Cooperatives: Rooted. Resilient. Ready.

The OSU CFAES Center for Cooperatives staff started off National Co-op Month with the pleasure of attending the NCBA Clusa  2023 Cooperative Impact Conference this past October in Washington D.C.

The theme this year was ‘Rooted, Resilient, Ready’ with hundreds of cooperators gathering to learn from one another, listen to presenters who are experts in their fields and speak to legislator about the cooperative difference.

Prior to the conference beginning, staff was able to attend the St. Mary’s University Cooperative Governance session. The morning was spent with more than 65 cooperators from all across the globe gathered at the National Cooperative Bank (NCB) headquarters to expand their cooperative knowledge pertaining to board governance, the cooperative model and research.

This three day educational conference spotlighted hot topics such as Artificial Intelligence and its place in cooperatives, engaging in worker cooperatives, and how to build the next generation of cooperators.

Rev. Dr. Heber M. Brown III, Founder and Executive Director Black Church Food Security Network, was a highlight of the session titled ‘Strategy to Build the Next Generation of Cooperators and Mutualists’  as he spoke on his work with black churches and helping create food banks and community gardens for their communities. Noting the grass roots effect can have a positive impact on members and engaging with the with others in the community. 

Deputy Secretary Xochitl Torres Small, Deputy Secretary of United States Agriculture, was the keynote speaker addressing the positive effect that cooperatives can have on not only the local economy but its wide reach across the United States.


Cooperators were able to ‘Hike the Hill’  where they were able to play an integral role in educating policymakers in Washington, DC on the impact cooperatives have in our communities and regions.



Cooperatives have been around for centuries and rooted in the communities in which we live and serve. Being resilient is a key factor in the cooperative model and being able to adapt as the economy changes. As we look forward to the ever changing landscape and adapt, as cooperators we need to be ready to lead and change.


Planning for the Future and Preserving Your Business

With 2.9 million business owners aged over 55+ in the United States, where does that leave the future of the business when it’s time to think about retirement?

Worker-owned cooperatives could be the solution! This alternative business model that can preserve the business and legacy for future generations. Employees owning the business can be a way to increase current employee engagement while rooting the business deeper into the community.

According to Project Equity, “When successful businesses become employee-owned, they create high quality jobs, increase worker voice, and facilitate asset building for employee-owners—all while boosting business survival rates and keeping local economies strong”.

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Transitions to worker-owned business can seem overwhelming, but resources are out there to help guide you along the way. Project Equity is a national organization that has many resources available online. In Ohio, Evergreen Cooperative is a great local resource to help guide individuals through the process and transition.

September, the CFAES Center for Cooperatives is focusing on worker-owned cooperatives by showcasing Casa Nueva in Athens, hosting a day at Casa to learn more about the worker owned business. Later in the month, Project Equity will be hosting a free “Selling to your Workers” webinar to those interested in learning more about the process.

Cooperative Governance; Where do you stand?

Over the past 6 months there has been a common theme to questions, and it boils down to one word, participation. How can we get people involved, how can we get people to engage, how do we get others to join? This isn’t only in the cooperative world but in all organizations; personal and professional.
Participation is defined as “to take part in” or “to have a part or share in something”. For cooperatives, participation is a large part of being a member. Either an expectation of using the services of the cooperative, utilizing the resources that accompany the cooperative or reaching a certain quota or goods sold to the cooperatives. All these are dependent on the cooperative by the structure of their bylaws and policies.

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Cooperatives are as unique as people, one cooperative is not the same as another, or the saying of “If you’ve seen one co-op, you’ve seen one co-op.” This holds true for cooperative board of directors. Participating in a cooperative as an individual is difference as representing your cooperative as a director. Directors are elected by the members of the cooperative to represent them, to uphold the cooperative mission and values set forth and to keep the cooperative members informed.

Cooperative board directors have several duties and responsibilities that members have entrusted them with such as the welfare of the co-op, hiring and evaluation the management of the cooperative, setting goals for the cooperative and overseeing the financial health of the cooperative. They aren’t the individual that is in the daily operation role of the cooperative. That responsibility goes to the general manager of the cooperative, the person the board of directors entrusted to run the daily operations. While cooperative board of directors can look similar to those from 20 or 30 years ago, today’s boards need to have a more active role in the cooperative to ensure the longevity of the cooperative is successful and effective.

