One way out of this mess: cooperatives

Dynamics of Learning Math

What business category owns $3 trillion in assets, generates $500 billion in annual revenue and $25 billion in annual wages? Answer: cooperatives. The University of Wisconsin Center for Cooperatives’ 2-year study of the Economic Impact of Cooperatives shows:

Nearly 30,000 U.S. cooperatives operate at 73,000 places of business throughout the U.S. These cooperatives own >$3T in assets, and generate >$500B in revenue and >$25B in wages. Extrapolating from the sample to the entire population, the study estimates that cooperatives account for nearly $654B in revenue, >2M jobs, $75B in wages and benefits paid, and a total of $133.5B in value-added income.

Americans hold 350M memberships in cooperatives which generate nearly $79B in total impact from patronage refunds and dividends. Nearly 340M of these memberships are in consumer cooperatives.

Cooperatives are formed by members to serve needs that aren’t being met elsewhere, and because they are member owned, operated and governed, this model is uniquely designed to be adaptable and flexible. The New York Times article, Uniting Around Food to Save an Ailing Town, reports that cooperatives are reviving Hardwick, Vermont and created around 75 to 100 jobs in the last few years. The effect of the cooperative spirit radiates outward and is transforming this community. The Vermont Food Venture Center expected to assist 15 – 20 entrepreneurs last year. Fledgling enterprises with community support have dramatically increased odds of success.

Watching the economy morph into something unrecognizable, now is the time to re-think our approach brick-by-brick. The cooperative business model offers opportunities to enrich and comfort the lives of ordinary people. By looking at the whole system, we step away from our customary measurement of dollars and cents, and instead look at what we have to give, and what we need to live well. Two inter-related areas, housing and our social infrastructure, are ripe for a cooperative approach.

The financial collapse, housing crisis and high unemployment is prompting families to combine households in droves. For those with no family nearby, or if combining households with a biological family is less than ideal, sharing a house with non-familial members may be a welcome alternative.

Our social disconnect is unhealthy. Many who live alone, unless they exert considerable effort to get out and interact, often live in relative isolation. At the same time, parents often work long hours and their children are on their own until they get home from work. For some parents, the hours between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. are among their most anxious. This happens in all economic groups. A friend, living in the tony suburb of Lake Forest, Illinois, was the only at-home parent in her entire cul-de-sac. The movies Ordinary People and Ferris Buehler’s Day Off vividly illustrate the dysfunction of wealthy families. Providing latch key children a safe friendly home, with homemade cookies and milk, and a wise and interested listener is, in MasterCard’s parlance, priceless. The need is so fundamental, and the benefit so genuine, it cannot be measured financially. Literally thousands of trustworthy people would be honored and enriched by participating in a child’s life.

Neighborhood cooperative diners have the potential to solve many problems at once. Providing nourishing, economical food and creating jobs are givens. A missing element in many neighborhoods is a place to interact with others. Neighborhood diners, the space where people casually connect with others in a safe, friendly, affordable environment could also be the social fulcrum for healthy communities.

For more info: New Community Vision is working to spawn a movement to think about our social and housing paradigms in a new context. Community gatherings to address our universal challenges are the fertile soil in which durable solutions take root. Please subscribe to this blog and contact us for more information.

Photo credit: Cooperative Learning

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