Meet the candidates running for election to the 2023 NCBA CLUSA Board of Directors


NCBA CLUSA is pleased to announce the candidates running to fill five seats on the 2022 Board of Directors: Cornelius Blanding, Michael Droke, Juan Fernandez, Esteban Kelly, Emma McCormick and Karen Zimbelman. 

The online election will open on March 20 and close on April 20; during this period, eligible NCBA CLUSA members will be able to cast their votes. Eligible voters are Cooperative Members and Associate Members who have joined or renewed their memberships in fiscal year 2023. Lifetime members are also eligible to vote. Members that are currently eligible are available to view on this list. To confirm your membership eligibility status, send a message with the subject line ‚ÄúVoting Member Eligibility‚ÄĚ to

Each eligible cooperative and associate member can designate one staff member to serve as the voting member for their organization. NCBA CLUSA has sent several requests to update this contact in member messaging over the past year. If this form has not been filled out, the official voting member defaults to the CEO/GM or the invoice billing contact.

Update your voting contact here

Election results will be announced at NCBA CLUSA’s Annual Membership Meeting & Virtual Town Hall, scheduled for May 2, 2023 in Washington, D.C. Your participation helps us set the strategic vision for the organization, ensuring that NCBA CLUSA remains a dynamic voice in the cooperative space.

Keep reading to meet this year’s candidates.


Cornelius Blanding

Executive Director
Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund

Cornelius Blanding began his career in development work as an economic development intern for the Florida Department of Commerce assigned to the City of Miami Beach. Since then, he has gained a broad experience base including rural, international and cooperative economic development.  

His experiences include business and project development, management and marketing. He has over 25 years of experience serving Black farmers, landowners and limited-resource cooperatives as well as rural communities in the South and internationally. He has worked as a small business development and management consultant, manager of a multi-million dollar revolving loan fund, domestic and international project director, Director of Field Operations and Special Projects, Deputy Director and has been serving as the Executive Director of the Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund since 2015.  

Cornelius has also served and continues to serve on various boards and committees, including the Bipartisan Policy Center‚Äôs Farm & Forest Carbon Solutions Task Force, Food and Agriculture Climate Alliance Steering Committee, Socially Disadvantaged Farmers & Ranchers Policy Research Center‚Äôs Advisory Board, Nationwide‚Äôs Board Council, NCBA CLUSA‚Äôs Board of Directors, Cooperative Development Foundation’s Board of Directors, Agricultural Safety & Health Council of America, Southeast Climate Consortium, Presbyterian Committee on the Self Development of People, USDA State Emergency Board (Georgia), a Blue Ribbon Panel for the Duke Endowment‚Äôs Rural Church Program Area and was appointed by the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture to serve on the Land Tenure Sub-Committee of the USDA Advisory Committee on Beginning Farmers & Ranchers.¬†

Read Cornelius’ Candidate Statement


Michael Droke

Dorsey & Whitney’s Food, Beverage and Agribusiness Industry Group

Mike is a firm-wide Co-Chair of Dorsey & Whitney law firm’s Food, Beverage & Agribusiness Industry Group, and member of Dorsey’s Cooperative Law Practice Group. Mike’s practice is devoted to representing cooperatives in the areas of natural food, agriculture and other types of organizations. He has established dozens of co-ops. He has assisted existing co-ops redesign their membership into a multi-stakeholder model. He has advised consumer, worker, agricultural and hybrid co-ops. He has advised on cutting-edge multi-stakeholder cooperatives in the technology and other sectors. He acts as outside primary/general counsel in the industry, handles corporate governance, and manages complicated domestic and international transactions. 


Read Michael’s Candidate Statement


Juan Fernandez

President and CEO
Credit Union Association of New Mexico

Juan Fernandez is the President and CEO of the Credit Union Association of New Mexico. In this role, he is the first Latino to serve as a state league president in the Credit Union industry and has used his platform to help credit unions reach deeper into Latino communities and empower emerging Latino leaders in the industry. His work in cooperatives began early in life, working as a teller at a credit union while pursuing his college education. Juan has worked in credit unions and cooperatives for 20 years, and during that time has embraced and exemplified the cooperative principles. Across those 20 years, he has worked in community development, membership development, leadership, government affairs and financial wellness. He is a passionate, mission-driven leader who believes in the potential of cooperatives as the solution to the complex problems of our economy. 

