2021 Cooperative IMPACT Conference Sessions

NCBA CLUSA’s Co-op IMPACT Conference is the only national, cross-sector event elevating the national conversation around a trusted, proven way to do business and build communities. This annual conference provides an unparalleled platform to reenergize the cooperative movement and galvanize its champions around building an inclusive economy.

Our theme for 2021 is “Embracing Our Cooperative Identity,” and IMPACT sessions will challenge cooperators everywhere to deepen their understanding of the values and principles that truly make cooperative enterprise unique. Embracing the cooperative identity goes beyond understanding it in the academic sense; it also provides an opportunity to act on that deeper understanding. Whether working to dismantle racism, build resilience in the face of climate change or preserve small businesses during a pandemic, last year reminded us that cooperatives have the greatest impact when cooperators live up to their values and principles.

Check out some of the sessions we’re working to bring you this fall below, and register today to join hundreds of co-op developers, financers, community and city leaders, innovators, economists and policymakers in October!

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Impact Track Sessions

Actualizing the Cooperative Difference in Home Care

Backed by three years of sector benchmarking data, we know that home care cooperatives provide better jobs to caregivers than non-cooperative agencies. Home care cooperatives pay better wages, go above and beyond state minimum required training, reduce isolation, and provide meaningful opportunities for caregivers to engage in ownership, advocacy and career growth. While these are meaningful gains for an industry that’s rooted in slavery and has been upheld by systematic racism and sexism, values-driven employers continue to struggle for long term sustainability in order to provide caregivers their dues. In order to make a career in caregiving a desirable profession, we must meaningfully transform the industry, and the path to transformation is cooperation.

Featuring ICA Group, Home Care Associates and NCBA CLUSA.


Cooperatives and the Post-COVID Economy

Expert researchers led by NCBA CLUSA’s Cooperative Economics Council (CEC) will detail the economic conditions shaping the near future for cooperatives. The COVID-19 pandemic and resounding calls demanding social justice have changed how cooperatives approach remote work, workforce development, marketing and more. Questions considered will include: “Which economic realities did the COVID-19 pandemic expose?”, “How do we recruit and retain emerging talent in our cooperatives?”, “What are cooperatives saying about COVID-19’s lingering impacts on their businesses?”, “What can forecasts tell us about cooperative economics going into 2022?” and “How do we ensure that our business practices align both with our cooperative identity and with calls for creating an equitable and just society?”

Featuring members of NCBA CLUSA’s Cooperative Economics Council.


Cooperatives Beyond Borders: Lessons from Multi-National Cooperatives and their Policy Frameworks

Cooperatives work globally. Exchange of goods, services, financial resources, information, skills and knowledge across national borders is a growing practice not only among large conventional corporations but also among cooperatives. In the U.S., some cooperatives such as Equal Exchange, Pachamama, and CHS, Inc. have traded or expanded their membership beyond U.S. borders for decades. Through analysis of some cases and the policy environment in the US, this session will explore lessons learned from a peer-learning partnership (funded by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development and the European Commission) that studied most advanced cases of cooperatives and other or social enterprises and organizations in these multi-national practices, as well as the main barriers and enabling factors that they have found in their processes involving organizational structures and commercial flows beyond national borders.


Cooperative Solutions to Food Access Realities

Food access and food security are momentous issues for communities nationwide. Cooperatives and cooperative development centers are keenly aware of this. Many are developing the ideas and means to ensure their members and communities get the affordable, high quality food we all need and deserve. This panel, coordinated by USDA Rural Development and NCBA CLUSA, will highlight the work of cooperators from across the country to discuss their work solving problems in their communities. These cooperators have:

  • Created successful strategies to compete against dollar stores;
  • Explored solutions for rural grocery stores unable to buy in typical quantities;
  • Nurtured new farmers and supply chains to address food insecurity; and
  • Engineered win-win solutions for both farmers and low-income communities in need of healthy, nutritious food during the pandemic.

Attendees will leave this session with more knowledge about the role cooperatives can play in addressing food access and food security.

Featuring North Dakota Association of Rural Electric Cooperatives and Rural Cooperative Business Development Services, the Kohala Center. 


Hall of Fame Inductees: Untold, Behind-the-Scenes Stories

This casual conversation with the 2021 Cooperative Hall of Fame inductees will reveal untold, behind-the-scenes stories and insights about their lives and careers in cooperatives. Be ready to be inspired by their lifetimes of achievement and service to cooperatives.

Featuring the 2021 Cooperative Hall of Fame inductees. 


