Four co-operators to be honoured in US Cooperative Hall of Fame 2021

The Hall of Fame inductees are Vern Dosch, Andrew Reicher, Clark Arrington and Karen Zimbelman

Four leaders from tech, housing, finance and retail have been added to the US Co-operative Development Foundation’s Hall of Fame for 2021 for their outstanding contribution to the co-operative movement.

The following inductees will be honoured in an event on 7 October at the National Press Club in Washington DC:

Vern Dosch, tech leader and champion for rural America

Following roles at Capital Electric Cooperative, Basin Electric Power Cooperative and North Central Data Cooperative (NCDC), Mr Dosch became CEO of software company National Information Solutions Co-operative(NISC) in 2002. For the next 18 years, he led NISC in providing IT services to utility and telecommunication co-ops across the US and Canada, helping to bridge the digital divide in the US and supporting the economic expansion of rural America.

During his time at NISC, its workforce grew to over 1,400 people, and the company has been named among ComputerWorld’s Best Places to Work in IT every year for the past 17 years. 

In 2015, Mr Dosch published Wired Differently: How to Spark Better Results with a Cooperative Business Model, Servant Leadership and Shared Values, which has since been developed into a class delivered at the University of Mary in his home city of Bismarck, North Dakota. The proceeds of the book go towards a support fund for NISC employees. 

Mr Dosch spent last year, the first year of his retirement, leading North Dakota’s coronavirus contact tracing programme, including the development of the Care-19 app and the state’s university student testing strategy.

CDF said: “A steadfast voice for co-operatives and the communities they serve, Vern’s servant leadership, collaborative spirit, vision, and persistence has enabled utility and telecom cooperatives to benefit from powerful information technology and has positioned them for a thriving future.”

Andrew Reicher, housing co-operator and leader 

Mr Reicher became executive director of New York City’s Urban Homesteading Assistance Board (UHAB) in 1981, where he led the organisation in its mission to empower low-income residents to create housing co-ops and strong tenant associations.

During his time with UHAB, the number of low-income resident-owned housing co-ops in New York City has swelled from several dozen to over 1,300 buildings, serving more than 30,000 households, making the city home to the biggest community of shared-equity housing co-ops in the US.

Mr Reicher founded a network of co-operative housing practitioners in 2015 named The Sixth Principle Coalition. Founded on the principle of “co-operation among co-operatives”, the coalition brought together over 165,000 units of housing, 40 organizations, and more than 100 practitioners across the U.S.

CDF describe him as a “quiet, self-effacing hero”, adding: “Because of Andy’s selfless dedication, constant innovation, and high achievement, low-income housing co-operatives in New York City exist and thrive. Strongly rooted in the communities he serves, Andy’s insight, experience, and tireless efforts have had a lasting and profound impact on the lives of thousands.”

Clark Arrington, co-operative finance pioneer and educator 

Mr Arrington has served as chair, general counsel and capital co-ordinator for Fairtrade worker co-op Equal Exchange, as well as serving on the boards of the Industrial Cooperative Association (ICA Group), the Social Venture Network, and the Cooperative Fund of New England.

He developed the idea of offering non-voting equity shares to the public during his time with Equal Exchange, which, along with other worker co-ops, had been grappling with the challenge of needing a way to raise capital without risking worker control of the business. 

During his time providing legal service to the ICA Group, Mr Arrington supported the development of model bylaws around the use of internal capital accounts that are now drawn on by worker co-ops across the US.  

He now works to develop non-extractive equity and debt financing with community wealth co-op Seed Commons as well as advising colleagues at the Working World Director’s Committee on co-operatives. 

Mr Arrington had also spent his career teaching others about co-operatives, business law, and community economic development at universities across the US and the world. 

CDF describes him as a “trailblazer in co-operative finance”, saying: “Clark’s bold vision, reliable pragmatism, and tireless efforts are key to promoting and developing innovative financing structures that are sensitive to the co-operative principles of member ownership, control and benefit.”

Karen Zimbelman, innovator in local, regional, and national co-operative enterprise

Ms Zimbelman worked at North Coast Co-op, National Cooperative Business Association, Rochdale Institute and National Co+op Grocers, before becoming a co-operative consultant. 

She served as executive director for Cooperative Grocers’ Information Network (CGIN) between 1997 and 2007, helping it to become a vital resource for consumer co-ops and a facilitator of co-operation between small and large food co-ops. During this time, she wrote How to Start a Food Co-op, a manual that later became the basis for the Food Co-op Initiative’s Guide to Starting a Food Co-op

Ms Zimbelman contributed her experience as founding executive director of two regional co-operative grocer’s associations to the development of a national food co-op association, which led to the formation of the business services co-operative National Co+op Grocers.

The CDF said her “accessible voice and unyielding commitment to the co-operative way has served to guide the success of co-operatives that span sectors including consumer, housing, worker, and credit unions,” adding, Karen’s sincerity, intensity, and zeal for the co-operative way is evident in the way she builds and protects the integrity of co-operatives.”

Speaking about the Hall of Fame’s four new additions, CDF’s chair, Rich Larochelle, said: “The spirit of co-operatives is truly reflected in this year’s Hall of Fame inductees. Their dedication to advancing the co-operative business model as a tool to build democracy, more resilient communities, and a more inclusive economy has led to lasting achievements that have strengthened co-ops and improved lives.”