Circles at Zebras Unite [work in progress]

Circles at Zebras Unite [work in progress]

What are Circles? Circles are action-oriented groups of Zebras who see a need or envision a mutualistic project and step up to make it happen. Circles are the structure of our collective movement building work. (Want the Details? Toggle this open!)
  • Because we like to walk our talk at Zebras Unite we have:
    • Staff Led Circles - how the “Staff” organizes the labor and governance of administering the family of ZU companies
      • The Staff may invite Members to contribute to these Circles
      • These Circles evolve in accordance with need and our value of Emergence
    • Member Led Circles - groups of Members coming together to co-create valuable experiences for themselves and their fellow co-op members
      • Any Member can start a Member Led Circle
      • These Circles will receive support from Sassy (the Lead of the Membership Circle) in their formation and ongoing operation
      • Member Led Circles may advise the Staff Circles in ways we are co-creating
  • Circles may be Ad Hoc/Project Based or Baseline/Continuous
    • Baseline circles: these circles steward Core Functions we need in order to stay operational and achieve our mission
    • Ad Hoc Circles: these circles come into being as needed to tackle a Project with a defined timeline - after which they end, or sometimes may become a Baseline circle

Circles Have:

  • An average of 2-10 people (depending on Purpose)
    • Enough for collaboration, not so many that meetings run forever!
  • Defined Roles (at least a Lead and ideally a Co-lead)
    • Facilitator, Notes Taker, Project Manager, Vibes/Justice Watcher
  • Purpose & Scope of Autonomy (Reason for Being, and What you Do)
    • Having a well honed reason for existing and a defined area of work
  • Timeline (to achieve its Purpose + a Review/Renew cadence, or endpoint)
    • When will you start and how long will you continue?
  • Collaboration Pathways, Cadence and Ground Rules
    • How will you talk to each other, and do this work together?
  • A Decision Making Process
    • How will you decide things?
  • Documented Notes and Outcomes
    • For mutual accountability, communication, and harvesting work

Circles Make Decisions:

Menu of Decision Making Processes we’re trying out at Zebras Unite!

  • Consensus Everyone agrees
  • Democratic - Voting with defined thresholds for majority rule
  • Consent - Absence of objections
  • Consultative - Decision made with input from others
  • Delegate - Someone given authority to make particular decisions

Staff” Led Circles

Member Led Circles

These are Circles conducting the core business of the co-op. They have varying degrees of member participation. Many also contain Projects or sub-circles inside of them.

Current list of Circles:


Reason for Being: To mobilize capital for Zebra Co-op Members everywhere.

Led by Astrid Scholz, with member participation.

Current focal areas:

  1. Navigating founders raising capital to Wefunder and other crowdinvesting platforms that ZU is partnering with
  2. Supporting the group of Capital Entrepreneurs in building and raising capital for their alternative financing vehicles; and
  3. Brainstorming additional ideas for how we get more aligned funders and investors connected.

Find out more here:

Zebras Unite Capital
Zebras Unite Capital

This Charter is being updated in a co-creative process with the Current Chapter Leaders, and will be ratified at the AGM in early February

Classical to Jazz
  • Reason for Being: The primary door to resource acquisition (everything excluding membership dues). This includes fee for service consulting (co-op and ZU Capital), partnerships, grants, sponsorships, loans and investments, and institutional memberships. Classical to Jazz also “performs” the Managing Director duty from a fiduciary perspective.
  • What We Do:
    • Business Development including consulting proposals and scopes and defining leads in the Door$ to the dazzle
    • Strategic and Education Content partnerships → discovery calls, scoping, contracts and project implementation
  • Primary Collaborators & Stakeholders: Operations, ZU Capital
  • Decision-Making Norms/Structure: Consultative and Delegate
  • Meeting/Collaboration Cadence + Notes/Workplace(s):
    • TBD
  • Roles:
    • Circle Lead & Managing Director, Mara Zepeda
Community Growth & Outreach

Reason for Being: To engage the current and potential ZU community through inspiring content and the creation of safe spaces. To bring more (pre-educated and appropriate) members into the Co-op through a smooth ‘customer journey’. To measure and review our communications so we can continually develop our offerings to better serve the community and co-operative’s needs.

Roles: Circle Lead - TBFound!

