The Crossroads Cooperative Summit Just Happened! Did You Miss It?
The 11th annual Crossroads Cooperative Summit was just held last week in Indianapolis and it was a fantastic event! The theme of this year’s conference,“Cooperatives Contribute to quality of place and community,” brought businesses leaders from across Indiana together to participate in discussion at the Indiana Farm Bureau. The dialogue of the day focused on two key aspects of the cooperative business model – governance and member participation – and how these aspects enable cooperatives to remain internally strong and contribute to the growth and stability of their communities. Prominent cooperative leaders from various sectors traveled from areas including Washington, D.C., Wisconsin, and New Hampshire to deliver valuable knowledge to the group of Indiana cooperatives.
Keynote Speaker, Judy Ziewacz
President and CEO of the National Cooperative Business Association, Judy Ziewacz, presented as the summit’s keynote speaker. Her presentation focused on the trends of co-ops; where we are today and what the future may hold. Some of the most pivotal trends Ziewacz discussed were; an increase in worker co-op formation, purchasing cooperatives as a preservation of family businesses, an increased desire for ownership, and the rising trend of shelter cooperatives- which highlighted the prevalence of ROC USA, Senior housing co-ops, and Co-housing options. Additionally, a discussion around the inclusive economy related key factors: Equity, Participation, Growth, Stability, and Sustainability, to the seven cooperative principles.
Governance Panel, Marilyn Scholl & Tom Vanparis
Following Ziewacz’s presentation, a Governance panel featuring presentations from Marilyn Scholl (Manager at CDS Consulting Co-op) and Tom VanParis (CEO at Indiana Electric Cooperatives) kicked off the conversation about the importance of organizing and maintaining a successful board of directors, as well as best practices for communicating governance activities to cooperative members and employees.
Studies have shown that customers are more likely to trust the cooperative business model over conventional businesses owned by outside shareholders. Scholl’s presentation identified transparency as the driving force for customers, members, and employees to trust cooperative businesses. The more co-ops can increase transparency in our governance, the more likely consumers will be interested in voting and running for the board of directors. So how can co-ops build transparency? Best practices include informing members of their ability to vote and run for the board of directors, as determined by the co-op bylaws. If co-ops clearly communicate the qualifications and time commitment, eligible members have a greater chance of stepping forward to participate on the board.
Tom Vanparis built upon the message of transparency in governance, offering guidelines for board membership. Board membership, he explained, should reflect the membership of your cooperative- in terms of age, race, gender, education. The issue that cooperatives seem to run into regarding board representation is a lack of turnover. Without open seats to fill, it can be challenging for the board to keep up with a changing representation in membership. Discussion from the group determined active participation in leadership and generation transitions as a way to alleviate this problem. Individuals in leadership positions should dedicate time to recruiting and preparing future leaders and board members who best represent the future membership group.
Membership Panel- Frankie Morton, Jerry McGeorge
Ownership matters; and co-op members own their businesses. This makes a positive difference in daily operations, profitable growth, and the culture of the business.The membership participation panel featuring Frankie Morton (Board Chair, and Resident at Mayfield Green Housing Cooperative) and Jerry McGeorge (VP of Cooperative Affairs at Organic Valley / CROPP Cooperative) discussed how co-ops can increase involvement with the 120 million members that make up the cooperative ecosystem.
Frankie Morton’s residency at Mayfield Green offers a unique advantage for increasing membership participation. Because she lives at the property, Morton is able to relate and connect with members as both a neighbor and leader. She makes sure to plan events that will excite the community and hopefully spark an interest for members to participate in the co-op. Housing cooperatives allow residents to not only live in their unit, but also own a portion of the entire property. While many people decide to live in a housing co-op because of the typically lower cost, Morton seeks to educate her new members about the many benefits of cooperatives beyond pricing. Rather than being subject to a landlord’s discretion for rent increases, members of a housing co-op are empowered by owning part of their community. In her presentation, Morton identified how Mayfield Green Housing Cooperative encourages member participation. The three foolproof ways to get members on board, she says, are food, fellowship, and fun!
Jerry McGeorge has witnessed tremendous business growth after 20+ years with Organic Valley. The farmer-owned marketing co-op describes themselves as a “National co-op with a regional focus”, and despite the expansion of dairy farms throughout the years, the co-op remains focused on the farm families and consumers who matter most. McGeorge’s presentation addressed one of the areas in which Organic Valley is increasing membership participation- by including the dairy farmers in recent marketing campaigns (like the one featured below!)
How do you make the world’s best coffee? Organic Valley Dairy Farmer, Gerrit van Tol, opened a coffee shop in coffee capital- New York City only serving organic half & half. “Great coffee” Tol explains, “isn’t made, it’s milked!” After seeing the farmer who brings their milk from cow to table and then to coffee cup, consumers are connected to the origins of their food. Additionally, the dairy farmers are participating in their co-op beyond typical farming duties. Farmers are gaining a greater understanding of the marketing that helps them sustain their family businesses, while directly connecting with consumers.
Thank you to all of the co-ops who presented, attended, and engaged in conversation at this year’s Crossroads Cooperative Summit. The theme “Cooperatives Contribute to quality of place and community” is important for all co-ops to explore, especially given the current nature of the economy. With just 8 people owning the same wealth as half of the world’s population, the ability of cooperatives to to provide growth and stability of their communities is imperative, now more than ever.
The Crossroads Cooperative Summit is organized by the Indiana Cooperative Development Center. The Indiana Cooperative Development Center (ICDC) is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization that promotes cooperatives as a vibrant model to address the economic and social needs of Indiana’s communities.