Fall 2020 – Building Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Amid Crisis
Building Diversity,Equity and Inclusion Amid Crisis
To introduce this issue of the Cooperative Business Journal—the last of the year—I want to take a moment to reflect on 2020. From a global pandemic to a groundswell of activism against systemic racism, this year has been unprecedented. Yet one thing hasn’t surprised me: the resilience of cooperatives. They have pivoted, adapted and innovated, continuing to demonstrate why this business model is better.
Back in 2019, I questioned the commitment of nearly 200 CEOS representing the biggest corporations to be better corporate citizens by considering the interests of workers, customers and the environment—a step away from their sole focus on shareholder profits. A year later, I was disappointed but not surprised to learn that their intentions—whether hollow or truly well meaning at the time—have not led to transformational behavior.
In fact, as a group, these newly conscious corporations actually increased investor payouts and were 20 percent more likely to implement layoffs and furloughs during COVID-19. They were also less likely to donate to recovery efforts or offer customer relief such as discounts or waived fees.
Meanwhile, we saw cooperatives embrace their identity and lean into the challenge, 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 institutional racism.
For ChiFresh Kitchen, that meant launching a co-op during a pandemic. Their model holds critical lessons for how BIPOC communities can build power and wealth. For electric co-ops, it meant setting up free Wi-Fi hotspots, waiving late fees and renewing their commitment to bridge the digital divide.
We can attribute part of this response to good governance. As we learn in our opening article, cooperatives that rise to the occasion in crises do so because they are structured to reflect and respond to the society and economy in which they operate. A great example is the Independent Drivers Guild, which we also learn about in this issue. When power is shifted to the drivers, a new model for ride-share apps emerges.
At their core, cooperatives exist to serve the people who use the business; in turn, those people have the best interests of their communities in mind. The COVID-19 pandemic, as it has in so many other spaces, only magnified the distinction between co-ops and non-co-ops.
President & CEO of NCBA CLUSA