Archive for the ‘Cooperativism’ Category

Continuing the mashup theme of reposting readings that are too good to lose track of:   I checked out some of the resources on the Northwest Cooperative Development Center site to study up on producer cooperatives.  Ideally, you start with a few producers to establish what it will be.  I started reading the USDA’s “Vital Steps: A cooperative feasibility study guide” from their website and it had a section requoted from another guide that is too good to not share.  Cut & Pasted below: my source: http://nwcdc.coop/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/Vital-Steps-A-Co-op-Feas-Study-Guide1.pdf

“Creating ‘Co-op Fever’: A Rural Developer’s Guide to  Creating Cooperatives” (see references or http://www  .rurdev.usda.gov/rbs/pub/sr54/sr54.htm), author Bill Patrie mentions the following five characteristics of a  “project champion” who provides strong leadership:

  1. Credibility
  2. Financial stability
  3. Basic knowledge of the industry
  4. Willingness to accept the servant leadership  role
  5. A developer, not a promoter

Patrie defines these five characteristics (verbatim)  as follows:

1. Credibility  —Is the individual personally credible in his/her neighborhood? They need not be the  biggest farmer or the most active in commodity associations, but they must be respected for their judgment.  Avoid individuals who have tried every new idea that  has come around and are suckers for anything new. I look for people who finish what they start and can  take a long-term view.

2. Financial Stability  —Is the individual capable of  keeping his/her house in order? Producers who have failed before (especially if they have gone through personal bankruptcy) usually lack the credibility with  other producers and lenders to lead the project. They must be able to devote time away from their personal business to help develop the cooperative. This criterion is extremely limiting because many producers lack the time it takes to do the work without jeopardizing  their individual operations. I once worked with a cooperative whose interim board chair wanted to use  organizational funds to buy clothes. Her argument was that she would make a better impression on investors if she could afford to dress well.  [SM – sounds like Sarah Palin!]

3. Basic Knowledge of the Industry  —Is the individual familiar with the industry in a comprehensive way? Most value-added cooperatives are also vertically integrated. The project champion must have a basic understanding of the entire industry—from the first steps of production through processing to marketing to the final consumer. This is a tall order and can’t be  easily filled. The “Madison Principles”  are critical at  this stage of leadership selection.  Often, producers become enamored of a manufacturing technology or an available building and want  to quickly close the deal to own the facility or the  equipment. A true project champion must lead the  group through a market analysis prior to analyzing  processing facility and equipment needs. If an individual can’t be found who has this basic understanding of  the industry, then I look for a person who is willing to  learn.

4. Willingness To Accept the Servant Leadership Role  —The project champion is often uncompensated.  They will frequently be criticized, often unfairly, and sometimes insulted. Thin-skinned or quick-tempered  people often do not last in the pressure-cooker environment of creating a new cooperative enterprise. I  look for a project champion who has balance in her/his  life. They must have patience, people skills, a good  ense of humor, and a sense of what is ridiculous.

5. A Developer, Not a Promoter  —This is development work, not promotion. Promotion may get column inches in the local paper and a 30-second spot on the 6  o’clock news, but it won’t build a financially viable  company. While enthusiasm is important, it can’t replace critical common sense and solid business judgment.

These five attributes are important in a “project  champion” or leader of a cooperative development project

You can find a copy of The Madison Principles here. They seem to be what makes for a good cooperative. More commonly folks refer to the Rochdale principles, which are about what makes a cooperative.

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Reading the Equal Exchange Blog I learned they have a member who is getting a masters in cooperative (and credit union) management. It’s an online program through St Mary’s University of Halifax, Nova Scotia. According to their Spring 2009 newsletter “It is the only Master’s degree in co-operative management offered in English by an internationally accredited business school.” I’ll speculate Mondragon University may offer a degree but in Spanish.

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