Check out this informative Webinar with Jake Schlachter from Food Co-op Initiative and Peter Frank from Kensington Food Cooperative and Philadelphia Area Cooperative Alliance. They discuss several features of the platform, including event management, comprehensive member communication and tracking, and website development.
Please enjoy this webinar hosted by Margaret M. Bau - a Cooperative Development Specialist
Below, find an outline of Margaret's steps to start a member initiated cooperative business
How To Start A Member Initated Co-op
A Member Initiated Cooperative is dreamed up and explored by future members
The Honesdale-based Clean Energy Cooperative Inc. has been awarded a Renewable Energy for America Program (REAP) grant from the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) to improve the solar output of downtown Honesdale. The Cooperage building on Main Street will soon join at least four other downtown businesses to have solar panels arrayed on their roofs and providing their electricity. Earlier solar installations were able to take advantage of PA State incentives to help with the large upfront costs. With those gone, the Co-op was formed last year with a goal to pull together local investment and establish a Power Purchase Agreement business model. This business model, when applied to solar is better known as ‘solar panel leasing;’ it will allow more local community buildings to enjoy the benefits of clean energy production, with zero up-front cost.
The REAP grant, for up to $17,830, will be used toward the construction of the Co-op’s first community-scale solar system. The work on the Cooperage roof to install the 90 solar photovoltaic (PV) panels should start later this month. The installation is expected to be complete and the array fully operating by the end of December. Upon completion, the Cooperage Project, a not-for profit community organization and primary tenant of the Cooperage building, will purchase the generated electricity from the Co-op.
“Investing locally in clean, renewable energy brings many positive long-term benefits, both financially and in other ways, such as less air and water pollution, a lower carbon footprint, greater local economic resiliency and energy independence. With the Clean Energy Co-op, our members have decided to invest directly in our community and in its future.” says Jack Barnett, local resident and president of the organization.
The Clean Energy Co-op is a for-profit community-owned cooperative organization, in which its members plan local projects and may decide to invest for a long-term modest return. The Co-op is already looking for suggestions for more local clean energy projects, solar or otherwise, that align with its mission. That mission is to sustainably develop renewable energy resources for a healthy and just energy future for our community, using local investment and providing positive returns to its members. Visit www.CleanEnergy.Coop for more information and to keep up with all the Co-op’s projects and activities. Co-op membership is open to anyone with similar interests for a one-time $100 fee for individuals.
Join us in congratulating the Philadelphia Area Cooperative Alliance! They have received a $25,000 grant from the USDA to study the feasibility of forming a Purchasing Co-op to serve local food co-ops and local producers. Keystone Development Center will be conducting the Feasibility study and assisting with business planning.
Read the full article here!
Save the date, and please promote and forward!
A Walking Tour of Philadelphia's Solidarity Economy -
Sunday, November 15, 10am-2:30pm, at the Satellite Café:
701 S 50th St (50th & Baltimore), in Philadelphia.
We will be visiting 8-10 enterprises that exemplify an empathy-based economy, delivering social justice, environmental sustainability, and inclusive prosperity for all. Come with your questions and prepare to be inspired!
Our tour guide will be the irrepressible Esteban Kelly. Esteban is the Co-Executive Director for the US Federation of Worker Cooperatives, and is an important leader and creative force in solidarity economy and co-op movements. He has served on numerous boards including the USFWC, the US Solidarity Economy Network, the National Cooperative Business Association (NCBA-CLUSA), and the Cooperative Development Foundation (CDF). He is a co-founder and current board President of the cross-sector Philadelphia Area Cooperative Alliance (PACA), and recently worked at the New Economy Coalition as Development Director and then Staff Director. Esteban is a mayoral appointee to the Philadelphia Food Policy Advisory Council, following eight years as a worker-owner at Mariposa Food Co-op institutionalizing its staff collective and expanding food access in West Philly.
