Five US co-op leaders inducted into Cooperative Hall of Fame

‘This year’s inductees represent the breadth and inclusiveness of the co-operative sector in addressing the needs of communities’

The USA’s Cooperative Development Foundation (CDF) announced this year’s Cooperative Hall of Fame inductees during a ceremony held on 3 October in Washington.

This year’s inductees were Nannie Helen Burroughs (posthumously), Unsung Hero, co-founder, Cooperative Industries of Washington, DC; Tony Bedard, CEO, Frontier Co-op; Dr Christina Clamp, educator and researcher, Southern New Hampshire University; Vernon Oakes, host, Everything Co-op; and Clifford Rosenthal, retired president and CEO, National Federation of Community Development Credit Unions (Inclusiv).

Burroughs was the co-founder of the Northeast Self Help Cooperative in 1936, an agricultural and consumer co-op in Washington, DC, later renamed Cooperative Industries. She served as president of Cooperative Industries, a role in which she developed a National Training School used by the co-op as its production and manufacturing plant to produce brooms and mattresses.

Bedard started his career with Frontier Co-op as head of operations in 1991 and became its CEO in 2003. Under his leadership, Frontier grew from $36.5m in net sales to $235.9m in 2023 and contributed more than $10m to philanthropy worldwide. One of the co-op’s flagship programmes is Well Earth, through which it has led dozens of community and business-building projects around the globe, including a recent collaboration with the U.S. Overseas Cooperative Development Council and USAID’s Cooperative Development Program. Another successful initiative implemented under his leadership is Frontier Co-op’s Breaking Down Barriers to Employment programme. To date, 20% production employees have been hired through this.

Clamp began her tenure as a professor at Southern New Hampshire University in 1981, where she created a master’s programme in community economic development designed to serve mid-career professionals and a certificate in co-operative development. Over the years, her efforts have led to the development of a farming cooperative of Somali refugees in Maine and a network of rural village-based co-operatives in Cameroon. She has authored many publications and more recently co-edited a collection of 30 essays highlighting the story of Mondragon and its ongoing influence in the United States: Humanity @ Work & Life: Global Diffusion of the Mondragon Cooperative Ecosystem Experience.

Oakes has been running the Everything Co-op radio show since 2013. During this time he has aired over 365 episodes. He began to study the co-operative business model in 1994, inspired by a limited equity housing cooperative comprised of mostly African-American women. Soon after, he became involved with the Potomac Association of Housing Cooperatives and the National Association of Housing Cooperatives (eventually becoming its president). He is also a member-owner of Columinate, a national consulting and management services cooperative, and actively participates on the development team of one of Columinate’s new business units, Common Good Management Services.

Rosenthal became involved in the co-operative sector in the ‘70s by organising and managing food co-operatives in New York City and Connecticut. He then joined the National Association of Farmworker Organizations in Washington, where he was tasked to organise a credit union to serve its members. Following this, he worked at the National Federation of Community Development Credit Unions (the Federation), first as a volunteer until he was hired as staff. While there, he pursued a two-pronged strategy to capitalise on community development credit unions by creating new channels to mobilise private investments and by expanding sources of public financing. His work led to the creation of the CDFI Fund in 1994. Another achievement was securing the regulator’s issuance of a rule allowing low-income credit unions the exclusive privilege of raising secondary capital.

“This year’s inductees represent the breadth and inclusiveness of the co-operative sector in addressing the needs of communities,” said Rich Larochelle, chair of the CDF’s board of directors. “From supporting farmers around the world through fair trade practices to helping people gain access to financial services, to affordable housing, to advancing co-op innovation and knowledge through training, research and education, these inductees have dedicated their lives to helping people and communities through co-operatives. And they all represent how co-operation among cooperatives – Principle 6 – can nurture and grow the community through their generous sharing of knowledge, financial support and philanthropy across sectors and co-operatives.”

The Cooperative Hall of Fame is housed in the offices of the National Cooperative Business Association CLUSA International in Washington, DC, where there is a permanent collection of commemorative plaques for each inductee. 

The Hall of Fame is administered by CDF while nominations are reviewed by a screening and selection committee made up of current leaders from various sectors of the US co-operative movement.