What did Obama do for co-operatives in the White House?

Throughout his two terms as President of the United States, Barack Obama carried out a number of policies with a specific focus on co-operatives.

His ideas for healthcare reform were implemented through the passing of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), which provided the legal framework and federal loan money for establishing Consumer Oriented and Operated Plans (CO-OPs). The ACA provided a total of $2.4bn in federal loan money to help start-up organisations seeking to establish CO-OPs – although these are consumer-owned, not all of them work as co-operatives. In total there were 23 CO-OPs set up under President Obama’s ACA. However, only six on these remain active, having faced a challenging market and changes to governance rules.

Another change was the Electricity Africa Act, which states that the United States will partner and consult with governments of Sub-Saharan counties as well as international financial institutions, the private sector and co-operatives, to promote first time access to power and power services for 50 million people in Sub-Saharan Africa by 2020.

In August, President Obama also signed into law the Global Food Security Act, which aims help end global hunger, poverty and malnutrition. Co-operatives are mentioned in the act as key stakeholders engaged in efforts to advance global food security programs and objectives.

The act encourages leveraging resources and expertise through “partnerships with the private sector, farm organisations, co-operatives, civil society, faith-based organisations, and agricultural research and academic institutions”.

The law was signed during the White House Summit on Global Development, where co-ops were represented by Amy Coughenour Betancourt, chief operating officer of the National Co-operative Business Association (NCBA CLUSA).

Shortly after the Act was signed, she said: “The whole of government approach speaks to the priority this act has for tackling nutrition and food security issues. From our flagship Feed the Future Yaajeende project in Senegal to integrating nutrition-led agriculture throughout our programs, NCBA CLUSA is dedicated to alleviating hunger and supporting the agricultural sector as a key to sustainable development.”

Barack Obama was also the first USA President to hold a national briefing on co-operatives at the White House. One hundred and fifty co-operative leaders from the US and the International Co-operative Alliance attended the special session with the Obama administration to discuss the future of co-ops back in 2012.

Related: What happened when co-operatives went to the White House? [2012]

Among them was Paul Hazen, executive director of the US Overseas Cooperative Development Council (OCDC), which brings together nine organisations aiming to champion effective international co-operative development.

Speaking of the legacy of the Obama Administration, Mr Hazen said: “The Obama Administration has been very supportive of co-operatives. Domestically, they have put a focus on co-operatives in rural America. They have also supported the creation of worker co-operatives.

“It appears that the Small Business Administration will soon change a 50-year regulation and will now provide loans for food co-operatives. President Obama’s focus on food security domestically and internationally has put forward many initiatives for agricultural co-operatives.”