Four outstanding cooperative leaders will receive the cooperative community’s most prestigious honor on October 7, 2021, when they are inducted into the Cooperative Hall of Fame at the National Press Club in Washington, DC.
The inductees are: Clark Arrington, Senior Fellow, Seed Commons; Vern Dosch, Retired President and CEO, National Information Solutions Cooperative (NISC); Andrew Reicher, Executive Director, Urban Homesteading Assistance Board (UHAB); and Karen Zimbelman, Senior Director of Membership and Cooperative Relations, National Co+op Grocers (NCG).
“The spirit of cooperatives is truly reflected in this year’s Hall of Fame inductees,” said Rich Larochelle, Chair, Cooperative Development Foundation, which manages the Hall of Fame. “Their dedication to advancing the cooperative business model as a tool to build democracy, more resilient communities, and a more inclusive economy has led to lasting achievements that have strengthened co-ops and improved lives.”
Senior Fellow, Seed Commons
A bold visionary with a healthy dose of reliable pragmatism, Clark Arrington used his legal training to address capital formation issues for worker cooperatives. From developing standardized bylaws for worker cooperatives that established capital accounts to pioneering preferred stock offerings that raised capital while maintaining democratic control, Arrington’s work has had a foundational influence on today’s worker cooperatives.
Deeply committed to the Civil Rights Movement and economic democracy, Clark began his first alternative financing venture while in law school at Notre Dame bringing capital to minority-owned small businesses in South Bend, Indiana through the Minority Enterprise Small Business Investment Company (MESBIC). Upon graduation from college, a job at the Securities Exchange Commission (SEC) expanded his understanding of capital formation and its regulation.
But it was economic development, not regulation, that motivated Clark. He took a job at the Center for National Policy Review where he worked on creating community-owned venture capital and loan funds. It was at CNPR where Clark’s interest in capital formation would encounter the cooperative model. Clark was assigned to a project involving the Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund and the Minority People’s Council on the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway, a grassroots community-based organization advocating for Black people to fully participate in a $2 billion public works project.
Following a stint in private practice, Clark joined The ICA Group as General Counsel providing legal services to an increasing number of worker-owned businesses seeking capital for expansion. Clark worked with a team to develop model bylaws that codified and elucidated the practice of internal capital accounts for worker-owned cooperatives, which are used by worker cooperatives across the U.S.
He also tackled a problem that vexed Equal Exchange and other worker cooperatives: how to affordably raise capital for expansion without endangering the workers’ control of the organization. Drawing upon his experience at the SEC and the Federation of Southern Cooperatives, Clark spearheaded the idea of offering non-voting equity shares to the public that allowed for growth while keeping the business true to its cooperative principles.
A consummate co-op educator, Clark has spent most of his professional life teaching courses related to cooperatives, business law, and community economic development at more than half a dozen institutions in the U.S. and abroad. Beginning with a teaching job immediately after college in Chicago, Clark went on to The University of Southern New Hampshire, The Open University of Tanzania; and Kampala International University-Dar es Salaam College.
In his current role at Seed Commons, Clark works to develop non-exploitive equity and debt financing that assures cooperative membership and member benefit are at the center of all legal and financial deals. As a member of The Working World’s Director’s Committee and a veteran elder on staff, Clark is a valuable mentor and resource on cooperatives for his colleagues.
An innovator in cooperative finance, Clark has played a critical role in leveraging millions of dollars of new investment for social justice cooperatives. Clark’s bold vision, reliable pragmatism, and tireless efforts are key to promoting and developing innovative financing structures that are sensitive to the cooperative principles of member ownership, control and benefit.
Retired President and CEO, National Information Solutions Cooperative (NISC)
A longtime leader in technology and rural utility cooperatives, Vern Dosch coupled the spirit of cooperation, a commitment to rural America and cutting-edge technology to help cooperative utilities provide quality, affordable service to consumer-members. Under his leadership, the National Information Solutions Cooperative (NISC), became a leading provider of IT and software solutions to utility and telecommunication cooperatives, helping its members become more efficient and improve customer service while setting the stage for economic expansion in rural America.
Born and raised in Bismarck, North Dakota, Vern started his 40-year career as an accounting coordinator with Capital Electric Cooperative. He moved on to Basin Electric Power Cooperative before being recruited to serve as business manager for North Central Data Cooperative (NCDC) where in 1992 he became general manager. The data cooperative was one of six regional cooperatives recommended by a National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) study committee to develop technology solutions to reduce operating costs and streamline processes for rural cooperative telecom and electric systems.
With the advancement of digital technology and expanded use of computers in all aspects of life, the need for low-cost data software systems catering to a national market resulted in the consolidation of NCDC and Central Data Cooperatives in 2000 to form NISC. Vern became the organization’s CEO in 2002.
But the consolidation was only the first step in meeting the data and processing needs of rural cooperatives; financing was needed to write code and purchase software. Vern sought help from the National Rural Utility Cooperative Finance Corporation (CFC).
Armed with CFC’s confidence and a $7 million line of credit, Vern and the staff successfully raised enough capital from NISC members that the organization never needed to draw down on its CFC line of credit. The sophisticated software platform, now comprised of more than 25 million lines of code, has enabled NISC to enhance the quality of life in rural America by bridging the technology divide.
Under Vern’s leadership, NISC has grown to 1,300 employees serving rural utilities and telecoms across the U.S. and Canada. In 2020, NISC was named among ComputerWorld’s Best Places to Work in IT for the 17th straight year and was recently recognized as one of the Elite Top 50 for customer service by Help Desk International.
Vern retired from NISC in January 2020 and was immediately tapped to lead North Dakota’s coronavirus contact tracing efforts. The launch of the Care 19 app and strategy of testing university students returning to campus were among Vern’s accomplishments.
A noted speaker and published author of Wired Differently: How to Spark Better Results with a Cooperative Business Model, Servant Leadership and Shared Values, Vern’s cooperative spirit didn’t end with NISC. Active in local and national efforts designed to advance the cooperative business model, Vern has been a guest lecturer at University of Mary Washington’s cooperative business course and at North Dakota State University on ethics and leaderships. He was also the 2020 recipient of Prairie Business Magazine’s Leaders and Legacies Award.
A steadfast voice for cooperatives and the communities they serve, Vern’s servant leadership, collaborative spirit, vision and persistence has enabled utility cooperatives to benefit from powerful information technology and has positioned them for a thriving future.
Executive Director, Urban Homesteading Assistance Board (UHAB)
A quiet, self-effacing hero, Andrew Reicher has devoted his entire career to improving the lives of people struggling to rise from poverty through access to stable, affordable housing. Andy’s efforts have helped create programs within the New York City government crucial to fostering the development of housing cooperatives for low-income New Yorkers. Through his leadership at the Urban Homesteading Assistance Board (UHAB), Andy has brought homeownership to thousands of city residents and is generous in sharing his expertise with others in the U.S. turning to the cooperative model as a source of homeownership for low-income residents.
Andy’s unique combination of persistence, creativity and leadership has paved the way for cooperative development through many cycles of New York’s housing landscape. Andy’s career developed in tandem with UHAB, which was founded in 1973 during New York City’s economic crisis to help residents without stable housing reclaim abandoned buildings in New York City and help rehabilitate those buildings as their homes. During his four decades at UHAB’s helm, New York City’s low-income, resident-run and resident-owned housing cooperatives have grown from several dozen to more than 1,300 buildings, providing homeownership and permanent affordability to more than 30,000 households, most of them small buildings redeemed from abandonment. This is unique and unprecedented in the U.S. and is a significant chapter in New York City’s story.
UHAB realized that while self-help rehabilitation using sweat equity was a catalyst for revitalization and growth, there was still a need to address the issue around the foreclosure of physically deteriorating buildings in the city’s poorest neighborhoods. Turning the buildings over to community control was the idea that sparked the Tenant Interim Lease (TIL) Program. The program allows tenants in city-owned and tax-foreclosed buildings to form an association to manage and then purchase their buildings as limited-equity cooperatives.
For nearly 40 years, New York City contracted with UHAB to provide technical assistance to income-restricted cooperatives going through TIL. Under Andy’s leadership, programs for accounting and bookkeeping assistance, pre-paid legal assistance and training and education programs from how to run a heating system and boiler to how to run an efficient meeting were developed. More recently, Andy has steered UHAB’s programs towards climate and social justice goals through access to share loans and expanded use of renewable energy in low-income communities and communities of color.
