Co-op Development

I start a course in co-op development today: “From Workers to Owners: Steps to Start Worker Cooperatives”. It’s part the economy and part the recent press our store has gotten, but we are getting calls or emails multiple times a week from people wanting to start co-ops. In addition to the cheese buying, one of my jobs is to field those calls. It’s an online course – and not a free one — and I heard that 83 people are signed up.

I don’t want to out anyone before they are ready so I won’t name any places or details, but I talked to two incredibly different groups last week. One group of African Americans from an urban area in another state who want to do something – anything – that will help provide jobs and better health in their community. They were information gathering in general, without a specific plan of the type of model they wanted.

The other was an API ethnic group with a very specific idea of taking an existing, successful franchise model and converting it into a worker-owned version of the same thing. I don’t know that business model well, but they seemed pretty sure they could make it work.

It’s almost unfair to have people come for a tour and answer questions about our modes of operation since our blueprint for success is uncopyable. They see the result of nearly 35 years of work, starting in a totally different economy and era, with the good luck to be starting in an industry that – at that time – wasn’t an industry. I think there could be a blueprint. (The Cheeseboard/Arizmendi model is certainly a very good one) We just haven’t figured it out yet.

Historically-speaking I also speak to about 25 groups for every one that actually starts a co-op. I hope that this course – and two other Rainbow workers are taking it as well — helps provide some groundwork to increase that ratio.

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