Inclusive Capital Collective

Reason for Being: The ICC’s purpose is to overcome U.S. systemic racism through equitable access to capital. Zebras Unite Co-op is incubating the ICC as a nascent backbone organization that is jointly owned by a growing community of mostly BIPOC owned and led independent fund managers and entrepreneur support organizations who are using innovative debt, equity and real estate mechanisms to support historically underserved entrepreneurs and create new (and amplify existing) community wealth.

How to get involved!

  • Reason for Being: To grow, acculturate, engage, and empower our Cooperative Membership (in tangible and metricized ways).
  • What We Do:
    • Steward and Leverage the Founding Members
    • Recruit and Steward the Institutional Members
    • Incubate and Steward Member Led Circles as needed
    • Incubate and Support the Chapters Circle
    • Member Education, Onboarding/Orientation, Events and Engagement
    • Account Management and Member Success - including Accountability and Standing
    • Determine (and deploy) Member Benefits & Responsibilities - including Patronage, Perks and Expectations
    • Policy & Practice Co-creation (Research & Evaluation) for All Things Membership (and occasionally All Things ZU Co-op)
  • Primary Collaborators & Stakeholders: Operations, Infrastructure, Community, ICC & All Member Classes
    • This circle works closely with the Chapter Circle (lead by Esme)
  • Decision-Making Norms/Structure: Consultative (and others at discretion of Lead)
  • Collaboration Cadence:
    • Weekly co-working sessions with collaborators & Stakeholders as needed
    • If you need to work on something with Sassy, drop her a note in slack, check her calendar, and grab 1-2 hours of her time and we'll get it done!
  • Roles:
    • Circle Lead & Director of Cooperative Membership - Kate “Sassy” Sassoon
Non-Profit - c3/.ORG
  • Reason for Being: To advance and anchor the overall mission and purpose of ZU through c3-specific channels and steward the public benefit and charitable expression of Zebras Unite.
  • What We Do:
    • Manage grant-administration and grant-procurement for grant-funded programmatic activities, which are fulfilled within other Circles, such as:
      • educational events and activities
      • community development and outreach
      • providing strategically aligned fiscal sponsorships and/or regranting opportunities
    • Grants administration and procurement includes:
      • stewarding funder relationships
      • collaborating with co-awardees to administer pass through funds
      • ensuring compliance with award agreements, including timely completion of all tracking and reporting
    • Translate the ZU Co-op systems/needs into the .ORG systems/needs, and vice versa
    • Co-define and divine the activities that are Non-profit activities v. Co-op or Captial activities, including testing and incubating new ideas
    • Research for thought leadership and ecosystem development
    • Prospecting/Partnership building with new investors
    • Steward the .ORG Board of Directors
  • Primary Collaborators & Stakeholders: Operations, Capital, Community
  • Decision-Making Norms/Structure: Consultative, Delegate (esp compliance/reporting)
  • Meeting/Collaboration Cadence + Notes/Workplace(s): TBD
  • Roles: Lead - Grace Pemba

Reason for Being: To ensure every team member has what they need to show up for their role, good documentation, infrastructure and systems are in place to support each department and overarching projects to advance their objectives.

Infrastructure Circle
(Sub of Operations)

Reason for being: to incubate and co-create a core tech stack to support the mobilization of capital, community, and culture to Zebras and the Zebra-aligned ecosystem.

Led by @Madelynn Martiniere with member participation

Current focal areas:

  • 🧠 Implementing robust + scalable knowledge management across the organisation (including team, member-owners, and community members)
  • 💜 Improving connectivity and coordination between members of the community and coop equally, with a focus on supporting place-based community organising and mutual aid.

These are Circles created by groups of 3 or more co-op members around shared areas of interest. They may intersect with, or become sub-circles, of staff led circles as and when appropriate. The Member Circle process and structure is getting revamped, with Member input, as of June 2022!

Current list of Circles:

Co-Operations: Better Ways We Work Together

“We exist to explore the Theory and Practice of governance and management forms that work towards "power with" instead of "power over" and to share the lessons we learn together with the Co-op Members and Movement. We come together as the builders and operators of Zebra Companies to learn by doing, do by learning, and collaboratively "dream the culture forward." We do this through regularly coming together to share knowledge, research ideas, solve each other's problems, and "exercise our co-governance muscles." Want to participate? Join the Group - and get updates about the conversation - here!

