worker-Owned Recovery California, which passed the California Employee Ownership Act (currently awaiting the Governor’s signature). They also advised the U.S. Department of Commerce in the creation of its first Job Quality Toolkit, which incorporates employee ownership as a job quality strategy and was unveiled in August 2022. In 2021, Project Equity launched the Employee Ownership Catalyst Fund, which provides flexible capital to businesses pursuing employee ownership, and helps to bring more lenders and investors into the space.

“I’ve seen so many low-wage workers transform their lives when given the opportunity to share in business ownership through cooperatives, employee stock ownership plans and similar models. Our goal is to enable many, many more workers across the United States to develop their leadership and build financial resiliency by co-owning the companies where they work. My current passion is to engage policymakers to fully embrace and foster broad-based employee ownership and cooperatives, given their well-proven benefits for workers, businesses and society.”

— Hilary Abell

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