Our tour is co-sponsored by the Keystone Co-op Development Center, a non-profit corporation dedicated to providing technical and research assistance to groups who wish to organize as cooperatives. Keystone's mission is to sustain communities, economies, and resources through cooperatively owned businesses, and has served Pennsylvania, Maryland, New Jersey and Delaware since 1999. Visit us at: http://kdc.coop
--> Please RSVP by Nov. 10th to Jim Johnson (firstname.lastname@example.org), and tell us how many will be in your party. Drop-ins are welcome, but we want to get some sense of how many people to expect. Also tell us if you need a ride or can offer a ride, and where you'll be coming from.
WEATHER PERMITTING: On Nov. 11th we will make a judgment call on the weather and send you notice of confirmation, or postponement if necessary.
Think warm and dry thoughts!
And please forward this on!
Our Draft Itinerary:
10am-11am: Convene at 701 S 50th St (50th & Baltimore), in Philadelphia.
We will congregate in the little outdoor garden area in front of the Satellite Café at 50th & Baltimore. The Satellite is not a full brunch sit down place, but they have bagels and wraps and coffee and smoothies. For those seeking a full restaurant or diner breakfast, there are a few of those places within a block of the meet up location. Cedar Park café is a greasy spoon, which is also on Baltimore Ave between 49th & Satellite, just a few doors down from the Satellite. A block further east, on the corner of 48th & Baltimore is the Gold Standard, which has vegan breakfast options and organic/ free range menu things.
11am: Our first visit will be a quick walk through the building that houses Satellite Café, including Firehouse Bikes and the co-working space on the top floor. We can use bathrooms up there, and do some intros while we're comfortable and indoors, before venturing out again.
Then we walk to 6-8 more stops - enough time at each stop for 8-10 questions and a little discussion with co-op members/staffers,
2:30~pm: Lunch at the Win Win Coffee Bar at 9th & Spring Garden, for locally sourced food and drinks, and to support Philly's newest worker co-op!
KDC: Describe your role and responsibilities
JJ: I'm a freelance co-op developer, currently contracted with KDC for 20 hours a week. I'm interested in all types of co-ops, but I specialize in worker co-ops - helping to start them, helping people convert conventional companies into them, and helping existing ones get stronger. I also have significant experience in the food co-op sector.
KDC: What attracted you to the cooperative model?
JJ: I have to start by crediting my parents, who instilled in me two fundamental passions: small business and social justice. For me, these two ideas have always gone together and always complemented each other. So when I struck out on my own, naturally I found my first circle of friends in my local food co-op, the Common Market FC in Annapolis, MD, in 1978. The community that surrounded that co-op led me to many more influences that guide me to this day.
In 1980 those influences led me to a community of activists in the Washington, DC, area, where I became deeply involved in many altruistic and ambitious volunteer endeavors, and also established myself as a freelancer in a series of technical fields, over the following 17 years. Focusing on sustainable enterprises was the most strategic way for me to apply my skills and experience. I started out doing tech support at the Takoma Park-Silver Spring Food Co-op (TPSS), but quickly became involved in their expansion plans, managing the transition to a point-of-sale system with the design committee for the new store. TPSS also sent me to the national food co-op conference to learn more about FC IT systems, and it was there that I first saw the incredible potential of co-ops helping co-ops. I ended up serving five years on the TPSS board, including two as president.
KDC: What is your background and how did you come to be in your current position?
My work with TPSS attracted the attention of Sligo Computer Services, a small local software company that was seeking to convert to a formal democratic ownership structure. I started working full-time at Sligo in 1999 and also co-facilitated their conversion to a worker co-op, serving a total of ten years there, including three as president.
My work with Sligo led me to network with other worker-coops, and also to the CooperationWorks! developer training, where I met Peggy, Kate, and a nationwide network of co-op developers who remain colleagues to this day. My networking also brought me an increasing number of calls from people seeking help in starting worker co-ops.
In 2009 I was one of ten people who came together from around the US to form the Democracy at Work Network, a technical assistance service comprised of experienced worker-owners, as a project of the US Federation of Worker Cooperatives. In that year I also took a sabbatical from my worker co-op and returned to freelancing, so I could devote more time to the ever-increasing number of requests for worker co-op technical assistance.
And for the last six years, that's what I've been doing, and I'm now busier than ever!
KDC: What do you see as future opportunities and trends?
