Investing In POCA

Wikipedia defines a cooperative as “a business organization owned and operated by a group of individuals for their mutual benefit.” This “mutual benefit” can take many different forms. Workers' cooperatives, for instance, allow their members to accumulate equity in the business that employs them. Many consumer cooperatives, such as REI, offer patronage dividends to their members, meaning that members receive a refund of money they spent on purchases at the co-op. For cooperatives that provide equity or patronage to their members, the initial fee to join the co-op is a membership “share”, which means a one-time purchase of ownership in the business, which entitles the members to receive a portion of the business' profits in the future.

POCA is different.

Becoming a member of POCA does not mean accumulating equity, owning shares or receiving financial dividends. POCA is not set up to make a profit, so it can't share profits with its members.

When you join POCA, you are investing in POCA. You are investing in the community acupuncture movement by joining people who own and operate the business that is POCA. Your membership represents your investment.

Why would you want to invest in a business that doesn't make a profit?  Community acupuncture is based on a social business model. A social business is designed to produce “social dividends”, in this case, acupuncture treatments that are affordable for people with ordinary incomes, and living wage jobs in community acupuncture clinics. These treatments and jobs benefit society as a whole;  they are the social dividends of community acupuncture. However, balancing the need to keep the treatment price low enough to be accessible to as many people as possible, with the need to provide living wage jobs to the people who work in the clinics, means that the community acupuncture business model operates on a very slim margin. Clinics, even when they are very successful, make just enough money to exist and to keep producing social dividends. There is no money left over for profits.

After a number of years, observing a lot of clinics, it's clear that this is not about the entrepreneurial savvy of the clinic owner or a need for better advertising or what patients pay on the sliding scale; it's more fundamental than that. For a community acupuncture clinic to truly be profitable in a basic capitalist way, it would either have to raise its prices substantially or pay its workers much less. In other words, to make a profit and create a financial dividend, it would have to sacrifice one or both of its social dividends. Even a very successful community acupuncture clinic will never attract typical capitalist investors, because if a clinic is doing what it is designed to do, it will not produce financial dividends, which is what most investors want to see. One of POCA's purposes is to make it possible for people to invest in community acupuncture who are not typical capitalist investors, and who want more of the social dividends that we do have, rather than the financial dividends that we don't have – more affordable treatments, more living wage jobs.

It is important that the people who personally benefit from affordable treatments and living wage jobs have a way to invest their resources – time, energy, money – to create more clinics, as opposed to hoping and waiting for some investor with deep pockets to come along, recognize what a great resource community acupuncture is, and say, “Hey, we need more of these!”

Investing in POCA is about investing in a group of businesses that don't make a profit and  never will, no matter how hard they work or how smart they work. It stands to reason then, that a cooperative that supports these businesses wouldn't generate financial dividends, either. But there's even more to it than that. John Weeks, who arguably knows more about the business of integrative medicine in this country than anybody else, recently wrote a post in The Integrator Blog in which he suggested that integrative medicine itself – not just community acupuncture – is fundamentally unsuited to making money in the typical capitalist sense.

Integrative medicine has been struggling financially for a decade or more, since venture capitalists tried investing in several high-profile projects that failed spectacularly. Undeterred, the general public continues to want access to integrative medicine; it's not the venture capitalists, however, who will be helping them get it. John Weeks believes that the economic value in integrative medicine is not in generating profits but in saving money that would otherwise be consumed by the skyrocketing costs of healthcare. (Doesn't saving money for society sound like a social dividend?) He suggests that the integrative practice community learn to stop being defensive about our lack of value to the venture capitalists of the world and start being assertive about our value to everyone else; in other words, the true economic value of integrative medicine can only be seen in light of the common good.

Returning to the question of why would you want to invest in a business that doesn't make a profit – many of us believe that the real problem with healthcare in this country is that it does make a profit. It makes profits far too well, better than it takes care of patients, better than it looks after the needs of providers.

If you believe that healthcare shouldn't be about profits, invest in POCA. If you want to create healthcare that is fundamentally about the common good, invest in POCA. The dividends you receive as a member won't be financial, but we promise that they will be valuable.