50 Years Later, Dr. King Reminds us that Progress Requires Participation


This week commemorates the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., whose brilliance, determination and courage rallied a nation to civic participation in ways that changed America forever. One of the strategies that Dr. King and the civil rights movement used—and those who advocate for racial and economic justice still favor—is the cooperative business model. The strategy recognizes that one of the best ways for people to meaningfully participate in an economy is to come together to own and control their own businesses.

As cooperators, the notion of participation is so ingrained in the way we interact with our businesses and institutions that this fundamental concept can fall to the background. Yet without active participation, these businesses and institutions lack forward momentum and simply will not succeed.

Cooperatives are no more and no less than an expression of their members’ participation in business so that the members can solve a problem or capture an opportunity. At NCBA CLUSA, member participation drives our mission. Here are three ways your participation can help shape our work:

  1. Join If you are not already a member, consider joining now. Individuals, cooperatives and support organizations are all a critical part of helping NCBA CLUSA capture the full potential of cooperatives. As an NCBA CLUSA member, you’ll join an engaged community working to shape federal policy that positively impacts all cooperative enterprises. You’ll also have the opportunity to participate in our Co-op Festival and annual Co-op IMPACT Conference. These flagship events work in tandem to amplify how co-ops are building an inclusive economy that benefits families and communities. Join NCBA CLUSA to be at the center of this work!
  2. Vote With membership comes the opportunity to vote in NCBA CLUSA’s annual Board of Directors election, which is currently open and closes on April 26. Your participation helps us set the strategic vision for the organization, ensuring we remain a dynamic voice for cooperatives nationwide. Be sure to attend the 2018 Annual Meeting—either virtually or in person at our headquarters in Washington, D.C.—to hear the results.
  3. Share your expertise Are you a farmer or agribusiness professional? Consider volunteering for a 2-3 week expenses-paid Farmer-to-Farmer assignment with NCBA CLUSA. As part of this USAID-sponsored program, you’ll promote food security, sustainable economic growth and agricultural development worldwide. Learn more about Farmer-to-Farmer here.

Your continued participation in NCBA CLUSA’s work makes a difference. Driven by a unified cooperative voice, NCBA CLUSA’s advocacy efforts have helped preserve funding for cooperative development and expanded co-op eligibility for Small Business Administration loans. We also worked to successfully get co-ops back in the U.S. Census after a 20-year absence.

Guided by the principles of cooperation, our international work builds resilient communities, promotes economic opportunities and strengthens cooperatives. This work ensures that more people are empowered to contribute to shared prosperity and wellbeing for themselves and future generations.

Perhaps most importantly, your engagement with NCBA CLUSA has informed how we describe the role of cooperatives in building a more inclusive economy—an economy that not only inspires broader participation, but also one that is more equitable, stable, sustainable and growing in a way that provides more people opportunities.

Through our 2018 Membership Survey and countless conversations with members, we have developed a deeper understanding of how cooperatives impact their members and communities. Co-ops that participate in this survey supply a wealth of information that will be used to show the economic and social impact of cooperatives.

Dr. King said, “Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable… Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.”

Now is yet another moment when meaningful progress requires participation. We are in a “cooperative moment”—one in which more and more people feel excluded from their economy and society. In times like these, the importance of cooperatives is only magnified. Your active participation is the key to deepening the impact of the cooperative business model—in the cooperatives you own and in the communities you serve.
—Doug O’Brien is president and CEO of NCBA CLUSA, where he works with the cooperative community to deepen its impact on the economy.

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