As stated on the University of Wisconsin, Center for Cooperatives website, the Center released their findings from the Cooperative Governance Research Initiative (CGRI) that was conducted in 2021. As stated in the CGRI report, “Democratic member control is cooperatives’ superpower and Achilles heel. Decades of research has found that strong governance is essential for cooperatives to thrive. Yet cooperatives have lacked the robust data that is needed to benchmark, reflect upon, and improve their governance practices.” The reason for the research was to help understand and improve cooperative governance so cooperative members, directors, developers and interested parties had knowledge to compare to. Those that participate in the survey were from all across the cooperative sector. The Centers website states that the “results of the survey show that one-third of board members tenure of serving on the board is 10 years or more, whereas 36% have 3-9 years’ experience and 34% have less than 3 years. While two-thirds of board members are serving less than 9 years, efficient and effective boards need to always have a plan for succession and ways to recruit new board members.”

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Part of being a board director is to recognize the need for board trainings, and educational development for not only members but the directors themselves. USDA released in 2002, the ‘Circle of Responsibilities for Co-op Boards‘ and are as follows; 1. Represent members 2. Establish cooperative policies 3. Hire and supervise management 4. Oversee acquisition and preservation of cooperative assets 5. Preserve the cooperative character of the organization 6. Assess the cooperative’s performance 7. Inform members.

As a cooperative director, how do you stack up against the circles of responsibility? As a cooperative member, how can you get involved or engaged? Educational trainings are offered by various organizations and in multiple formats that make is more accessible to attend while maintaining a busy professional or personal workload.

3rd Biennial Ohio Co-op Law Conference a Success

During the month of January, attorneys, co-op developers and co-op minded individuals gathered in Columbus for the 3rd Biennial Ohio Co-op Law Conference. This two day event held a wide variety of co-op law related sessions with topics ranging from employment law and worker co-ops to experts speaking on housing cooperatives with nearly 40 in attendance.

Keynote speaker, Doug O’Brien, President and CEO of NCBA CLUSA, spoke to attendees on ‘Cooperatives for the Modern Era’. Doug touched on the current role that cooperatives have in todays society and how cooperatives could be more relevant in the future with the economy. All which addressing how getting involved can help bring more awareness to cooperatives, whether it be at a state, local or federal level working on policy or working one on one with cooperative groups to bring awareness and education.

On day two, Nathan Schneider, Professor of Media, Communication and Information at University of Colorado Boulder spoke on the future of cooperatives and the 21st century. Nathan discussed how individuals need to be an advocate for cooperatives and to be aware of the gaps that we see in society.

Professor Ariana Levinson, University of Louisville,  spoke on the topic of worker co-ops and employment law discussing the legal structure that can distinguish the worker owners from the employees and breaking down some of the legal structure that is in place for classification. While panelists’ spoke on how the legal community has helped navigate and support the development of cooperatives around the area.

Those in attendance were able to engage with one another throughout the event networking and bringing relative issues to the forefront to be discussed. Coming from across the country, representatives from Texas, Connecticut, Wisconsin and Tennessee gathered together to learn more on defining the cooperative legal structure and how to guide cooperatives with resources.

With plans to meet again in 2025, organizers are already meeting to create another engaging conference. Stay tuned and hope to see you at the next conference!

3rd Biennial Cooperative Law Conference

Have you heard about the 3rd Biennial Cooperative Law Conference? With the last conference being held in 2020 in virtual format, we are happy to come back together and hold this event as an in-person conference packed with great speakers and informative sessions. This two day event will be held on January 24-25, 2023 at the Nationwide & Ohio Farm Bureau 4-H Center located on The Ohio State University campus in Columbus, Ohio. The conference focus being “Cooperative for the Modern Era”, participants will hear from leading experts in the cooperative field by attending workshops, panel discussions and keynote sessions discussing the tools that cooperatives need to help in the growth of a resilient, and just of a local economy. Networking time is scheduled throughout the day for individuals to connect with others to create and foster cooperative relationships.

For more information and details and how to register for this event, click here.

Who should attend?

Whether you are based in the legal sector, cooperative sector, or interested in the cooperative business model, this conference will offer informative education for all. Encouraging not only those within the state of Ohio, but those in the region to participate! This experience will show how professionals can spark the movement to empower community based initiatives to be the power to change through cooperatives and social enterprise while building relationships through our network.

Keynote Speaker

Keynote speaker Nathan Schneider will be featured on day two, presenting on the topic “21 century cooperatives: multistakeholder, platform, and DAO cooperatives – what’s new? (future of coops)”. Nathan is an associate professor with the University of Colorado Boulder with his studies in religion, technology and democracy has recently focused on democracy ownership and technology. In 2020, Nathan published, “Exit to Community: A Community Primer“, which focuses on how companies can readjust their business model to offer ownership to those within the company to create a community of stakeholders.

Nathan Schneider

This conference is being organized by attorney Jacqueline Radebaugh and several cooperators. Thank you to the following sponsors and all those involved for making this event happen!



Hope to see you all in Columbus!