Made for Co-ops, By Co-ops: The Development of Cooperative-Designed SDG Indicators

This interactive workshop will amplify the opportunity to make a difference globally by measuring and reporting on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Through measuring and reporting on SDG impact, individual co-ops and the co-op sector can differentiate from other businesses or enterprises, thus enhancing and living the cooperative identity.

Featuring Saint Mary’s University and University of Toronto. 


Place-Based Co-op Development Through a Racial Equity Lens

This year, the country confronted the repercussions of systemic racism from the widespread protests against police violence to the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on communities of color. As communities look to rebuild their economies, the cooperative model is responding to the needs, opportunities and challenges of specific geographies. This panel will feature two organizations that are developing co-ops with a place-based focus on racial equity and building wealth—the Washington Area Investment Fund (Wacif) and North Carolina Employee Ownership Center.

Featuring Capital Impact Partners, North Carolina Employee Ownership Center and Washington Area Community Investment Fund.


Reimagining Cooperative Appalachia

The “ReImagine Appalachia” (ReIA) policy transformation initiative, representing a powerful coalition of more than 60 activist, business, think tank and community organizations from across Kentucky, Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia, is gaining nationwide attention and traction. An important subset is “Appalachia Cooperates” led by pioneering practitioners and leaders represented by the six panelists who have agreed to showcase examples of how the rising Appalachian Cooperative Economy enables America’s “Just Transition” in “building back better and fairer.” Vernon Oakes, who grew up in West Virginia and unites the U.S. cooperative community through the weekly “Everything Coop” radio broadcast, will moderate this panel.

Featuring Co-op Cincy, Ohio State University, Center for the Creation of Cooperation, Lock Haven University of Pennsylvania and Everything Co-op. 


Scaling Cooperatives Through a Multi-Stakeholder Network: A Case Study in the Colorado Solar Energy Industry

Based on a case study by Júlia Martins Rodrigues and Nathan Schneider, this session offers a powerful approach to expanding the cooperative economy. Starting with entrepreneurs in the Colorado solar energy industry, they developed a multi-stakeholder network of single-stakeholder co-ops, combining a worker co-op, purchasing co-op, shared-services co-op, credit union and investment co-op. This network offers what could be a replicable model for scaling cooperative businesses despite the challenges of accessing capital. Bringing together co-op employees and researchers, this session will highlight specific strategies for how others can learn from this example.

Featuring Amicus O&M Cooperative, Kachuwa Impact Fund, University of Colorado Boulder and Amicus Solar. 


The Invisible Impact of Women in Cooperatives

Women in the U.S. are not underrepresented in leadership positions because of lack of qualifications (women out-earn men in undergraduate and graduate degrees) or work experience (women represent 51+ percent of workforce participation). However, women represent at best 18 percent of leadership positions and 2-5 percent of board positions across all sectors. These numbers are even more disappointing when considering women of color.

Although there is a pipeline of educated and experienced women in the U.S. workforce, something is limiting their ability to ascend to top leadership. Organizations have been making efforts to incorporate more women into leadership for decades. From the Equal Pay Act of 1963 to flextime and family leave policies, to recent conversations about mentoring and sponsoring women, there have been excessive conversations (though limited actions) about advancing women into leadership. In 2021, cooperative representation of women in both executive suites and board rooms is not representative of current demographics of women in the cooperative workforce.

Solutions tend to focus on tackling one impediment at a time, rather than dismantling the collective of impediments to advance equity and access to leadership and board positions. This session will explore how the value of women leaders has been made invisible in the cooperative industry, and the collection of solutions that need to be activated (not just discussed) to create a culture and operations that value women cooperators in leadership and board positions.

Featuring Columinate and NCBA CLUSA. 


The Power of  Collaboration: The Ward Lumber Story – Transitioning to Employee Ownership

Collaboration and cooperation can be incredibly transformative. This panel will feature the story of Ward Lumber, a 130-year-old family business transitioning into the largest employee cooperative in New York’s North Country. The lumber products and hardware store, with two locations, employs more than 50 local people and was owned by Jay Ward’s family for four generations. Ward will continue his leadership role as the company’s CEO.

It is also a story about the power of collaboration and what can be achieved when the resources of the federal and state government, the private sector, cooperative development centers, local economic development entities and CDFI lenders are aligned to advance employee ownership in rural communities. It also serves as an example of how an SBA Small Business Development Center can help to facilitate employee ownership in the spirit of the Main Street Employee Ownership Act.

Featuring Capital Impact Partners, Adirondack North Country Association, New York Small Business Development Center, Ward Lumber, Cooperative Fund of New England and Cooperative Development Institute. 


The Road to Equitable Recovery: What’s Now Possible With Worker Ownership?