In New Mexico, Juan has worked to empower credit unions to serve the underserved. In a rural state with a large immigrant population, Juan has helped his industry adapt and develop in changing times. He has also helped draft, advocate for and pass legislation to improve the wellbeing of all New Mexicans. As a recent example of his work, he served as the key advocate on the floor of the State House for the passage of a small dollar loan rate cap in New Mexico in 2022, which effectively limited predatory lending in the state to improve the financial wellbeing of residents. This legislation is groundbreaking in the nation and is being used as a model for other states looking to limit predatory lending practices. Juan’s ability to pass comprehensive legislation is the result of a years-long effort to help build coalitions, forge relationships and drive effective change across political and ideological lines. 

He believes the superpower of cooperatives are our principles and is passionate about creating collaboration among cooperatives across industries. He has volunteered for his local food cooperative, La Montanita Coop, and served as their treasurer for several years, providing him valuable perspective of the challenges faced by another cooperative industry. He has worked for or with credit unions in New Mexico, New York and Puerto Rico, providing him a valuable perspective on the challenges faced in different communities and different regions of the country. 

Juan was born and raised in Puerto Rico, and is very passionate about helping cooperatives reach Latino, immigrant and communities of color. Juan received his bachelor’s degree in Economics from Binghamton University and his MBA from Western Governors University.¬†

Read Juan’s Candidate Statement


Esteban Kelly

Executive Director
U.S. Federation of Worker Cooperatives

Esteban Kelly is the Executive Director for the U.S. Federation of Worker Cooperatives (USFWC). Esteban works to expand economic democracy through forms of multi-racial solidarity and collective ownership. He foregrounds political education, systemic thinking and abolitionist principles into visionary organizing. In 2010, he co-founded AORTA (Anti-Oppression Resource & Training Alliance), a worker co-op devoted to strengthening movements for social justice and a solidarity economy by building the capacity of leaders, projects, co-ops and other value-aligned organizations through education, facilitation and consulting. More recently, Esteban founded Guilded, a multi-stakeholder freelancer co-op that processes invoices and guarantees timely payment to freelance members while providing benefits to 1099 workers.

Formally introduced to cooperatives in the 1990s as an undergraduate in the student housing co-ops at UC Berkeley, Esteban soon began organizing co-ops across Canada and the U.S. with the North American Students of Cooperation (NASCO). He was inducted into NASCO‚Äôs Cooperative Hall of Fame in 2011, in recognition of his ten years of service‚ÄĒincluding seven years on their board and three years working as their Director of Education and Training.

A co-founder and first board President of the regional cross-sector Philadelphia Area Cooperative Alliance (PACA), Esteban previously worked as Development Director and then Staff Director for the New Economy Coalition (formerly the think-tank known as ‚ÄúNew Economics Institute‚ÄĚ). From 2009-2011, Esteban served as Vice President of the USFWC, and a board member of the Democracy At Work Institute (DAWI). He was also on the boards of the Cooperative Development Foundation (CDF) and the U.S. Solidarity Economy Network (SEN). He has served on the board of NCBA CLUSA since 2011, and as an officer on the executive committee since 2020. Esteban is an advisor to the multi-stakeholder musician‚Äôs co-op Ampled, the Platform Co-ops Consortium, Climate + Community Project, Making Worlds Bookstore Cooperative, and the Movement for Black Lives.

Esteban is a 2021 Ford Global Fellow, a Margaret Burroughs Fellow in the Social Justice Portals Project at University of Illinois-Chicago, an Executive Fellow of the Institute for the Study of Employee Ownership and Profit Sharing at Rutgers University, and a Futures 4 Good Fellow in the Equitable Enterprise Initiative at the Institute for the Future.

