2020 Annual Membership Meeting lifts up co-op response to COVID-19 and need for broader association membership, revenue

While the pandemic’s ultimate impacts remain unclear, cooperators can still embrace what they do know: co-ops inspire transformation change when they work together.

NCBA CLUSA’s 2020 Annual Membership Meeting, held virtually on May 5, drew record attendance and updated the cooperative community on the association’s work in building a vibrant, cross-sector co-op movement at the national level through partnerships in development, advocacy, public awareness and thought leadership.

Last week’s event was also an opportunity to demonstrate how co-ops are building a more diverse, equitable and inclusive economy—particularly amid the current global pandemic. Attendees learned how co-ops like Brattleboro Food Co-op in Vermont and NCBA CLUSA’s development work in countries like Senegal and Mozambique are providing critical services and keeping communities safe despite unprecedented challenges and lingering uncertainty.

“Over the past few months, we have seen how co-ops contribute to more resilient communities,” said Erbin Crowell, chair of NCBA CLUSA’s Board of Directors and executive director of the Neighboring Food Co-op Association. “As we work to rebuild from this crisis, we must work together to ensure that the future is more equitable, resilient and sustainable for everyone.”

In October, NCBA CLUSA’s Board of Directors adopted a resolution to more deliberately embed diversity, equity and inclusion in the cooperative identity, and began a dialog with the International Cooperative Alliance on how to advance that work.

“Our embrace of this vision could not be more relevant as COVID-19 and its impacts have again put into stark reality the challenges faced by communities left marginalized and vulnerable—and how crucial cooperatives can be to helping people build a better, more resilient future,” Crowell said.

In his remarks, NCBA CLUSA president and CEO Doug O’Brien outlined the cooperative approach to a COVID and post-COVID economy: Respond, Relief and Recover, adding a third element: Repair.

“While COVID-19 did not create systemic inequalities, it certainly has made these inequalities starker as we look to the data around mortality rates for minorities, the fact that people of color and lower-income people are much more likely to be unemployed and without health insurance, or that working class people are the ones much more likely to risk exposure,” O’Brien said.

While the pandemic’s ultimate impacts remain unclear, cooperators can still embrace what they do know: “Change must happen, and the only way it will happen is if we work as a cooperative community to build a more inclusive economy,” he said.

Last week’s meeting also included an update on efforts by NCBA CLUSA’s Membership Growth Task Force to grow and diversify the association’s membership base and revenue streams—both critical elements of building a more inclusive economy driven by cooperatives.

The Task Force is co-chaired by Carla Decker, 1st Vice Chair of NCBA CLUSA’s Board of Directors and president and CEO of DC Credit Union; and Karen Zimbelman, 2nd Vice Chair and Director of Membership and Cooperative Relations at National Co+op Grocers.

The purchasing power of NCBA CLUSA’s membership revenue has declined almost 40 percent over the past 15 years, Decker reported, and staff and membership face a “complicated and antiquated dues structure” that hasn’t been updated in more than 20 years.

“The Task Force has found that our dues structure can be significantly simplified and made fairer,” Decker said, adding 2021 would be a phase-in year for any forthcoming changes, with current members maintaining their current dues.

Finally, attendees heard the results of NCBA CLUSA’s 2020 Board of Directors election from John Engelen, chair of NCBA CLUSA’s Nominations Committee and vice president of Government Affairs for CHS, Inc.

The following individuals were reelected to the board: Cornelius Blanding, Executive Director of the Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund; Esteban Kelly, Executive Director of the U.S. Federation of Worker Cooperatives; and Karen Zimbelman, Senior Director of Membership and Cooperative Relations at National Co+op Grocers.

Additionally, NCBA CLUSA welcomed two new board members this year: Juan Fernandez, Vice President of Governmental Affairs at the Credit Union Association of New Mexico; and Emma Lindberg, Education Director at the National Farmers Union.


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