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Sven Eberlein
YES! Magazine / Op-Ed
Published: Saturday 23 March 2013
From now on, the global mantra for filling market gaps is going to be, “There’s a co-op for that.” But co-ops need customers, money, and training. How do we shift from business as usual to the work of cooperation?

6 Ways to Fuel the Cooperative Takeover

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In the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, businesses, products, and services that benefit people, communities, and the planet instead of a few megabanks and billionaires—have been in higher demand. The International Cooperative Alliance's recently published "Blueprint for a Cooperative Decade" lays out a long-term vision to make cooperatives not only the fastest-growing form of business but the acknowledged leader in environmental, social, and economic sustainability. From now on, the global mantra for filling market gaps and new demands, according to Eric DeLuca of the National Cooperative Business Association, is going to be, "There's a co-op for that."  But co-ops—like any kind of business—need customers, money, training, political support, and help from their communities. How do we shift from business as usual to the work of cooperation? Here are a few strategies.

1. Find Money

Where do you get the money to finance a new co-op? Traditional banks are loath to lend to co-ops, often because they are unfamiliar with them or do not trust that a cooperative business model can yield profits. But there are institutions that can help.

The National Cooperative Bank (NCB) has become a leading funder for new housing, business, and consumer cooperatives. Chartered by Congress in 1978 and privatized as a member-owned financial institution in 1982, it has provided more than $4 billion in loans and investments to co-ops all over the country—from a New York City housing co-op to an organic grocery in San Francisco to a solar project at Denver International Airport. Most recently, NCB has been working with PNC Bank in Pittsburgh to allocate $13 million in loans to local co-ops.

The nonprofit Heartland Capital Strategies Network—allied with NCB and other credit unions—is another rapidly growing source of funding for cooperatives, especially for the union co-op movement. The organization has committed billions of investment dollars to profitable projects in green construction, manufacturing, affordable housing, and transportation.

2. Convert to a Co-op

Some cooperatives get their start from traditional sole proprietorships or corporations. This can happen, for example, when a business owner wants to retire or move on and the employees buy the business.

Franklin Community Cooperative (FCC) in Greenfield, Mass., acquired McCusker's Market, in nearby Shelburne Falls, when the owner of the longstanding natural foods store was ready to retire. A third of FCC's members lived near McCusker's. The purchase allowed FCC to keep its commitment to serve downtown Greenfield while solving its space problem at its popular flagship store. All of McCusker's Market's staff were rehired and retrained, and sales went up 15 percent during the store's first year as a cooperative. Since the purchase, the cooperative has attracted many more members all over the region.

3. Hook Up With Big Partners

Bring co-op business to the mainstays of your community—hospitals, schools, government services—which are already committed to community-scale investment and the public good. It's a mutually beneficial relationship: The co-op keeps money circulating in the community; the institution provides stable demand for the co-ops services or products.

"If you can get even a small bit of a university's goods and services devoted to your co-op," says Democracy Collaborative co-founder Gar Alperovitz, "you can go to any bank, and they'll be happy to finance you, because you've got a market."

The Evergreen Cooperative Initiative, a group of local, sustainable, and worker-owned co-ops in Cleveland, is built on a strong partnership between the co-ops and local institutions—such as Cleveland Clinic, University Hospitals, and Case Western Reserve University—which have a combined annual buying power of more than $3 billion.

Ohio Cooperative Solar, another Evergreen business, is in the process of installing photovoltaics at these three institutions and has also placed nearly 700 solar panels on the city hall and library rooftops in nearby Euclid. Evergreen Cooperative Laundry (a green cleaning operation) washes bed linens for Judson Retirement and McGregor Homes, two large nursing homes in the area.

4. Be Co-op Curious

You can learn more about the business of sharing—how co-ops work, why they're important, how to support them, and how to start and manage one—from organizations across the country working to promote cooperative enterprise.

The Bay Area group Women's Action to Gain Economic Security (WAGES) was founded in the 1990s to help immigrant women form cooperative housecleaning services. Now they are creating toolkits for anyone looking to start a green cleaning co-op. "With all the emphasis on co-ops coming on the heels of the Occupy movement, we're seeing an increased interest right now," says Elena Fairley, who is working with WAGES as an AmeriCorps VISTA member.

