CDF, NCBA CLUSA to Explore how Co-ops Build Healthy Communities with Grant from Robert Wood Johnson Foundation


With funding from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), the Cooperative Development Foundation (CDF) and NCBA CLUSA will embark on a two-year project to understand the role of cooperatives in building healthy, equitable and sustainable communities.

The $250,000 RWJF grant includes funding for four white papers and two convenings of cooperative developers, social scientists, economists and subject matter experts to identify and quantify the social and economic benefits of cooperatives to communities. The project will also study public policy initiatives that encourage and support the development of cooperatives as a tool to strengthen the health, equity and sustainability of communities.

As user-owned, democratically-controlled business enterprises, cooperatives are deeply rooted in their communities and responsive to local needs. Profits from cooperatives are reinvested in the business or distributed to members based on use. Cooperatively-organized businesses impact all sectors of the economy: cooperative ownership provides financial services to consumers through credit unions; healthy food through local consumer-owned grocery stores; electricity and other vital utilities through the rural electric system; and supplies, marketing and finance to agricultural producers.

“The goal of the project is to bring a disciplined and data-backed understanding of cooperatives to a broader audience,” CDF Executive Director Leslie Mead said. “We want to provide national, state and local leaders with a better understanding of the role that cooperatives play in building healthy and sustainable communities.”

The first project of the grant is to determine metrics for measuring the impact of cooperatives on communities; that work will begin this spring.

Mead, who will manage the project in collaboration with Doug O’Brien, president and CEO of NCBA CLUSA, plans one convening in June of this year and one in January of 2020. “We want to bring together a diverse and accomplished group of economists, developers, academics, public policy leaders and cooperators,” O’Brien said. “Our goal is to move toward a comprehensive domestic cooperative development strategy that leads to strong communities.”

When completed, the four white papers included in the grant will be used as part of NCBA CLUSA’s work to elevate cooperatives among policymakers and thought leaders. Topics for the papers may include describing the role that existing cooperatives have in creating inclusive economies, refining metrics to quantify social and economic benefits of cooperatives in communities, and establishing a public policy framework for developing and using cooperatives to address community needs.

A five-person outside advisory group will be formed to provide advice on the project. Advisory group members will be named later this month.

The grant is CDF’s first from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the nation’s largest philanthropy dedicated solely to health. “We are excited by the work that will be accomplished as a result of this grant and by the partnerships that will result,” said Rich Larochelle, chair of CDF’s Board of Directors. “It is a further acknowledgement of CDF and NCBA CLUSA’s growing role as thought leaders in advancing the role of cooperatives in building vibrant communities.”

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