Also: this intersects with the Operations Circle, as Zebras Unite itself is endeavoring to build itself in public!

Co-Owned Digital Infrastructure

"We're looking for a few more coop members to join us in writing up a circle proposal. We want to build a circle around exploring a digital infrastructure that lets people own their data through the entire time they're on a platform, and perhaps result in experiments with platforms that aim to achieve this purpose." Interested in joining the Circle? Raise your hand here, and/or join the group here!

Also: this intersects with the Infrastructure Circle

Founders Seeking Funding

"We're coming together as Founders who are seeking Funding for mutual aid and support, especially with 3 key needs: Alternative Fundraising Education/Resources,Mutual Accountability/Buddies/Check-ins, and Networking Support. We're aiming to be the place where the needs of Founders re: Funding can be collected, synthesized and regularly uplifted to ZU Staff! And we might even hold a regular "Pitch n Bitch" - come find out!" Want to participate? Join the group here!

Also: this intersects with the Capital Circle

Founder Support and Resources

Run by Elizabeth Ross Holmstrom, Todd Youngblood, & Tara Horn - details coming soon!

ZU Co-op Patronage Circle (a Sub-circle of Membership)

Co-Lead by Scott Morris, Francene Chadwick, Todd Youngblood, Zee Spencer, MaRi Eagar, and Jane Murray "We're coming together as an action-oriented brain trust of wisdom and experience to co-design a next level Patronage Schedule and Process for our fellow Members - and for all Zebra Co-op Organizations yet to come!" Want to contribute your ideas? Let Kate "Sassy" Sassoon know!

Also: this intersects with the Infrastructure Sub-circle

ZU in Europe exploration (A Sub-circle of Capital)

This was formed at DazzleCamp in February 2022 and is currently in formation. To find out more, please catch up with us here.

How to Start a Member Led Circle:

  1. Pitch your Circle idea to at least 3 other Members to gather reflections and hone your Purpose - and find out if there’s already a Circle for it!
  2. Propose your Circle via this form - and standby for support from Kate "Sassy" Sassoon!

Some Definitions and Diagrams


This diagram is a snapshot in time of how we organize the Labor and Governance of the family of Zebras Unite Companies (i.e. our "Org Chart") - it is not a picture of how we organize our money (though of course, they are related).

The magenta circles organize the one big pool of labor that administer Zebras Unite - including the Co-op (LCA) and the Non-Profit (501c3), and the "project space" that is currently "Zebras Unite Capital." Each of those Circles has a "Lead" which functions as the "Executive" of that Circle's scope of work. More details on the scope of each Circle here!

Some of these circles are anchored by one person, while others are teams - some have sub-circles (shown in yellow) of specific work within them! Some circles are baseline (or core functions) while others are ad-hoc (time and scope bounded for a specific need).

The green Circles are "containers" that come into being as needed to hold "cross-circle" or "whole company" collaboration, decision making and strategy work - see the details of our regular meetings here! Functions inside these Circles will be daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, annually or "as needed."

These blue circles are topical groups of action created and run by Co-op Members, which occasionally collaborate with Staff Circles.

Members may also contribute directly to Staff Circles - for example the work of the ICC & Capital Circles rely heavily on Member Participation!

All of these Circles have adopted some form of Democratic Decision Making as a norm - 2022 is a year of experimentation with which forms of Decision Making work best for which situations.

Menu of Decision Making Processes we’re trying out at Zebras Unite!

  • Consensus - Everyone agrees
  • Democratic - Voting with defined thresholds for majority rule
  • Consent - Absence of objections
  • Consultative - Decision made with input from others
  • Delegate - Someone given authority to make particular decisions

Circle Shared Resources Message Board (Work In Progress)

Occasionally the folks in a Circle run across something that may be interesting or additive to the work of another Circle - this is our first pass at making a space for that information to live, and reach each other!

It is a Work in Progress - feedback and participation are enthusiastically welcome!

Here’s how we use this:

  1. You run across a resource, an idea, or your Circle has a question or need that you believe is relevant to another Circle.
  2. You add a new message to this Message Board, completing all the fields in the template, to let others know about it!
  3. If and when other folks pick it up, or want to collaborate about it, you can discuss it within the message as comments! At a minimum, drop us a note to say what came of connecting via this board (because experiments are driven by data!)

Circle Message Board - Put your Resources or Ideas (or Needs) HERE!