Building on last year’s theme of co-ops and democracy, CCMA 2005 focused more clearly on what is important about cooperation. “We had three keynote speakers instead of two—Gar Alperovitz, Brett Fairbairn, and Paul Hazen of NCBA—and they were fabulous,” said conference planner Ann Hoyt (of the UW Madison Urban Cooperative Initiative).
On Thursday afternoon, the first of three program days, bus tours brought CCMA attendees to the Santa Fe store and two Albuquerque stores of host co-op La Montañita, with a backdrop of striking desert and mountain landscapes.
Paul Hazen, president and CEO of National Cooperative Business Association, opened the conference by talking about putting co-op values into practice. He highlighted NCBA’s international work, which promotes grassroots cooperatives and improved co-op business practices, and reminded listeners that, “to do good, co-ops must do well.”
Brett Fairbairn, professor of history at the University of Saskatchewan, emphasized the growing recognition by businesses of multiple stakeholders. In reviewing these trends, he noted that only cooperative membership combines ownership and governance.
Gar Alperovitz, professor of political economy at the University of Maryland, discussed ways to create greater sharing of wealth at community, municipal, and state levels. In his view, traditional political solutions are no longer workable. Although problems are likely to worsen, the success of many cooperatives and other local institutions has laid the foundation for a possible American transformation.
After two months on the board, Tom Mattox of Linden Hills Cooperative (Minneapolis, Minn.) found the conference “very eye-opening, mostly because of what Gar Alperovitz talked about and his questions about what we are doing to expand economic democracy. This is really why I joined the board: How are we growing the movement of cooperation?”
Another first-year director, Sonny Eboigbe of Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op (Sacramento, Calif.) said, “The keynote speeches were very good, including the questions and answers. The greatest thing they did at the conference was to reinstill the co-op philosophy into co-op boards and staff.”
More than 425 persons—from 31 states, 89 cooperatives, and 15 supporting organizations—could choose up to five of 35 training and issue workshops. More than 115 board members attended.
The Howard Bowers Fund and the (Minnesota) Cooperative Foundation funded 43 scholarships for conference attendance. “I’ve been amazingly welcomed,” said Holly Smith, a director at H Street Cooperative (Washington, D.C.), who could not have attended without a scholarship. Her group of neighbors wants to have a storefront cooperative.
Lucas Frerichs, seven-year board member from Davis Food Co-op (Davis, Calif.) has attended six CCMA conferences. “There seems to be a need for a structure for young co-op staff and board members. In the next year some of us will work on developing a network of young cooperators.”
Beth Skinner, board president at Berkshire Co-op Market (Great Barrington, Mass.), received the first CCMA annual award recognizing outstanding contributions by a co-op board member. She said, “I was very surprised and moved. Many directors were moved and empowered by having board work recognized.”
Ann Hoyt promised that a DVD of the three keynote speakers would soon be available. She also asked that suggestions for CCMA 2006 be sent ([email protected]) and plans to email a survey to directors who attended CCMA 2005.
Sevananda Natural Foods Co-op will host the 50th annual CCMA conference on June 8–10, 2006, in Atlanta, Ga. Plan now to attend. Include CCMA in your budget. Consider sending more than one director so that you can compare notes or attend concurrent workshops.
Candace Dow has served over 15 years on the board of directors of Wedge Co-op, including 5 years as president ([email protected]).