Often the biggest challenge that comes with establishing a noble ideal is actually making it happen. How do you truly and effectively put theory into practice? How do you take a broad, lofty goal and break it down into specific, achievable, pragmatic policy?
It’s a challenge for any individual or organization, and cooperatives are no exception. If anything, the challenge may be greater within a cooperative context, corresponding to the high standards that exist within the cooperative movement itself.
Look at the cooperative values, for example:
Cooperatives are based on the values of self-help, self-responsibility, democracy, equality, equity, and solidarity. In the tradition of their founders, cooperative members believe in the ethical values of honesty, openness, social responsibility, and caring for others.
In addition to its values, the cooperative movement also operates under a set of seven principles that ensure individual cooperatives will adhere to those values and put them into practice. These seven principles include Voluntary and Open Membership; Democratic Member Control; Member Economic Participation; Autonomy and Independence; Education, Training, and Information; Cooperation Among Cooperatives; and Concern for Community.
Sound good? Certainly. But does it sound easy?
Imagine running a successful, profitable business that must adhere to ideals such as democracy, equality, solidarity, honesty, social and environmental responsibility, and cooperation—all the while competing against a sea of similar businesses that may not limit themselves by adhering to such high standards at all. How would you even define the various terms? What, for example, does “solidarity” mean in the context of selling food? How would your terminology inform your decision-making? And perhaps most importantly, if you were the steward of a business operating according to the cooperative movement’s values and principles, what would your long-range vision be?
Enter the Co-op Board of Directors.
Every spring, members elect candidates to the Co-op’s Board of Directors—angroup of visionaries charged with setting goals and providing guidance for the organization. As just one task among many that make up that process, the Board spent years developing and crafting the language for the Co-op’s “Ends”—a long-range vision can be summarized as the various end results that the Co-op strives to create in the world.
The Ends are organized into two parts: a Global Ends statement, or overriding concept, and a subsequent Ends policy that takes that statement and breaks it down into practical sub-sets and outcomes. The entire process grew out of a navigational need that the Board had identified through interactions with Co-op members—a dynamic that former Board member Mike Yacavone once described as a need to set guardrails along the road that the Co-op would be traveling on in the years ahead.
“As the organization grew over the years, members naturally asked us to do more and more things,” Yacavone once explained to me. “The Board needed a North Star, if you will, to guide our decisions. We tackled that in several rounds in order to think about in the broadest sense—meaning in the multi-decade sense—what the purpose of the organization should be.”
That purpose is summed up by the Co-op’s Global Ends statement:
The Hanover Consumer Cooperative Society exists to provide cooperative commerce for the greater good of our members and community.
The goals of the Co-op’s Global Ends statement are similar to the goals of the Co-op’s multiple bottom lines, including social, financial, and environmental responsibility. The Co-op is not just a food store, in other words, but a service organization providing for the many people of the communities that it serves.
Want to help keep your co-op on track? Vote! The Board of Directors election is going on now. Vote at mycoopvote.com now through April 30.
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