“The ultimate measure of a people is not where they stand in moments of comfort and convenience, but where they stand at times of challenge and controversy.”—Martin Luther King, Jr.
As we approach the end of another year, we consider this well-known quote from Dr. King considering how people act when tested. As we contemplate these words, let’s think about how they might apply to groups of people who are part of a cooperative.
From a global pandemic to a renewed focus on racial equity, 2020 was truly unprecedented. The COVID-19 pandemic—as it has in so many other spaces—only magnified the distinction between co-ops and non-co-ops. We saw cooperatives embrace their identity and meet this year’s challenges by leveraging their unique people-centered business model and taking real, concrete steps to help their members and their communities cope with the devastating impacts of the twin pandemics of COVID-19 and systemic racism. We saw co-ops pivot, adapt, and innovate to continue to serve their members and communities. We saw co-ops donate to recovery efforts and offer customer relief. They joined protests, protected their communities and lifted up each other’s voices. Again and again we saw people demonstrate why co-ops are the best way to do business and build community.
NCBA CLUSA was proud to amplify that good work and support both our members and the broader cooperative community by advocating for access to critical federal funding. We worked to make sure that cooperatives across all sectors were eligible for all federal programs in response to COVID-19. We led a coalition of cooperative association CEOs urging lawmakers to extend eligibility to co-ops for Economic Injury Disaster Loans and the Paycheck Protection Program – with Congress announcing legislation just yesterday that again expanded eligibility for cooperatives. We know that thousands of cooperatives were able to access these resources to sustain businesses and jobs – the kind of dignified, living-wage work our economy needs more of.
As the pandemic continued and the reality of virtual life set in, NCBA CLUSA realized we had a unique opportunity to bring the co-op community together around more accessible and affordable programming. Without the typical barriers to participation—like travel, health, financial or time constraints—a record 931 people participated in the 2020 Co-op IMPACT Conference in October. That effort built on the unprecedented number of webinars and virtual offerings we produced to ensure the cooperative community had the information it needed and it could stay engaged in this extraordinary year. And while we all look forward to meeting face-to-face once again, the lessons we learned around access and participation in 2020 will change the way we do our work.
As we approach 2021—with a new Congress and a new Administration—NCBA CLUSA looks forward to positioning co-ops as the best partners in a sustainable economic recovery. We are still on the path to building an inclusive economy. The challenges of 2020 only make the need for cooperatives more apparent.
We know you will be an integral part of that work in 2021, and we are eager to stand alongside you. On behalf of the entire NCBA CLUSA team, I’d like to extend warm holiday wishes to the cooperative community—both here in the U.S. and around the globe. I hope you are able to take some time over the holidays for rest and reflection. And, as always, I wish you and your loved ones safety and health in the new year.
—Doug O’Brien is president and CEO of NCBA CLUSA, where he works with the cooperative community to deepen its impact on the economy.