Photo: Joshua Franzos
Hilary Abell &
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.
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.