JJ: The financial crisis has generated an incredible amount of interest in co-ops - but if the economy gets better for a while, how many people will remain interested? I like to ask my fellow developers, "Are we in a bubble, or a paradigm shift?" Most of the people I ask say they don't know yet.
If this trend is a bubble, after the burst the opportunity will be similar to the 80s and 90s - the hard-core co-op people will draw together, conserve resources, and tighten up practices. If it's a paradigm shift, the opportunity and challenge will be to meet the ever-rising demand for co-op information and technical assistance, which will require us to radically re-think how we deliver technical assistance, and maybe even how we develop co-ops in the first place. Then again, if we radically re-think our approaches now, we might transform a would-be bubble into a paradigm shift.
KDC: What do you see as the biggest challenges?
JJ: Immigrant advocacy and urban economic development activists have discovered co-ops, and they might be another force that tips us into a paradigm shift. But they often come to the table with a charity mentality, and little or no first-hand co-op or business experience. The charity mentality is essentially the opposite of the "old school" co-op development approach that I see myself, KDC and many of the more established co-op development centers belonging to, in which the people who need the co-op are the leaders of it, from the very beginning.
We need to embrace this new wave of non-profit colleagues, and the communities they champion, and the perspectives they bring. We also need to ensure that they don't unintentionally erase or ignore the long and esteemed history of co-op development in the US and around the world, and the very hard lessons that our predecessors have learned over many decades.
KDC: What keeps you inspired?
JJ: Most people would agree that economic democracy, and especially workplace democracy, are very good ideas. But there are very few well-known examples around, and very few people who know how to make it all work, and many people who don't know that it's even possible. If we can prove the model in a way that many people notice, many good changes could result, quickly, from a relatively small investment of energy.
On a more personal note, there's a special thing that happens to most people when they become member-owners in democratically-governed small businesses. They start thinking more globally, they become savvier in economics, politics, and social dynamics, and they develop a greater sense of what makes the world work and not work. Co-ops inspire people to become better citizens and more worldly thinkers. Watching people undergo that transition, and helping them through it, is by far the most amazing thing I've ever experienced, and I want to keep having that experience as much as possible.
The Keystone Development Center was recently informed that it had received a $200,000 grant from the United States Department of Agriculture’s Rural Cooperative Development Grant Program (RCDG) for the calendar year 2016. The primary objective of the RCDG program is to improve the economic condition of rural areas by assisting individuals or entities in the startup, expansion or operational improvement of rural cooperatives and other business entities. Agriculture Under Secretary Lisa Mensah today awarded 30 grants totaling $5.8 million to help rural cooperatives create jobs and support business expansion. The funds are being provided through the Rural Cooperative Development Grant program, which helps fund non-profit groups, such as rural cooperative development centers and higher education institutions.
"The cooperative business model has been very successful in improving the economies of our rural communities,” Mensah said. "As we celebrate October as National Cooperative Month, we are pleased to bring a spotlight to these worthy groups.”
Development Centers can use RCDG funds for feasibility studies, strategic planning, leadership and operations training, and business plan development. As part of this grant program, recipients are required to contribute matching funds that equal 25 percent of total project costs. USDA is providing grants for 30 projects in 22 states. View the projects awarded. Funding is contingent upon the recipients meeting the terms of their grant agreement.
American culture has established a storied folklore around taxi drivers, but most Americans are not aware of just how difficult a taxi driver's life has become. For example, in Montgomery County, Maryland, most taxi drivers pay around $33,000 a year in various fees - leasing the taxi alone can cost $110 per day. Since these drivers are not protected by labor laws, some taxi company owners net millions of dollars per year while the drivers must work 12-14 hours per day, 6-7 days a week, just to make ends meet.
Into this story of hardship have come a number of new taxi co-ops in cities like Madison WI, New York, Portland OR, Denver, San Diego, Austin, and Alexandria VA. Often organized with the help of labor unions such as Communications Workers of America, most take a shared-services approach for their independent owner-operators, empowering members to bypass the middleman in their vehicle purchases, insurance, dispatch services, branding, marketing, and more.