College and university programs are also training the next generation of cooperative entrepreneurs. The Cooperative Teach-In is a nationwide initiative that has connected colleges, universities, and programs like AmeriCorps VISTA with cooperatives across rural and urban America.

The Teach-In uses creative tools to help participants learn the importance of cooperative economics. For example, the "Democracy Rating Warm-up Exercise," an interactive survey, allows participants to "rate the level of democracy in the institutions they interact with on a daily basis," and group discussions explore how the cooperative model differs from typical business models. And a fun way to gear up for a cooperative future is to play a round of Co-opoly: The Game of Cooperatives.

As interest in cooperative business has grown, some young entrepreneurs have taken it upon themselves to learn more. For example, Co-cycle is a group of 15 undergraduates who crossed the country last year on their bicycles, visiting more than 70 co-op organizations and building a network of like-minded communities. "A year ago I didn't know what a cooperative was," writes Co-cycle participant Riko Fluchel on the riders' blog. "Now, after the nine weeks of touring cooperatives across the continental United States, I know first-hand that cooperatives empower people's lives."

The Co-cycle journey is chronicled by a team of filmmakers from New York University in the forthcoming feature-length film To The Moon, which will introduce viewers to the ideas that guide cooperatives and Co-cycle—like teamwork and dedication to a new shared economy.

5. Shop Co-op

By buying from co-ops or using cooperative services, you can create local jobs, keep wealth in your community, and shop according to your values.

  • The most comprehensive directory of U.S. cooperatives is CooperateUSA.
  • You can also find your local food co-op through the Cooperative Grocer Network.
  • Looking for a co-op starting near you? The Food Co-op Initiative maintains a map of co-ops still in the organizational stage.
  • The new Data Commons Cooperative is building a "Stone Soup" directory,, created by members.

6. Make Co-op Friendly Laws

Cooperatives are often at a financial and technical disadvantage in an economy dominated by quarterly profits and shareholder returns. The United Nations recently resolved "to encourage governments and regulatory bodies to establish policies, laws, and regulations conducive to cooperative formation and growth." In 2012, the United Nations celebrated the "International Year of Cooperatives," noting that co-ops "build a better world" and "empower people."

At the federal level, supporters of cooperatives are pushing for the National Cooperative Development Act (H.R. 3677) (NCDA), which would create a national development center designed to bring federal resources to cooperative development. From loans and seed capital for start-ups to funding for technical assistance providers, passage of the NCDA would not only help level the playing field for co-ops but increase economic development and create much-needed jobs in underserved areas of the country.

A different bill would raise the cap on small business loans from another type of co-op: credit unions. Fifteen years ago, the banking industry lobbied for and obtained this cap to throttle its competition. The Credit Union Small Business Jobs Bill (S. 2231) would more than double the limit to nearly 30 percent of assets. According to the Credit Union National Association, this would enable credit unions to loan an extra $13 billion of their $300 billion lending capacity to small businesses in the first year alone, helping to create as many as 140,000 jobs.

Sven Eberlein wrote this article for How Cooperatives Are Driving the New Economy. Sven is a San Francisco-based freelance writer.

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Government in the US spends $

Government in the US spends $ 1 Trillion per year on public primary and secondary education, and each child in the nation has a right to be able to access that education. We ought to start thinking on those terms concerning ensuring that all people who wish to work have access to decent productive jobs, where the workers receive the wealth that they produce, after deducting for the material costs of production.

Cooperataives are a great way

Cooperataives are a great way to go. They are efficient and resposible to their customers, who are usually members. Credit unions are cooperatives, and mobilizing their resources to extend the cooperative principle to other businesses is a good idea. We need to get the right executives into cooperatives and create a broad-based cooperative culture. We need to combat corporate propaganda that pretends, falsely, that mega-corporations exist to benefit their customers and workers. The cooperative movement needs strong media support. Social media and independent news channels can help. How about a social media system that depends on small donations instead of advertising. Hopefully the ball can start rolling. People are fed up with being the prey that large corporations feed on.

