Our Mission,

Theory of Change, Governance, and Financial Transparency

Legal education, research, advice, and advocacy for just and resilient economies.

Mission: Sustainable Economies Law Center cultivates a new legal landscape that supports community resilience and grassroots economic empowerment. We provide essential legal tools - education, research, advice, and advocacy - so communities everywhere can develop their own sustainable sources of food, housing, energy, jobs, and other vital aspects of a thriving community.

Or as Lady Justice says it:

Our Theory of Change

Neither our communities nor our ecosystems are well served by an economic system that incentivizes perpetual growth, wealth concentration, and the exploitation of land and people. Communities everywhere are responding to these converging economic and ecological crises with a grassroots transformation of our economy that is rapidly re-localizing production, reducing resource consumption, and rebuilding the relationships that make our communities thrive.

However, as new solutions for resilience emerge, many are running into entrenched legal barriers: laws originally designed to protect people from the ills of industrialism are now preventing many communities from growing and selling their own food, investing in local businesses, creating sustainable housing options, and cooperatively owning land and businesses.   

Sustainable Economies Law Center exists to bridge the gap in legal expertise needed to transition from destructive economic systems to innovative and cooperative alternatives. Our 10 programs work together in identifying key leverage points in our existing economic and legal systems, removing strategic legal barriers, and creating replicable models for community resilience. We work to:

Envision more just and resilient economic and legal systems;

Identify and advocate for public policies that remove legal barriers to resilient communities while maintaining and strengthening worker, consumer and environmental protections;

Empower community-based entrepreneurs and innovators to create replicable legal structures that will form the blueprints of the new economy;

Educate communities and law-makers about the potential of new economic strategies; and

Train the next generation of community-based lawyers to meet the burgeoning legal needs of resilient communities everywhere.

See below to see how we embody this change in our own organizational structure and processes:

Our Governance

Part of Sustainable Economies Law Center's approach to catalyzing a more just and resilient society is to be the change we want to see. We have adopted policies that distribute "ownership" throughout the organization, allow for more dignified livelihoods, expand access to our legal services, and empower a new generation of grassroots legal experts. These policies include:

  • An equal and capped pay rate: Every member of our organization is compensated equally for their work - whether an attorney or not. That salary is based on two objective measures of our local economy - the average Oakland income and a regional living wage indicator calculated by the MIT Living Wage Calculator.

  • Decentralized governance: We take pride in our ability to get a lot done, and we credit much of our efficiency to the implementation of a highly structured system of distributed decision-making. Each program is run by a semi-autonomous circle of staff and volunteers, nested within larger circles of accountability. Our decision-making processes enable each staff member to propose projects and take significant leadership roles, optimizing individual autonomy and collective responsibility.

View Sustainable Economies Law Center's Organizational Policies here (updated 05/2016)

We have also launched a project to promote and support emerging models of decentralized nonprofit governance, which we're calling worker self-directed nonprofits. Find out more about this project here, and check out the resources, webinars, and teach-ins we've already put together to learn from and support other nonprofits.

Financial Transparency

The Sustainable Economies Law Center values transparency and we want you to know that we use our funds mindfully. Here are a few things you might like to know about our finances, explained with the help of trees and stick figures:

All 14 staff earn the same salary. We have chosen to do this for many reasons, but one very good reason is to recognize that all staff work very hard and contribute importantly to our mission. Another reason we do this is to cultivate a sense of "ownership" among all staff. Each staff member makes $60,137 when working full-time, which is based on MIT’s regional living wage calculator for a one adult - one dependent household. Our compensation policy caps staff wages at this amount and guarantees a 1:1 pay scale ratio for all staff. Learn more about our compensation policies here


We have grown and added programs every year since 2009, in response to enormous demand and vast potential of this work. Our budget has grown in proportion over the years, as told by the following redwood chart:

Our budget has grown a lot recently because we’ve become an incubator of new projects, leaders, and organizations. We’ve learned that it takes a lot of work, people, technical support, operational support, and funding to build the ecosystem for the next economy, and we’re channelling our assets to that end! Depending on our fundraising success in 2018, anywhere between $160,000 and $500,000 will flow through the Law Center and go to supporting such projects:

Most of our funding comes from grants, though a growing proportion comes from earned income and individual donors.

Grants: In some years, grants have accounted for up to 90% of our income. About half of that come from funders that tend to give to us each year, and the rest come from one-time grants for special projects. In 2017, we brought in roughly $900,000 in grants.

Earned income: We earn income from public speaking fees, workshop fees, book royalties, research and writing contracts, legal services, and other consultation. In 2017, this totaled $45,000.

Individual donations: Over the years, more than 800 people have made contributions. In 2017, individual donations totaled $85,000 and our goal is to grow this to surpass $100,000 in 2018. Oh, by the way, you can help us do that by becoming a Member with a recurring donation or making a one-time donation!

More stuff: Click here for our 2016 Form 990.

Based in Oakland, California, Sustainable Economies Law Center is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization.


Thanks to our Partners and Collaborators: