I recently read a column by a wise cooperator who stated: We do not choose cooperatives because they are easy; we choose them because they are better.
So here’s my wish for 2022: As individual cooperators and as a cooperative community, let’s lean into what makes cooperatives better. By doing so, we will more positively impact our members and our communities.
We must start by asking what makes cooperatives better. To do that, we need to understand our cooperative identity—the definition, shared values and principles of cooperatives. NCBA CLUSA and the International Cooperative Alliance (ICA) have spent the past year focusing on just that. From NCBA CLUSA’s annual Cooperative IMPACT Conference to ICA’s World Cooperative Congress, we worked to embrace and deepen our shared identity in 2021.
Cooperatives are better because they create people-centered solutions. Co-ops are distinctive not only because people are the priority of the enterprise, but also because the business model itself is hard-wired to benefit the people who own and control it. This is fundamentally different from a business that is controlled by outside investors or a philanthropy where the beneficiaries have little to no say in the enterprise.
And there’s more. Cooperatives are better because it’s in their bones to work together (principle 6). Cooperatives are better because they seek to continually educate and train their members and staff (principle 5). Cooperatives are better because they care for their community (principle 7).
What does this mean for 2022? Here are three ways cooperatives can lean into their identity in the New Year to make the biggest difference:
Recruit and retain the best talent
Cooperatives need to recruit and retain the best talent. As the market for talented, committed professionals continues to tighten, co-ops have a natural advantage—they attract people who want more from their employer than a healthy bottom line. They want to know they are part of a business that is designed to lift up their colleagues and their community.
Be an engine for inclusion
Cooperatives should be an engine for inclusion. As workers and consumers increasingly look for businesses that seek to include everyone in the economy, co-ops should be guided by their values of equity and democracy—and we can learn from each other both within and across our sectors. For some ideas, check out the report on DEI trends within the co-op community that we released this fall.
Be a bigger part of the solution
Co-ops are the proven strategy to tackle big problems. Here in the U.S., people have come together in cooperatives to solve big, seemingly intractable challenges such as ensuring working families can access affordable finance and rural people can benefit from basic infrastructure. Today, as we face the challenges of economic inequality, climate change and COVID-19 recovery, co-ops need to be a bigger part of the solution.
At the end of the day, cooperatives are better because of the people at the heart of these special enterprises. For ’22, let’s make sure that even more people are using the tools of cooperation to make the most positive impact possible.
—Doug O’Brien is president and CEO of NCBA CLUSA, where he works with the cooperative community to deepen its impact on the economy.