Approaching the Summit

image of chart
Working out a plan at the Summit (above) resulted in the chart shown below.

Last June, cooperators from across the country gathered in Austin, Texas, to build a vision for future food co-op development in the U.S. The Development Summit convened on the opening day of the CCMA (Consumer Cooperative Management Association) conference. Our goals were to:

  • Create an alignment of industry resources to support and promote the growth of food co-op development in the United States.
  • Celebrate the success of food co-op development over the past 10 years. 
  • Formulate a strategy for the future of food co-op development. Where do we need to be in 10 years? What resources are needed to get there? 

We began the Summit by asking everyone to think about where co-op development could be in 10 years and how various development efforts could be coordinated. Flip charts were filled! 

With this inspiring vision, we addressed the celebration goal head-on. Chuck Snyder, CEO of the National Cooperative Bank, and Allan -Gallant, board member of the Blooming Prairie Foundation and Food Co-op Initiative, spoke of their organizations’ early commitment to new food co-ops, the tremendous surge of interest, and the maturation of support systems. 

Food Co-op Initiative (FCI), CDS Consulting Co-op (CDS CC), and the National Cooperative Grocers Association (NCGA) followed with summaries of their development work, success stories, and plans for the future. We also had a presentation on “The Cooperative,” a new concept being developed for a centralized, highly efficient co-op network.

Attendees then met in smaller groups to discuss the presentations, share ideas, and report back to the full assembly. We sought co-op development strategies and potential synergies, ways in which those strategies and development paths could be adapted to reach our 10-year vision, and evaluations of the resources that are available or needed in order to implement those strategies. This was clearly a big assignment, but we rose to the challenge. By the end of the day, we were able to draft a statement of shared vision.

Summit outcomes

Summit participants recognized clear consensus on these points:

  • There are several paths of co-op development, and all should be encouraged so long as they are aligned with cooperative principles.
  • A leadership team should be formed to carry forward the work of the Summit. 
  • Co-op development needs a stable system of funding.
  • The organizations and individuals present were already aligned on many of the issues we discussed, and additional alignment occurred as a result of the Summit.
  • The food co-op sector still has work to do to ensure that citizens, governments, schools, and businesses recognize the unique economic and social value of co-ops so that each new co-op does not have to educate to such a great extent and co-ops will be seen as an asset in economic development.
  • We need to exploit cross-sector alliances more effectively.

One discussion group was inspired to try to capture a summary of our ideas in a graphic representation of the multiple development paths, showing which organizations are involved, the resources needed and available, potential outcomes, and more. That initial graphic has been fine-tuned and expanded to become a strategic-planning tool for us.

What has happened since?

Members of FCI, CDS CC, and NCGA Development Co-op had been meeting and discussing collaborative efforts even before the Summit, and we continued our work together with new insights and motivation. Our focus has been on finding better ways for co-op organizers to understand how their vision and goals will affect future viability and their access to support services during organizing and after opening. We are seeking to clarify which services are offered by each organization and the factors that will determine who can help co-ops at each stage of development. In order to better coordinate our work, we are sharing more information with each other, including a new “Startup Tracker” with summary reports about the co-ops we have worked with and the services provided. 

The Capital Summit 2014

During our discussions, it became clear that one of the biggest issues for new and expanding co-ops is still access to capital. The first Summit focused on vision, one of the four cornerstones in our development model. Another cornerstone, capital—especially patient capital—is needed to inject equity into startups. Many organizations expressed interest in this topic during our first summit, and several projects designed to provide new capital resources are now under consideration. In addition to the capital requirements to open stores, funding is needed to provide development support for new co-ops. We realized that a second Summit, focused on capital, would be the best follow-up to address these needs. 

The Capital Summit will serve as a thinktank to identify and characterize capital needs for food co-op development and to develop strategies for accessing that capital. We will explore questions such as:

  • What motivates or prevents investment in food co-op development (from multiple sources)?
  • How can we create opportunities for people to invest in the co-op economy?
  • How can co-op development be more attractive to private investment (both specific projects and the systems for co-op development)?
  • What would it take to create a system-wide method for existing
  • co-ops to invest in co-op development?

The Summit planning team has reconvened and begun planning for the 2014 event, to be held on the opening day of the CCMA Conference in Madison, Wis., on June 12. We will be inviting representatives of the many institutions that provide financial support to co-ops, key development-support organizations, and other cooperative leaders who have shown a commitment to development. Due to limited space, we are not able to issue an open invitation, but if you have something to contribute and would like to attend, contact Food Co-op Initiative to see whether we have additional capacity. 

* Our Community Market is a proposed multi-store development concept.

See other articles from this issue: 171 March-April 2014