Today, New York City has the largest community of shared-equity housing cooperatives in the country. In 1989, UHAB and the Tenant Interim Lease Program were jointly awarded the prestigious Rudy Bruner Award for Urban Excellence.
In 2015, Andy pioneered a vision for a nationwide coalition of cooperative housing practitioners and members to come together to grow, serve and strengthen the model of shared equity housing cooperatives. The Sixth Principle Coalition embodies the spirit of “cooperation among cooperatives” and united the national limited-equity cooperative community of over 165,000 units of housing, 40 organizations, and more than 100 practitioners across the U.S.
Because of Andy’s selfless dedication, constant innovation and high achievement, low-income housing cooperatives in New York City exist and thrive. Strongly rooted in the communities he serves, Andy’s insight, experience and tireless efforts has had a lasting and profound impact on the lives of thousands.
Senior Director of Membership and Cooperative Relations, National Co+op Grocers
A lifelong cooperator, Karen Zimbelman lives and breathes cooperative principles. For over forty years, her accessible voice and unyielding commitment to the cooperative movement has served to guide the success of cooperatives that span sectors including consumer, housing, worker and credit unions. Described as a gravitational center for cooperatives, Karen was an early innovator in the local, regional and national cooperative movement playing a pivotal role in advancing cooperative enterprises from board rooms to the retail floor.
Karen’s cooperative career began in the 1980s at the North American Students of Cooperation (NASCO) where she implemented board of director trainings. Since then, Karen has worked at North Coast Co-op, NCBA CLUSA, Rochdale Institute, and National Co+op Grocers (NCG). After three years as North Coast Co-op’s Director of Membership and HR, Karen began her next career phase as a cooperative consultant. During this time, she was the Executive Director for the Cooperative Grocers’ Information Network (CGIN), as well as the Northwest Cooperative Grocers’ Association (NWCGA) and Pacific Cooperative Grocers’ Association (PCGA).
Under Karen’s leadership, CGIN became a vital consumer co-op resource housing an extensive library of job descriptions, operation manuals, recipes, board training and much more. CGIN fostered cooperation among cooperatives offering a way for start-up and smaller food co-ops to connect with larger and more established food co-ops to network and share resources. During her time at CGIN, Karen authored and published a manual to instruct others on How to Start a Food Co-op. This manual became the foundation of Food Co-op Initiative’s Guide to Starting a Food Co-op.
As the founding Executive Director for two regional cooperative grocers’ associations, Karen established and managed regional supply agreements, promotions, training, audits and other programs. In that role she became an important contributor to a movement to form a national food co-op association—an effort that ultimately resulted in the formation of National Co+op Grocers. Karen’s voice was critical to thinking through operational scenarios and contributed to the creation of a rules-based system that delivered unparalleled value to 100 food co-ops. Today, NCG represents 148 food co-ops in 39 states with more than 1.3 million consumer-owners, unifying natural food co-ops in order to optimize operational and marketing resources and strengthen purchasing power.
Formed under the NCG Western Corridor to bring governance and operational leaders together to explore best practices for boards of directors and the board/general manager relationship, Karen conceived and designed Leadership Education and Development (LEAD). Under her tutelage a series of well attended, regional one-day workshops were organized to foster collaboration between board members and general managers over five years. Karen also created the LEADer as a complement to these trainings. The 26 study-guide style issues of LEADer covered topics like board perpetuation, member engagement, board orientation, financial indicators, managing risk and strategic visioning. She was also a valued member of the Howard Bowers Fund assuring the Fund maintained its mission and volunteering at Fund events.
Karen has organized hundreds of trainings benefiting thousands of cooperative board members over her 40-year career. She was awarded the Cooperative Service Award for dedicated leadership and service to cooperatives at the Consumer Cooperative Management Association (CCMA) Conference in 1994 and recognized for her outstanding contribution to cooperative education by the Association of Cooperative Educators (ACE). Karen’s sincerity, intensity and zeal for the cooperative movement is evident in the way she builds and protects the integrity of cooperatives.