A New Year’s Message from NCBA CLUSA’s President and CEO


As I begin a new role at NCBA CLUSA, I want to first thank Judy Ziewacz for her leadership as the most recent President and CEO, as well as for her decades of service to the cooperative movement.

As her Cooperative Hall of Fame plaque states as an inductee in 2015: ‚ÄúFor over 40 years, Judy has been a dogged champion for cooperative development, articulating steady and unswerving vision about the power of cooperation, and persistently reminding cooperatives and cooperative institutions that they exist to empower people.‚ÄĚ I am extremely grateful for the chance to serve under this leader of the cooperative community, and NCBA CLUSA is better because of her willingness to share her abundant knowledge and passion for co-ops. Along with Judy, a host of visionary cooperators have contributed to the 101 years of the NCBA CLUSA cooperative story. We begin 2018 on their shoulders.

Cooperatives are always a good idea. In times of economic or social anxiety, the values, principles and utility of co-ops become even more relevant. This was true at the turn of the 20th century as we moved from an agricultural to an industrial economy, in the 1930s as we struggled under the weight of the depression, and again in the 1960s and 70s as many became dissatisfied with the status quo domestically and others saw cooperatives as a key strategy for development internationally.

I believe we are in the middle of the next major cooperative moment as people look for effective tools for economic opportunity, equity and stability. A number of major factors are in play demanding a forceful response from this generation’s cooperative community:

  • People desire a deeper connection to the economy and community. Economic and social forces over the last few decades have largely increased the separation of people from the businesses they use and isolated them even within the communities they live;
  • The goal of an equitable economy continues to frustrate increasing numbers of people with greater inequality and persistent barriers to improved gender and racial equity;
  • The nature of work is changing so that there are ostensibly more (but still not relatively many) knowledge-based jobs, many crucial relatively lower-wage jobs, and workers tending to lose their tether to workplace economic security;
  • The acceleration of information technology has changed the idea of what a marketplace is and who uses, benefits and owns information; and
  • The climate is changing more rapidly, which will threaten the resilience and stability of economies across the globe.

In this context and with clear signs of increasing interest in the cooperative model, especially from Millennials and the successive generation, NCBA CLUSA has the potential of tremendously increasing the influence and impact of cooperatives. Here is how we will position NCBA CLUSA to lead and empower the cooperative community to realize this potential. As always, we need to start with our mission.

NCBA CLUSA’s Mission and Vision

The Mission of NCBA CLUSA is constant: To develop, advance and protect the cooperative business model.

The Vision is clear, as pronounced by the NCBA CLUSA Board of Directors in 2017: NCBA CLUSA is a collaborative partner in, advocate for, and driver of an Inclusive Economy in which people around the world are empowered to contribute to shared prosperity and well-being for themselves and future generations. NCBA CLUSA will leverage the cooperative model and our shared resources to engage, partner with and empower people from all walks of life and, in particular, those left behind by a shifting economy and facing the greatest barriers to achieving this goal.

An inclusive economy is one that is people centered‚ÄĒjust like the cooperative business model‚ÄĒand should be measured using interrelated factors, including equity, growth, sustainability and participation. This framework has been identified through evolving work by a number of leaders in the field, including the Rockefeller Foundation, and in many ways describes the outcomes for which co-ops have always worked.

For us to achieve this vision, we will need to increase our impact and influence as an association. We do this by growing, developing, advocating, communicating and leading with credibility.

Grow ‚Äď Increase resources for work with increased membership revenue, supported programming, and strategic partnerships. We will focus on increasing resources to support our core mission, diversify our revenue streams and leverage strategic partnerships with entities both internal and external to the cooperative community that share common goals.

Develop ‚Äď Partner with leading entities in the U.S. and globally to advance the development of the cooperative business model and the work of empowering people in their economy and community. We will seek ways to innovatively partner and support the domestic cooperative development community, as well as deepen our impact in our extensive international development work.

Advocate ‚Äď Leverage our position as the apex cooperative association to influence federal, state and private-sector decisions to accelerate the development and support of cooperatives. We will deepen work federally with the Interagency Working Group on Cooperative Development and the Congressional Cooperative Business Caucus, and work with state and local policymakers to improve the policy environment for cooperatives.

Communicate ‚Äď Expand our audience and reach into cooperative and non-cooperative communities. We will increase our public awareness through highly visible events like the Co-op Festival on the National Mall, live discussions at the national press club and work with mainstream media to place cooperatives in the conversation when discussing solutions to today‚Äôs challenges.

Lead with Credibility. Show how the cooperative business model and principals can provide solutions to many of society’s most challenging questions. With intellectual and analytical rigor, we will show the beneficial impacts of the cooperative business model on the economy and society with assets that include the Council of Cooperative Economists, the Cooperative Business Journal, and the annual Cooperative IMPACT Conference.

For NCBA CLUSA to make the impact needed in this cooperative moment, we will rely on our amazing staff of professionals here in the U.S. and around the world, we will cultivate new strategic partnerships and, importantly, we will look to our members and long-time collaborators so that the Association can benefit from your experience and passion. Together, we can ensure that cooperatives will play a more crucial role in building a more inclusive economy.

In cooperation,

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Doug O’Brien

President and CEO

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