Esteban Kelly

Esteban Kelly is a visionary leader and compassionate strategist who inspires organizers by drawing on science fiction, social theory, and collective liberation. Throughout Esteban’s 25 years of professional facilitation, lies a sweeping range of principled organizing. In addition to working for AORTA, he is the Executive Director for the US Federation of Worker Co-ops, also known as the USFWC or simply “the Worker Co-op Federation.”

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, economic justice and the solidarity economy, gender justice & queer liberation, and movements for racial justice. He has brought many of these sectors together through his efforts to expand economic democracy, chiefly using the cooperative business model for community ownership and worker’s control. Esteban is a co-founder and former 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 for land reform and other social movements from Canada to Brazil. In 2019 Esteban was elected to the board of the international worker co-op federation known as CICOPA.

After many years as a PhD student of Marxist Geographers at the CUNY Graduate Center, Esteban exited academia with a Masters in Anthropology. After graduate school Esteban Esteban worked at the New Economy Coalition and has since become an advisor to the Institute for the Cooperative Digital Economy. 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). He currently serves as an advisor to Beautiful Trouble, a global network of artist-activist trainers, and to the policy table for the Movement for Black Lives.

Firmly rooted in West Philly, Esteban infuses popular education, systemic thinking, and anti-oppression analysis into all of his local organizing and advocacy work. In 2018, Esteban won a Philadelphia Social Innovation Award for Public Policy, the same year he helped get the Main Street Employee Ownership Act passed by Congress. Esteban served two terms as a mayoral appointee and one year as co-chair of the Philadelphia Food Policy Advisory Council. His appointment followed eight years as a worker-owner at Mariposa Food Co-op, where he institutionalized the grocery store’s staff collective while expanding food access in West Philly. His leadership in frameworks of transformative justice stem from his 15 years of organizing with the Philly Stands Up collective, partially documented in his contribution to anthologies like “Beyond Survival: Strategies and Stories from the Transformative Justice Movement.” His writing also appears in Revolting New York: How 400 Years of Riot, Rebellion, Uprising, and Revolution Shaped a City, and “When to Talk and When to Fight: The Strategic Choice Between Dialogue and Resistance” (forthcoming on PM Press).