Rod Kelsay is the Executive Director of the Mid America Cooperative Council
Next year is the International Year of Cooperatives
Let’s celebrate by telling our story and maybe even starting a new co-op
Cooperatives are a critical component in today’s economy. In many parts of Illinois people are wholly dependent on cooperatives to provide their communications, power, water and other key utility services. Even in Chicago and the surrounding community, cooperatives are active in providing insurance products, home repair, furnishing and financial services.
It is because of what cooperatives mean to all mankind around the globe that the United Nations General Assembly passed Resolution 64/136 proclaiming the year 2012 as the International Year of Cooperatives. The United States is joining in the celebration.
On March 3, 2011, Senators Tim Johnson (D-SD) and Thad Cochran (R-MS) introduced Senate Resolution 87, designating the year 2012 as the International Year of Cooperatives. The resolution passed unanimously on July 21, 2011.
Cooperatives across Illinois, the U. S. and beyond are making plans to celebrate the work of co-ops in helping their communities grow and prosper. For example, electric co-ops are beginning to celebrate their 75th anniversaries.
At the Mid America Cooperative Council (MACC) we are partnering with others across many different industries to celebrate the International Year of Cooperatives.
MACC’s mission is, “To promote, foster and strengthen the values of cooperatives.” We began in 2000 when Earl Struck, past President/CEO of the Association of Illinois Electric Cooperatives and other co-op leaders from Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan and Ohio gathered to address a need for cooperative education. Specifically, MACC would target director and employee education for all cooperative sectors and would be the foundation for sustaining our cooperative culture. In 2003 MACC was formed with 60 cooperative and associate members. Today, we have 113 members and have had over 3,700 attendees to our cooperative educational programs.
Would you like to start a cooperative to meet a need in your community? We can help. MACC offers many outreach programs. Twice a year, we host seven cooperative development centers that discuss unique ways to start cooperatives. There is a cooperative development center at Western Illinois University in Macomb, and six more in Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan and Ohio.
MACC has also worked with the Midwest Organic Food Cooperative, (MOFC) based in Newton, Ill., assisting them in building a stronger membership structure and enlightening their directors on cooperative governance principles and developing a strategic plan. MOFC members are in seven states and grow a wide variety of products for direct sale or to produce organic pet and animal feed.
Having members from different industries offers MACC members the rare opportunity to see other cooperative structures. For example, there are marketing cooperatives that market milk, blueberries, grain and other products for their member owners. There are service cooperatives that provide financial products through credit unions and mutual insurance companies. There are supply cooperatives that allow member owners to buy in bulk and build economies of scale. There are unique co-ops such as hospital laundry cooperatives.
Health care, in fact, is a growing cooperative business segment. Individuals that are in need of a retirement home or skilled health care services are more interested in investing in a cooperative retirement community where they own and control the services and costs. Rural visiting nurse cooperatives that call on individuals in their home is another example.
The cooperative model is a very flexible business structure that can be adapted to meet the needs of the member owners. The services are provided at cost and the member owners have control over how the services are administered through their member elected board of directors. If there are profits after all bills are paid, they can be shared equitably among the member owners.
Can’t think of a co-op to start? Here’s an example. Let’s say a small neighborhood of mothers with young children share a common baby-sitting need. By creating a baby-sitting cooperative for their neighborhood they can share hours, help each other and cooperatively have a richer life.
I can think of no better way of celebrating 2012 as the International Year of Cooperatives than to tell your cooperative’s story or to start a cooperative of your own with others co-op leaders.
Rod Kelsay is the Executive Director of the Mid America Cooperative Council. MACC is focusing on education and outreach to all cooperatives in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and Ohio.