The problem with the USA and

The problem with the USA and the world is it's filled with stupid people.
There is a technology 6 thousand years old that will fix this problem it is called

study everything on these sites - watch all the videos
cough up the money to learn TM properly & sit twice a day in silence for 20 minutes
nature will come to save us
Eat only organic food. Preferably food you have grown yourself.
If you live in the USA travel to Fairfield Iowa - see their plans
for the future of our dear world ... the light glows bright there.
Good luck !

Great article, very

Great article, very informative and down to earth. Yes, more co-ops, please!

Seems many people want to

Seems many people want to make "big corporations" out to be the root of all evil. They must feel better about themselves if they can label themselves as victims of some big bully...

What it comes down to is investment groups purchasing corporations and consumer demand for cheap foreign made products bringing down our economy. Investment companies are the ones buying century old corps, driving them into bankruptcy, and in turn, ruining workers lives because they're only interested in short-term profit.

Second is the fault of the consumer. If you are the same person that buys Chinese-made goods over American to save a buck, then you should not expect union wages! If a company can't afford to pay you what you think your worth because you are buying a competitor's foreign-made products, your company has two choices... Go out of business when their market share drops off, or lay you off and find a cheaper source of labor. How can you expect a minimum wage of $10 an hour when you don't even support your neighbors.

Cooperatives are a great way to do just that. Not only does it support products locally, it keeps the money from draining out of our economy (the main reason you have not seen a pay increase in years).



Feel better labeling

Feel better labeling themselves as victims of corporate bullies? Given the superabundance of evidence of corporate crime, greed, deceit and monopolization, the postulation doesn't hold a drop of water! As to buying Chinese-made goods over American to save a buck — two points. First, our retail outlets are flooded with cheap (and I do mean CHEAP) Chinese goods, much of which have been outsourced for manufacture by American corporations. Second, thanks to the bribing of Congress by corporate executives, corporations pay from little to no taxes. The little guy has been burdened with taking up the slack. After having been swindled by his own representatives in Congress, he hasn't the money to buy American. Make no mistake, mega-corporations are feeding on the world's population like ravenous sharks. The middle class is on the verge of being driven into extinction by these predators, to leave behind only a population whose lives will be little better than that of the slaves of Ancient Rome, the majority who once lived in medieval Europe, or the subjugated inhabitants of 20th-century Guatemala and El Salvador.

I love the idea of the

I love the idea of the cooperative instead of big business. It is time to do away with the mega businesses.
The huge multinational corporations that are based in this country should be taxed on the amount the IRS believes they are hiding offshore, and taxed at a minimum of 45% of that amount. If they don't like it, they can move out of this country. Put the word out to all others what we are doing. Perhaps some of the other countries will tax them at 50% or more. Let the US not be a tax haven, nor any other country be a tax haven. These corporations should pay their fair share of taxes no matter where in the world they settle.
This would not leave them the billions they now spend on politicians to vote as they wish instead of FOR this country. The mega fossil fuel corporations should be next on the hit list! AFTER we cut off their subsidies.

Cooperaitves should be a good

Cooperaitves should be a good way, to defend against the large corporations garnering, all of a communites business. Co-ops are more apt to pay living wages and benefits as it relates to everyones interest in a community.
They certainly fit CCaffreys' blog on 3/23/2013

ps. A link to one of

ps. A link to one of Democracy Collaborative's projects, identifying additional funding and start-up resources.

Also, does anyone know if there are current circulating petitions in support of the legislation mentioned in this article?

So, multinational

So, multinational corporations won't bring jobs back to the U.S. unless they can operate with substantial subsidies from the federal government and local communities, total freedom from regulation and taxes, total control over wages, working conditions, hiring and firing, and exemption from product liability. We want them back...why? I think many people have shied away from business ownership not only because they lack capital, but also because they don't think they have ALL the skills necessary to operate one. Part of the beauty of a cooperative model is bringing together people who do have, together, all those skills. It's a great opportunity for intergenerational collaborations as well!

Thanks for the information links! I'd like to add to this resource list the work of Dr. Gar Alperovitz, and the Democracy Collaborative, which, among other things, played a vital role in the founding of the Evergreen Cooperatives.

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