Firmly rooted in West Philadelphia, Esteban managed a major food co-op transition in his eight years on staff at Mariposa Food Co-op. There, he co-founded its Food Justice & Anti-Racism working group (FJAR) and labored to institutionalize the Mariposa Staff Collective. He rebooted the co-op’s governance process and bylaws, and served on its first board of directors in over two decades. Mr. Kelly became a two-term mayoral appointee to the Philadelphia Food Policy Advisory Council (FPAC), which offers advice for municipal policy and best practices that promote food access, sovereignty and sustainability, and just labor practices for farm and food workers. In 2018, Esteban won a Philadelphia Social Innovation Award for Public Policy. Having left the LCA housing co-op after 12 years of active leadership, Esteban enjoys his home and urban vegetable garden with his partner and two daughters.

Read Kelly’s Candidate Statement


Emma McCormick

Senior Director of Engagement
National Farmers Union

Emma McCormick is the Senior Director of Engagement at the National Farmers Union (NFU). NFU’s mission is to advocate for family farmers and ranchers, and their communities through education, cooperation and legislation.  

Originally from California, Emma got her bachelor’s degree in Political Science from San Francisco State University and went on to teach high school in Oxnard. Emma‚Äôs passion for education brought her to Washington, DC, where she pursued a Master‚Äôs of Education Technology Leadership & Instructional Design at George Washington University. Emma uses her skills to produce educational programming and trainings that help NFU members better understand farm business management and the cooperative business model.¬†¬†

In her personal life, Emma enjoys taking advantage of the free museums in Washington, DC, traveling and running. 

Read Emma’s Candidate Statement


Karen Zimbelman

Senior Director of Membership and Cooperative Relations
National Co+op Grocers

Karen Zimbelman currently serves as National Co+op Grocers’ Senior Director of Membership and Cooperative Relations. She has worked with and for co-ops at the local, regional and national level since 1980. Until mid-2007, she also served as executive director of Cooperative Grocers’ Information Network (or Cooperative Grocers Network) since its founding in 1997. 

Previously, KZ was a consultant specializing in co-op development, governance, education programs and employee benefits. She was the founding executive director for two regional co-op grocers‚Äô associations, establishing and managing regional supply agreements, promotions, training, audits and other programs. For five years, she was editor of Association of Cooperative Educators’ (ACE) newsletter. KZ wrote “How to Start a Food Co-op,” co-authored “The Ownership Toolbox,” developed a co-op training program for staff, and wrote many articles and books for co-ops and credit unions. She provided governance training to hundreds of co-op boards for 20 years. In May 1994, she was presented the Cooperative Service Award for dedicated leadership and service to co-ops at CCMA, and in April 1999 was recognized for outstanding contribution to co-op education by ACE.¬†¬†

KZ has been employed by North Coast Co-op, NCBA CLUSA, Rochdale Institute, North American Students of Cooperation (NASCO) and People‚Äôs Food Co-op of Ann Arbor. She has a master’s degree from University of Michigan. Her master’s thesis was awarded the 1983 NCB Glenn Anderson award for outstanding consumer cooperative research. KZ has extensive co-op and nonprofit board experience including over 25 years on the Supervisory (audit) Committee of Coast Central Credit Union (ongoing) and 12 years as Board President of Frontier Cooperative Herbs (to 1995). She has also served on the boards for ACE, Michigan Employee Ownership Center, Co-op Center of Truman College, and People’s Food Co-op (Ann Arbor). For two years she served as U.S. representative to the Consumer Committee of the International Co-operative Alliance.¬†

She lives in Eureka, California with her husband, Chris Copple, retired general manager (and founder) of a worker co-op, Restif Cleaning Service Cooperative. She was inducted into the Cooperative Hall of Fame in 2021. KZ will be stepping away from her formal employment with NCG in June 2023 but intends to maintain an individual membership with NCBA CLUSA as she has for over 35 years. 

Read Karen’s Candidate Statement

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