Pursuing a people-centered cooperative advantage can garner meaningful benefits for employees, customers, and community.

As companies reopen and recalibrate during these turbulent times, it’s worth asking whether they should resume business as usual or whether their true purpose should instead be reconceptualized. Indeed, capitalism itself is being challenged due to inequities in employment, health care, and education that the pandemic has only emphasized as the model’s limitations have been exposed. COVID-19 has ravaged the well-being of employees and communities and brought renewed attention to the racial injustice experienced by African Americans, much of which is structural and systemic. 1 Loyal employees who have been committed to their employers for many years are being unceremoniously let go. The leisure and hospitality sector, for example, has experienced massive layoffs at an unprecedented pace. 2

Management theory is mostly based on the writings of early 20th-century scholars whose research orientations were heavily grounded in economics and classical sociology. 3 These works portray human beings as an individualistic, utility-maximizing, transaction-oriented species. 4 In contrast, a recent op-ed by Al Gore and David Blood argued passionately for a more sustainable form of capitalism, asserting that CEOs must put the welfare of their employees first — as was practiced in the Black business community in the early 20th century.

During a period from 1900 to 1930 called “the golden age of Black business,” African American businesses experienced tremendous goodwill, support, and financial performance based on their pursuit of a cooperative advantage. We define cooperative advantage as the benefits that an organization possesses and accrues due to its people- centered approach to engendering a spirit of care and community, meaningful dialogue, and consensus building, for the bene t of employees, customers, and community.

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