Co-operative Education Bridges Gap between Recently Incarcerated and Jobs

Social co-operative Collective REMAKE engages leaders in the community, including USC Marshall graduates, to target systematic poverty through just transitions and co-operative businesses.

September 15, 2022

This article was originally posted on the Brittingham Social Enterprise Lab's website, and is being re-posted with permission. 


By Avni Shah

MSSE Alum Alex Toutant (left) with workshop participants at the Timelist Group.

Formerly incarcerated people in the United States face huge obstacles to finding stable employment, and according to a recent report by the Prison Policy Institute, the struggle to find a job grows in the months after release from prison. It does not have to be this way. With a new grant from USC Good Neighbors Campaign, Collective REMAKE is working to expand access to economic stability for people impacted by incarceration.

Founded in 2016, Collective REMAKE specializes in social co-operative education workshops serving formerly incarcerated people and their loved ones. Worker co-operatives give employees ownership and opportunities for profit sharing.

Said Founder of Collective REMAKE Mary Sutton: “Cooperatives are a logical, if not a natural solution in communities most impacted by economic shifts and mass incarceration. Cooperatives help build local community wealth, as well as social and environmental wellness.”

Alumni of USC’s Master of Science in Social Enterpreneurship (MSSE) program, Nicole Doi, Erika Grammel and Alex Toutant partnered with Collective REMAKE both to learn from its co-operative education and to bolster its mission with tools acquired at the USC Marshall School of Business. While students, Doi, Grammel and Toutant supported workshop implementation, curriculum design and sustainable co-op development among individuals impacted by incarceration. They also learned from the program participants, which inspired them to continue to pursue careers at the intersection of business and prison abolition.

Toutant said: “Working with Collective REMAKE gave us the opportunity to interface with a brilliant group of people who helped us apply our knowledge of social entrepreneurship to radical community economic development.”

Collective REMAKE’s relationship with Toutant and Grammel helped bring the organization into the Trojan community. The organization was a semi-finalist in the 2022 Social Venture Coaching Competition, hosted by the Brittingham Social Enterprise Lab (BSEL) at USC Marshall. With their university advisor, BSEL’s managing director Christina Fialho, Collective REMAKE went on to win an award of $24K through the USC Good Neighbors Campaign.

“Los Angeles County maintains the largest jail system in the world. Our county needs organizations like Collective REMAKE that are applying business models to address social issues. We are excited to engage with the many worker-owned businesses Collective REMAKE will help ignite in the years to come,” said Fialho, who is an award-winning social entrepreneur and prison abolitionist.

This is just the beginning for the organization. Earlier this month, Collective REMAKE received a significant grant from LA County Supervisor Holly Mitchell to support program expansion in South Los Angeles.

“What cooperative education allows, in communities like South LA, is economic liberation,” said LaRae Cantley, a board member of Collective REMAKE and a co-facilitator for its workshops. “We hold the power of what happens in our communities.”