Diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) are central to co-operative ethics. In the United States, the National Cooperative Business Association CLUSA International (NCBA CLUSA) has taken this a step further, adopting a resolution on DEI at its recent Impact conference in Arlington, Virginia.
The resolution highlights how, in 2017, the NCBA CLUSA board endorsed a vision of the organisation as working in, campaigning for, and helping to drive, an inclusive economy. “The co-operative movement is guided by the ideals of diversity, equity and inclusion and are embedded within our shared values and principles,” reads the resolution. It recognises the International Cooperative Alliance’s (ICA) Co-ops for 2030 campaign which supports the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and “gives authority to NCBA CLUSA leadership to engage with the leadership of the ICA” in promoting DEI.
The resolution was shared with ICA leadership. “It’s an important moment for this conversation,” says Doug O’Brien, president and CEO of NCBA CLUSA. “We are joining others talking about this and making sure we are identifying where opportunities might be, what the process could look like, and how to effectively embed DEI in our shared values and principles.”
He sees the resolution as a next phase of a conversation “that the co-operative community has been having for some time” – including internally at NCBA CLUSA. The organisation’s theme for next year is equity, with a focus on how co-ops can be an engine for greater diversity, equity and inclusion.
“We are taking a good hard look at how we’re dealing with these issues ourselves, doing a lot of internal work which has been both gratifying and fruitful,” says Mr O’Brien. This work has extended to the domestic policy agenda, exploring how federal and state governments can create a supportive policy environment for co-ops, and ensuring that “those who have lacked access to opportunity in the past can really participate in building co-operatives and an inclusive economy”.
The task force leading NCBA CLUSA conversations around inclusive economies has been headed up by the organisation’s chair, Erbin Crowell. “This resolution came forward because we wanted to add our voice to the many voices already raising DEI as a priority,” he says.
He is mindful that “there are many other resolutions and statements out there in the co-operative world around diversity and inclusion” and sees the role of this resolution as one enabling fruitful dialogue and encouraging further discussion, “not necessarily providing the prescription”.
Mr Erbin emphasises that in order to be relevant, the co-operative principles need to be alive. “They need to be relevant to the world around us and need to be reappraised in light of what is going on in society at the time,” he says. “In turn, for co ops to really impact the need for sustainable development, we need to constantly pay attention to who is involved in our movement, in our co-operatives, and in our attempt to empower people to find solutions to their own challenges together using our model.”
In working with the ICA, Mr O’Brien and Mr Crowell say it is important to make sure that combined key audiences – co-ops around the world and their members – understand how DEI plays a role in keeping the values and principles a relevant force for co-operative businesses. The resolution was highlighted in a discussion at the ICA’s General Assembly in Kigali on 17 October by Martin Lowery (chair of the National Cooperative Bank and US representative elected to the ICA board) and Val Roach (NCBA CFO). Ms Roach pointed to the resolution passed by NCBA’s board of directors and requested that the ICA embed diversity, equity and inclusion into its strategic plan.
Mr O’Brien’s message to colleagues around the world is this: “We stand ready here at NCBA CLUSA to be a partner in these conversations. We want to learn from others in the co-operative community, and we are volunteering to share the knowledge and research that the co-operative community here in the United States is doing.”
He believes DEI is a subject that will become an even more important facet in society. “Co-operative businesses need to lead on this,” he says, “and we look forward to collaborating with colleagues and co-operators across the globe.”