Debating the big issues for the US co-operative movement

A gathering of US co-operatives discussed how to address two major strategic issues for the movement at the International Summit of Cooperatives. The session was organised by NCBA CLUSA...

A gathering of US co-operatives discussed how to address two major strategic issues for the movement at the International Summit of Cooperatives.

The session was organised by NCBA CLUSA (National Cooperative Business Association – Cooperative League of the USA), the representative body for co-ops in the US. It built on a meeting at the organisation’s annual conference in September, at which members debated how they could implement the International Co-operative Alliance’s Blueprint for a Co-operative Decade – a document that sets out a strategy to make co-operatives the fastest growing business model in the world by 2020.

“The Blueprint for a Co-operative Decade has been a great framework,” said Michael Beall, NCBA CLUSA chief executive. “We’ve been using it to start to frame NCBA’s strategic plan.”

The focus of the discussion was on two areas NCBA CLUSA identifies as critical for co-operatives in the United States: the legislative frameworks within which co-operatives operate; and co-operative education.



The legislation regulating co-operatives varies across the fifty states, and many co-operatives are unable to incorporate as co-operatives because legal forms are not in place. Cornelius Blanding of the Federation of Southern Cooperatives explained that “in the South we see co-ops registering as non-profits”, something which is a problem not only because it has implications for how co-operatives distribute surpluses, but also because “when they dissolve, the assets go to another non-profit rather than the community, which is important for wealth creation”.

Esteban Lance Kelly of the New Economy Coalition cited the example of a new worker co-operative in California. Like other co-operatives in the state, it was forced to register as a consumer co-operative because there is currently no legislation in place for incorporating as a worker co-operative.

The question of how to address the inconsistent legislative framework was the focus of discussions, with broad agreement that a two-pronged strategy was required: a bottom-up approach within each state aimed at addressing legislative hurdles; and pressure to create favourable legislation at the federal level by NCBA CLUSA. “Finding a fifty state approach I think is vital” said Michael Beall.

It was suggested that a useful tool for addressing this would be an audit of existing legislation – its strengths and weaknesses – which would be made available to co-operative and community organisers at a local and state level.



The focus of the discussion on co-operative education was around raising awareness and understanding of co-operatives among the wider public.

Dan Arnett of Central Coop in Seattle said: “there’s a dearth of really good quality research identifying the cooperative advantage and how to demonstrate it,” adding that “if we’re going to get attention, we’re going to have to be provocative”.

The need to look beyond the co-operative movement and work closely with other allied organisations was proposed as a way to maximise the impact and reach of the movement, with the Move your Money campaign in the US – which is estimated to have resulted in more than nine million people moving their bank accounts to credit unions – cited as a good example of an effective way to raise awareness.

Mr Beall added there is scope for more co-operation among co-operatives to make the most of opportunities. Discussing the growth of grassroots community organisation around the co-operative model, such as the support co-ops are receiving in Jackson, Mississippi, from the mayor, he said: “The face needs to be broader than it’s been.

“The Jackson Rising movement needs more support from farmer and electric co-ops for example.”


  • For more updates from the 2014 International Summit of Cooperatives, click here
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