Blueprint for Cooperative Decade Inspires Action Beyond IYC

The International Year of Cooperatives may have just ended, but the Cooperative Decade (2011-2020) has only just begun. As Dame Pauline Green, President of the International Co-operative Alliance,...

The International Year of Cooperatives may have just ended, but the Cooperative Decade (2011-2020) has only just begun. As Dame Pauline Green, President of the International Co-operative Alliance, observed during the Co-operatives United event in Manchester, UK in late October, “This international year has seen the global cooperative movement come together in a way which was previously unimaginable. Now our challenge is to build on this hard work in a way which garners results. We now are in a position to cement our business model and markets worldwide.” Toward that end, a new Blueprint for a Cooperative Decade was unveiled, marking the beginning of a worldwide campaign to take the cooperative way of doing business to a new level.

The “2020 Challenge,” which lies at the heart of the Blueprint, calls for cooperatives in 10 years to become:

  • the acknowledged leader in economic, social and environmental sustainability;
  • the business model preferred by people; and
  • the fastest-growing form of enterprise

Specifically, the Blueprint aims to:

    1. Elevate participation within membership and governance to a new level.
    2. Position cooperatives as builders of sustainability.
    3. Build the cooperative message and secure the cooperative identity.
    4. Ensure supportive legal frameworks for cooperative growth.
    5. Secure reliable cooperative capital while guaranteeing member control.

For our part here in the United States, NCBA is committed to continuing our efforts to raise the profile of cooperatives across industry sectors, while spreading the good news about the significant contribution made by co-ops to the US economy. We’re excited to announce that early in 2013, we’ll be hosting a webinar to explore what a “Cooperative Decade” might look like in this country.

As we prepare to respond to the Blueprint’s 2020 Challenge, let us remember to tout the cooperative contribution to job creation in America: together, our cooperatives support a combined 2.1 million full-time jobs and pay more than $74 billion in wages. Americans spend $650 billion at co-ops each year, while our organizations serve a combined 100 million members. In addition, the co-op business model has proven to be a particularly resilient and effective tool for creating local jobs and sustaining wealth in local communities.

Consider the National Cooperative Grocers Association, whose affiliates operate retail stores in 35 states. NCGA estimates that its member grocers have generated a total local economic impact of nearly $2 billion (exceeding the impact of conventional grocers by $346 million). NCGA and its members are also making a difference in worker compensation, by providing average hourly wages that are $.70 higher than at conventional grocers—while featuring benefit packages that are often as much as 25% more valuable to workers.

In the northeast, the Cooperative Fund of New England has generated tremendous impact by connecting social investors with cooperative enterprises. Since 1975, CFNE has lent out over $26 million in more than 600 loans to 360 entities, resulting in the creation of over 7,800 jobs. Demand for CFNE’s services has been great, particularly during the recent economic downturn, as conventional banks stopped lending to startups, small businesses and cooperatives. Of the organizations CFNE has loaned to, 75% are still in business, while the loan repayment rate on money issued by CFNE stands at an impressive 99%.

The International Year of Cooperatives gave NCBA and our members an unprecedented platform for advocacy. Never before has the cooperative community been so engaged in advocating for cooperative policy at the local, state and federal level. We need to continue that trend into 2013 and beyond.

One encouraging development: throughout 2012, co-ops around the country joined together with other cooperatives to form regional networks, finding ways to work together across cooperative sectors to raise awareness of the magic of the co-op business model. If you belong to a co-op that hasn’t yet joined a regional network, now may be the perfect time to reach out to other co-ops in your area to begin discussing possibilities.

At the same time, we need to do what we’re good at— engaging at the grassroots level —to develop an appreciation about cooperatives among all of our elected representatives. Get to know your legislators. Invite them to visit your co-op, talk to them about the co-op principles and how your co-op adds value to the community. Establish a working relationship with at least one staff person in your Senate and Congressional offices. Exercise your civic rights. Make your voices heard.

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