The AFL-CIO has been assisting taxi drivers in Montgomery County, MD, for a number of years now, helping them form the Montgomery County Driver's Union to reform taxi regulations and provide some relief to the drivers. With the added market pressure from new app-driven ride-sharing services such as Uber and Lyft, this year that process has also hatched a vision for a new taxi co-op. Thus AFL-CIO Beth Levie reached out to KDC staff consultant Jim Johnson for assistance in establishing feasibility and training the drivers in co-operative governance.
The start-up co-op needed the County Council to grant licenses before it can operate, and had strong initial support from some Councilmembers, but getting the majority on board proved to be very tough going. It was then that, in developing a strategic vision for the co-op, its members and allies identified a large, untapped demand in the County for quality taxi service for people with disabilities, and committed to 100% of its cabs being wheelchair-accessible. While Beth Levie rallied the local advocates of people with disabilities, Jim Johnson developed a preliminary feasibility study, and co-op leaders vigorously recruited their fellow drivers to educate Councilmembers.
On July 22nd, as part of broader taxi reform legislation, the Montgomery County Council voted unanimously to allocate 50 licenses to the new co-op. Jim Johnson is now busily assisting the co-op's driver-members in writing bylaws, developing leadership, and raising capital.
Developers preparing feasibility studies and business plans often use a survey to gather quantitative and qualitative data. Surveys are helpful for other applications too. For example, a Center might want to understand client needs for strategic planning purposes. One of the most effective tools to do this is a survey. Taking the time to do it right will pay off with reliable responses.
Online surveys are being used with increasing frequency and commercial software such as Survey Monkey or Survey Gizmo are available. These make fielding a survey much easier with pre-formatted question types and example questions. Even with helpful software, designing a successful survey still requires thoughtful development. This Developer’s Corner focuses on tips for survey design.
A survey can fail to achieve a good response rate or produce worthless data for several reasons. The following are our top 10 hints for good surveys.
Make it short.
We all know this rule but more times than not when asked to review a survey, it is too long. Resist the urge to add too many questions. For an online survey, try for 10 questions. A survey that is too long will either discourage someone from starting or they will drop out part way through.
Look at each question with your final report in mind. Only include questions that directly shed light on what you want to learn. If the question seems like a minor contribution to the learning, leave it out.
Be sure to remove questions that require the respondent to have immediate access to specific information not readily available. Warn the respondent beforehand if they need specific information if the question is critical to your goals. Take out any questions that a respondent may not be willing to answer unless the information is absolutely crucial to what you need to know. For example, if knowing income is not critical, don’t ask about it.
Name it carefully.
This seems like a small hint, but the name of the survey should be catchy and inviting. What appears in the tagline or in the subject line of an email soliciting respondents and can be a “make it or break it” phrase for the person deciding whether to spend the time responding. Grab their interest quickly. If you are aiming at respondents from a specific geography, put that in the title. Thus Warren County Local Food Survey is better as title than Food Cooperative Survey.
Provide clear motivation
Provide clear motivation on the “why” of the survey. Use short sentences and concise language.
Bad: This survey delves into the need for a local food cooperative to advance the local food system. We are a group of concerned citizens who want to expand access to local foods through a cooperatively owned grocery store.
Better: We need your opinion on the local food system in Warren County. Your answers will help us understand the gaps in local food access. One of our goals is to open a cooperatively owned grocery store. We are trying to understand if this is a good thing to do.
Order the questions carefully.
Start with the interesting questions that will attract interest. Put the simple questions upfront. Put personal questions like age or income which are more likely to discourage a response toward the end. Also, put open-ended questions toward the end. Get as much information as you can with easy to answer questions and put those requiring the respondent to write something later in the survey. That way you obtain some info before the respondent decides the time is up and opts out.
Stick to simple wording
Your respondents will likely have a wide range of education and reading ability. Make your questions concise both for the respondent’s understanding and to keep the response rate up. A good question should be short and straightforward.
Bad: What is the frequency of your trips to your primary grocery store in an average week?
Better: How many times a week do you usually shop for groceries?