Communities across the country face a long and uneven road to recovery. Worker ownership offers a proven strategy for retaining and creating quality jobs, cultivating and anchoring local ownership, and saving long-standing businesses from preventable closures. The question is how can we make sure worker ownership is included in local and state recovery plans? During this session, the Democracy at Work Institute and the U.S. Federation of Worker Cooperatives will explain why now is the time to embrace the identity and values of worker ownership when making the case government action.

Featuring U.S. Federation of Southern Cooperatives and Democracy at Work Institute. 


Understanding Governance Practices Across Sectors

In 2021, the University of Wisconsin Center for Cooperatives (UWCC) launched the Cooperative Governance Research Initiative (CGRI), the first national, cross-sector, longitudinal survey on cooperative governance practices in the United States. This session will feature an overview of CGRI’s preliminary findings as well as a dialogue on the opportunities and challenges of working across sectors and with practitioners to collect good data on cooperative governance practices. The discussion will be based on the direct experiences of those working to launch CGRI. Participants will be invited to reflect on the prospects and pitfalls of this type of research and how the lessons we are learning through this project can be used to improve governance practices across sectors.

Featuring University of Wisconsin Center for Cooperatives. 


International Track Sessions

Entrepreneurship is at the core of co-ops’ identity and a means for wealth-building

Entrepreneurship, or implementing business ideas that respond to social needs in innovative ways, is at the core of cooperative identity. Cooperatives are innovative organizations that meet people where they are, transforming communities in ways that meet members’ needs. They provide a path for growth that focuses on individual and community well-being, building wealth and shared prosperity for generations to come. Moreover, cooperatives that fully embrace their cooperative identity use entrepreneurial ideas to solve community problems and advance social transformation. During this session, we’ll learn about cooperatives that are using technology in innovative ways to address social problems, as well as multi-stakeholder cooperatives with innovative governance systems and business models.

Featuring KPMG, ICA Youth Network, Venture 37; Kenya Union of Savings and Credit Cooperatives; Argentine Federation of Technology, Innovation and Knowledge Worker Cooperatives; Rural Delights Cooperative (Lebanon) and Eva Cooperative (Canada). 


Co-op values at work for present and future generations: tackling climate change

Cooperatives’ values of equality, solidarity, social responsibility and caring for others are practiced not just with their members, but for humanity, beyond borders and across generations. Therefore, cooperatives are the ideal tool to be used as part of global, regional and national plans and alliances to mitigate climate change and protect our planet for present and future generations. Cooperatives are leading social business movements that understand the need for bold, collective, intra- and international action that places people and planet before profits. During this panel, we’ll learn from cooperatives that have moved away from carbon and toward renewable energy, adopted and standardized environmentally-friendly production techniques (eg: carbon sequestration, water and soil protection, waste management, recycling) and have implemented production processes that advance a circular economy.

Featuring World Resources Institute, USAID Bureau for Resilience and Food Security, National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA), Equal Exchange (Mexico), Indian Farmers Fertilizer Cooperative (IFFCO), Revolusolar (Brazil) and USAID Mafatoky Sustainable Vanilla for People and Nature activity (Madagascar). 


Co-op principles in practice for stronger communities

Cooperatives are membership organizations that are owned and controlled by their members. But true cooperatives—as democratically managed enterprises based on equality, solidarity and social responsibility—also respond to the needs of their surrounding communities and are dedicated to the 6th Cooperative Principle of “cooperation among cooperatives” to contribute to community development. Cooperative members are connected to broader social interests that strengthen their communities and enhance well-being.

Additionally, cooperatives are schools of democracy, professional development and social growth—all crucial elements of strong communities. The 5th Cooperative Principle emphasizes the importance of education, training and information sharing, which is considered the “golden rule” for cooperative success. Strong cooperatives understand the cultural change that is needed within members and communities to build shared prosperity. Their people-centered approach and long-term vision encourages cooperatives to invest resources to train future cooperative leaders.

During this session, we’ll hear from cooperatives in Central America that are making rural and urban communities stronger by creating economic opportunities and improving livelihoods through employment, food security, financial access, health and other social services. We’ll also learn how cooperatives and other stakeholders can use the 5th Cooperative Principle to engage youth, providing them with the professional and personal advancement they need to remain in and contribute to the development of their communities.

Featuring USAID’s Latin American Bureau, Economic Counsel for Latin America, U.S. Overseas Cooperative Development Council (OCDC), Los Pinos Cooperative (El Salvador), COCAFCAL/CAPUCAS (Honduras), World Council of Credit Unions (Guatemala), Universidad Cooperativa de Colombia, Global Communities, Seed Commons and Cooperative University of Kenya.