2024 Cooperative Leaders and Scholars cohort explores Denver’s dynamic co-op ecosystem

The CLS 2024 fellows and NCBA CLUSA staff visited Montevista, a community-owned mobile home park in Denver.

As April brought its showers across the country, it also ushered in a new cohort of leaders from the Cooperative Leaders and Scholars (CLS) program as they gathered in Denver, Colorado. Over three transformative days, these fellows immersed themselves in the world of cooperatives, forging connections and exploring opportunities to excel in this field. Alongside learning more about NCBA CLUSA, the Cooperative Development Foundation (CDF) and Colorado’s dynamic cooperative landscape, the CLS fellows indulged in some fun activities, from a friendly game of bowling to admiring the natural beauty of the Rocky Mountains. 

During their stay in the Mile High City, the fellows engaged with their peers, sharing ideas on enhancing the cooperative ecosystem. They had the unique opportunity to collaborate with other cooperatives in Denver, fostering relationships and strengthening ties within the community. This immersion shed light on the cooperative ecosystem in Colorado and its wider impact on co-ops nationwide. 

 “The opportunity to learn about cooperatives from members themselves is impactful, especially in a landscape like Colorado, which boasts a vast and dynamic co-op ecosystem,” said CDF Associate Director Kirstie Boyette. “The cohort can apply learnings from the co-ops and each other to strengthen their work in their own communities.” 

The foundation of their experience was laid by opting for the Drivers Co-op platform over popular rideshare apps like Uber and Lyft for transportation across the city. 

The Drivers Cooperative in Colorado stands out as more than just a rideshare platform; it is a worker co-op dedicated to prioritizing the well-being and prosperity of its drivers. Incubated by the Rocky Mountain Employee Ownership Center and developed in partnership with The Drivers Cooperative in New York, this innovative venture aims to revolutionize the rideshare experience. 

Unlike traditional rideshare companies, The Drivers Co-op in Colorado places drivers at the forefront, offering better working conditions and improved pay to empower its workforce and foster a strong sense of ownership and community among its members. 

“Being able to chat with the driver owners during our commutes to and from the headquarters of CoBank—who graciously hosted us at their office for the event—was such an added benefit,” said Cathy Statz, CLS co-facilitator. “Seeing their engagement with the business, their empowerment as entrepreneurs and their appreciation for the co-op model was so inspiring—it really set the stage and created context for our formal programming.” 

Included in that programming was a session highlighting the role of policy in shaping cooperative development, particularly under the leadership of Colorado Governor Jared Polis, who has championed cooperative initiatives statewide. Colorado is now viewed as a trailblazer in the cooperative space, thanks to strategic developments that promote employee ownership within the state. 

From left: Robi Fauser Fink, a Business Loan and Grant Analyst with USDA Rural Development, with CLS cohort members Autum Solomon and Cierra Washington during a workshop assignment.

After these enriching discussions, the fellows witnessed cooperatives in action across Denver, starting with a catered lunch by Mujeres Emprendedoras Cooperative in the vibrant Westwood neighborhood. Founded out of necessity in 2017, this worker co-op provides catering services and symbolizes resilience, community and economic empowerment. 

The fellows also learned about the impactful work of Denver’s Southwest Food Coalition, which advocates for food justice and sovereignty at a local level and actively addresses food insecurity through various initiatives. 

The focus then shifted to housing cooperatives, with visits to Montevista Mobile Home Park and Queen City Co-op. These community-owned spaces exemplify the power of collective action and cooperation in ensuring affordable, secure housing for residents. 

By the end of the trip, the CLS fellows gained valuable insights into implementing cooperative principles and strategies, both within their fellowship program and in their professional lives. We eagerly anticipate their continued growth and leadership as they apply these newfound ideas to strengthen their impact in the cooperative realm. 

Share This Post

We hope you enjoyed this article. If you did, we would love it if you would share it to your social networks!