Esteban Kelly: Transformative Justice, Economic Democracy, & Collective Liberation [Ep. 138]

If you only have two minutes, click here for a highlight from the interview.

Esteban Kelly is a visionary leader and compassionate strategist who inspires organizers by drawing on science fiction, social theory, and collective liberation. Uniting close friends and long-time co-organizers, Esteban was inspired to co-create AORTA culling together his creative energy and organizational skills for expanding food sovereignty, solidarity economy & cooperative business, gender justice & queer liberation, and movements for racial justice.

Esteban’s work is vast. In addition to working for AORTA, he is the Co-Executive Director for the US Federation of Worker Co-ops (USFWC), and a co-founder and current board President of the cross-sector Philadelphia Area Cooperative Alliance (PACA).

Internationally, Esteban has advocated for workplace democracy through the ICA (International Cooperative Alliance) and CICOPA (the international worker co-op federation), and for land reform and other social movements from Canada to Brazil.

After many years as a PhD student of Marxist Geographers at the CUNY Graduate Center, Esteban has left academia with a Masters in Anthropology. Most recently, Esteban worked as Development Director and then Staff Director for the New Economy Coalition. From 2009-2011, Esteban served as Vice President of the USFWC, and a board member of the Democracy At Work Institute (DAWI) and the US Solidarity Economy Network. He is also a previous Director of Education & Training and Board President of NASCO (North American Students for Cooperation) where he was inducted into their Cooperative Hall of Fame in 2011. He currently serves on the boards of the Cooperative Development Foundation (CDF) and the National Cooperative Business Association (NCBA–CLUSA), and is an advisor to the network of artist-activist trainers, Beautiful Trouble.

Firmly rooted in West Philly, Esteban’s skills and analysis of transformative justice stem from his decade-plus of organizing with the Philly Stands Up collective. Similarly, Esteban worked through a major food co-op transition as a worker–owner at Mariposa Food Co-op, where he co-founded its Food Justice & Anti-Racism working group (FJAR) and labored to institutionalize the Mariposa Staff Collective. In light of these efforts, Esteban became a Mayoral appointee to the Philadelphia Food Policy Advisory Council (FPAC), and works to advance education, systemic thinking, and anti-oppression organizing into all of his food advocacy work. 

You can contact Esteban at: esteban(at)aorta(dot)coop and follow him on Twitter: @estebantitos


Some highlights from Shawn Berry’s conversation with Esteban Kelly include:

  • Esteban’s nonlinear and emergent visionary approach to movement leadership as well as his own career trajectory

  • Unpacking terms like Economic Democracy, Transformative Justice, & Collective Liberation

  • Exploring some of the historic cultural erasure of the cooperative economic heritage of communities of color

  • Differentiating capitalism from economics and business & increasing awareness of the is in the collective consciousness

  • How Esteban maintains hope and inspiration by focusing in on the generative work of constructing a better economy while being in allyship with resistance movements


Frantz Fanon

Transformative Justice

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LIFT Economy is an impact consulting firm whose mission is to create, model, and share a locally self-reliant economy that works for the benefit of all life.


Andrew Baskin, Partner & Executive Producer at LIFT Economy, specializes in regenerative ag-related enterprise and impact investing that advances the health of our soil, food-system, and climate.  You can email Andrew at


Shawn Berry, Partner at LIFT Economy, works as an organizational strategist inspired to harness the power of business to create resilient local economies as patterns to be documented, open sourced, scaled globally and adapted regionally. You can follow Shawn on Twitter @sd_berry or email him