The Next Economy will be a Cooperative Economy

Rallying around that prediction, 400 cooperators from across the globe met earlier this month in Washington, D.C. for the 2019 Co-op IMPACT Conference. Organized by NCBA CLUSA, this year’s conference gave voice to the fact that cooperatives are well-positioned to grow in a rapidly changing economy. IMPACT attracted co-op developers, financiers, community and city leaders, innovators, economists, and policymakers. As an attendee, I found the themes shared by presenters to ring true and match my understanding of the Hanover Co-op’s strengths and its efforts to collaborate with business and civic leaders on many fronts. Primary among the conference themes explored in depth—yet in no particular order—are stories and data that demonstrate:
  • Young people are seeing how to build the economy in ways that reflect cooperative principles. The worker cooperative model has the potential to be the next boom. Icons of the business press, such as Fast Company and Forbes, are taking notice.
  • Cooperatives are “founders” of the social economy, and through their principles are the most complete model of what corporate social responsibility looks like.
  • Cooperatives working to achieve sustainable scale include: ROC USA, which supports resident ownership of manufactured home communities; and Brightly, a franchise of worker-owned cooperatives that offer eco-friendly residential and commercial cleaning services.
  • The creation of limited-equity housing cooperatives (LECs) in the District of Columbia benefits from a law called the “Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act” which provides tenants with the opportunity to purchase their residential building before any other buyer may purchase the building. (They receive the opportunity the match the third party offer). LECs reduce displacement among low-and moderate-income residents by retaining affordability even when a neighborhood is rapidly gentrifying.
  • There is an encouraging trend that shows an increasing number of the private sector businesses taking a longer view of their performance over multiple business cycles and a deeper concern for community. More of them moving beyond “green washing” to make substantial investments in sustainability initiatives. Four such companies comprise the Sustainable Food Policy Alliance.
  • Promotion of the cooperative model is a growing solution in troubled regions. It develops self-reliance and teaches democracy. It builds links between collective action and young people’s participation in local governance and decision-making, while curbing recruitment into violent extremism and gangs.
  • Scaling the cooperative businesses model is a challenging task, but necessary to expand cooperative impact and deal with the ever-widening wealth gap in the U.S.
  • This trend among domestic and multinational corporations demonstrates that support for the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals has “legs.”
  • Multinational corporations see climate change and the widening wealth gap as primary risks facing their organizations. More of them are responding positively. In doing so, they are following the lead of cooperatives. As one might expect, they are also working to grab the spotlight…
    • In his closing keynote address, Martin D. Chrisney, Senior Director at KPMG LLP, detailed a growing shift among the world’s largest companies toward the practices of cooperatives (frequently viewed as capitalism with a conscious). Mr. Chrisney encouraged attendees to do a better job sharing their sustainability story, noting that corporations are making an “extreme effort” to share theirs.
I hope this summary—though inadequate in recapping 40 sessions and the vision of 93 presenters—highlights the role cooperatives are playing in changing the world for the better.

To me, their work reflects well on cooperative history and a +for the future as shared by J.C. Gray more than a hundred years ago. In 1906, Mr. Gray gave his inaugural presidential address to the Co-operative Union of the United Kingdom. At the close of his remarks he shared his forethought (below) of the work of all cooperatives. It is, I know, an ideal that everyone at this year’s IMPACT conference is aligned with.
Then may we go forward towards the realisation of a true Co-operative State or Commonwealth, wherein justice and equity shall rule; where industry in all its forms shall receive its just reward; where homes shall be made healthy and happy; where all the comforts of life may be enjoyed by those who have earned them; and where the poor and oppressed may be uplifted and find rest, and misery and want be banished from our land.

Certainly, just one of those goals is a lot for any single cooperative to undertake, but this year’s IMPACT Conference proved that together, cooperatives are making it happen and together we are indeed—and in deed—committed to such a realization.

In cooperation,
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Allan Reetz is the Co-op's Director of Public and Government Affairs. Contact Allan at areetz at coopfoodstore dot com.