Also avoid concepts that require too much background information for the respondent to easily answer. In addition, avoid questions that require too much recall.
Bad: In the past two years, how many times did you and/or your family members travel outside your community to grocery shop?
Better: In the past month, how many times did you drive over 5 miles to grocery shop?
Watch out for double negatives. They make the question difficult to understand.
Bad: My local grocery store is not failing my needs.
Better: My local grocery store meets my needs.
Be specific in the wording of your question to focus the information gathered.
Bad: Do you like your current grocery store?
Better: What do you like about your current grocery store? (Then provide a list)
In addition, voicing questions in the third person can be less threatening. Compare these two questions:
How do your colleagues feel about the current management decisions?
How do you feel about the current management decisions?
Structure the question to be singular.
Be careful that your question only asks about one thing. Look at each question to be sure you have focused on only one concept.
Bad: Availability of local and organic produce determines where I shop for groceries.
Better: Availability of local produce determines where I shop for groceries.
Better: Organic produce availability determines where I shop for groceries.
Bad: How organized and interesting was the speaker?
Better: How organized was the speaker? (provide a ranking from which to choose)
Better: Was the speaker interesting?
Cover all the answers
The response alternatives should be exhaustive and mutually exclusive.
Bad: How many times do you shop for groceries in an average week?
a) 1 b) 2 c) 3 d) 4 e) 5 or more
Better: How many times do you shop for groceries in an average week?
a) 0 b) 1 c) 2 d) 3 e) 4 f) 5 or more
Keep your bias out
Writing survey questions that bias respondents or leads them toward one answer violates a survey’s objectivity and biases the answers you get. Keeping the tone of your survey balanced and even-handed will ensure that you get people’s “true” attitudes instead of what they think you want to hear. This will help you make the right decisions, and alert you when you have a problem.
Bad: How awesome do you think a food cooperative would be in Sommersville?
Better: Do you think Sommersville needs a new grocery store?
Bad: Would you shop at a food cooperative if it offers quality food at lower prices?
Better: What would a food cooperative need to offer for you to shop there? (provide list)
Limit open-ended questions.
Open-ended questions will often ask more from your respondent than she or he is willing to give. Plus they make analysis much more difficult. What do you do with 600 written answers? You will spend a lot of time sorting them into categories for a summary. With that said, giving the respondent who has something more to say a place to do that is important.
Do a Pretest.
First develop your survey, and then choose a few people to fill it out. This pretest will highlight questions that are problematic or incomplete. It will also tell you if you are getting the appropriate data to meet your goals. Many a survey has been saved from failure by a pretest.
And remember to thank your respondent for helping.
By: Cathy A. Smith, Ph.D.
The Maryland Broadband Cooperative (MDBC) is leading efforts to build high-speed computer networks in Maryland. Their focus continues to be on under-served communities in rural Maryland. Several communities may ultimately see improved service because of new fiber optic lines that are expected to be built in neighboring areas.
KDC’s work with broadband began about 10 years ago, primarily with the Lower Shore Broadband Cooperative, a cooperative that served a limited geography. MDBC was formed a few years before the Lower Shore group discontinued operations. They worked closely with Lower Shore to offer services to their members. MDBC is a Non-Profit (501C12) charged with offering, through its membership, expanded network services around the state.
It is a member-owned and operated business providing universal access to a fiber optic network. The network is designed to deliver broadband across the rural communities in Maryland. The cooperative fosters economic development and is supported by its’ members who provide “last mile services”. The MDBC received funding to build the infrastructure through the Maryland Rural Broadband Coordination Board. Their mission is to expand the broadband footprint all across Maryland and the Mid-Atlantic Region.
The presence of a fiber optic network in a region or community can be a driver for economic growth and jobs. It is an enabling resource that, if successfully utilized, attracts new employment opportunities and contribute towards improved health care, education and government services.
The MDBC is positioned to work with local communities and other partners to develop the full economic potential of this high-technology network. Through a regional approach, local businesses and government work together to exploit the high-speed network. The cooperative is in partnership with over 90 members with a majority of members offering last mile services to consumers. Last mile services are the final leg of the network ending at the customer’s location.
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