This Cooperative Moment is a Chance to Help Shape a More Inclusive Future


This article is an edited excerpt from Doug O’Brien’s president and CEO’s message at NCBA CLUSA’s 2018 Annual Meeting & Virtual Town Hall last week. Look for more reports on this annual meeting in the coming weeks. 

We are in a cooperative moment: a time when people look to cooperatives as a solution to economic and societal challenges, and a time when many people feel disconnected from their economy and society. The challenges are familiar: the changing nature of work, increasing inequality, climate change, accelerating information technology that many times does not serve people and a society that in some ways is deeply divided. With confidence in institutions at historic lows—whether government, journalism or business institutions—people are looking for new ways to address the challenges they face.

History shows us that cooperatives can be an answer. Farmers use cooperatives to access markets and gain a seat at the bargaining table, consumers bank at credit unions to achieve financial stability, rural Americans work together to make sure they have access to affordable and reliable electricity, and people in developing countries use the principles of cooperation to participate in the modern global economy. While we know that co-ops are an effective solution, many people in areas of influence and policymaking remain unaware of the power of the cooperative model.

In this context, last year NCBA CLUSA’s Board of Directors provided staff direction to embrace the Inclusive Economy framework. An inclusive economy is one that is more equitable, participatory, sustainable, stable and growing. For generations, people have used the cooperative business model to build more inclusive economies. The opportunity for the cooperative community and NCBA CLUSA is to ensure that cooperatives make the most impact and wield the greatest influence as a strategy to build a more inclusive economy.

To bring focus to this this work, the board pointed to two strategies: cultivate partnerships both within and external to the cooperative community; and measure the impact that cooperatives have on families, businesses and communities. We have already begun to develop new partnerships and use metrics to tell a more compelling cooperative story.

So how does NCBA CLUSA’s work on your behalf increase the impact and influence of cooperatives? Let me share a few notes on what we are doing in 2018:

  • Advocacy With the platforms of the Congressional Cooperative Business Caucus and the reestablished Interagency Working Group on Cooperative Development, we are working on key issues around worker ownership and the Farm Bill, while working to maintain and grow appropriations in a turbulent policy environment. We’ve seen significant success so far this year, largely due to the participation of you, our members.
  • Public Relations We look forward to the second Co-op Festival on the National Mall this October, amplifying how people use cooperatives in their communities and economy, and we continue to innovate the ways in which to highlight the cooperative difference using all our communication platforms.
  • Development NCBA CLUSA’s work internationally is reaching farther and deeper than any time in the past. We are now active in 20 countries with 30 projects, using the cooperative values to empower people in their business and community. Domestically, we are also working with the Cooperative Development Foundation and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to explore how cooperatives help build healthy local economies.
  • Thought Leadership We know that for the cooperative movement to move the needle in any of these areas—advocacy, public relations or development—it needs data, research and analysis that demonstrates the cooperative difference. And we need to share this information in the most compelling ways to the right audiences. In 2018, we are building on and continuing the work of the Cooperative IMPACT Conference, the Cooperative Business Journal and the Council of Co-op Economists.

As people look to the cooperative business model to more effectively participate in their businesses, communities and the broader economy, we have unique opportunity to build a more inclusive future. Through advocacy, public relations, development and thought leadership, NCBA CLUSA is in an excellent position to advocate, defend and promote the cooperative business model.

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