Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Empowerment Concept - The Hybrid Community Cooperative

Evolving the Cooperative Model: Hybrid Community Diversified Cooperative (HCDC)

Cooperative Definition (from Wikipedia)
A cooperative (also co-operative or coöperative; often referred to as a co-op or coop) is defined by the International Co-operative Alliance's Statement on the Co-operative Identity as an autonomous association of persons united voluntarily to meet their common economic, social, and cultural needs and aspirations through a jointly-owned and democratically-controlled enterprise[1]. A cooperative may also be defined as a business owned and controlled equally by the people who use its services or who work at it. Cooperative enterprises are the focus of study in the field of cooperative economics.

Cooperatives have a sponsored top-level internet domain .coop, which identifies legally registered or recognized co-operatives.

“Hybridizing” the Cooperative Model
This document begins a “Master Mind” dialog for evolving the concept of a cooperative. There is something incredibly powerful about the "cooperative". It transformed agriculture. And yet in the U.S. it has really been limited in its utilization and evolution. Also, in my opinion, it tends to have a "corporate" feel. The idea of a "hybrid" would be to adjust the concept of "one vote per member". This concept rings of democracy which may not be the ultimate form of a cooperative venture, because in "a democracy" you could have 49% of the group disgruntled. That to me is not a workable model.

An evolution of the original concept of the cooperative might be derived from Napoleon Hill’s book describing the functioning of the Master Mind (see final discussion). A process built into the Cooperative could involve assurance of 100% alignment regarding actionable efforts. The key to tapping into incredible powers would be to assure "pure" collaboration. In many historical and contemporary human endeavors small percentages of dissonant opinions and voices resulted in ultimate failure.

Determining the Scale for Regional Cooperatives

In the United States, an important foundational principle for how to re-structure to a more sustainable, rural "localized"
model, as compared to trying to compete in “global markets”, is to look at things from a larger scale. This likely the same for any location in the world. Defining a region is not necessarily constrained to pre-established geopolitical boundaries.

In fact, as was highlighted at the Rural Policy Conference of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City in 2004, the county based system has probably outlived its utility. In the U.S. counties were established in the 1700's based on how far a person could ride a horse in a day. And small communities may have been self-sustainable in those times.

However, today, a small local community can likely not survive unless they are associated with other communities in their region. This concept has been around for some time in tourism (Clair Gunn, 1970's). With Internet technologies, and networking capabilities, we can establish whole new paradigms of regional economic models. Imagine the waste of resources that are going to the county government offices – (in Texas alone there are 254 counties). Most of these government run operations are not very effective or efficient.

Building regional economies should be based on a scale that creates adequate "economies of scale". Production of all types of agricultural produce and products can occur regionally.

- regional delineation should be “organic” and based a collaborative “win-win-win-win” spirit
- only extend to larger markets, for imports and exports, when necessary
- competing in "global markets" is not necessary except where there is some special products.

A Proposed Structure for the Cooperative – three legs: Business, Social, Infrastructure

In the world today there are three primary types of organizations: business (financial), non-profit (social good) and institution/government (infrastructure and public services). Usually, these three types of organizations end up attempting to support all three of these functions within their organization, but do not succeed because the main focus of the organization does not give as much emphasis on the other activities. A balanced organization should give adequate importance to each function. For example, if infrastructural support falters, the success of the organization will be diminished. Likewise, if the “quality of life’ (social) diminishes then the whole organism suffers. Finally, if adequate financial resources are not generated and sustained, there will be a breakdown of the whole organization (community, region).

It appears that a blending of the primary functions of these three entities would make for a more efficient organization. The institution would be responsible for managing the infrastructure and the services of the Cooperative. The business would be responsible for the fiscal and financial (marketing, business development) aspects of the Cooperative and the continued monetary support/management for the other two legs of the organization. The non-profit portion of the organization would be responsible for the programs that ensure the continued vitality of the region, such as education, social and other community empowerment programs.

What if Cooperatives became the hub of distribution of locally produced products? Whatever could be made/grown locally could be distributed locally (this includes many potential cottage industry products). Also, localized “preferred” and “quality assured” services could be supported. Ever have trouble finding a good mechanic, doctor, plumber or dentist? The cooperative could provide some form of quality assurance.

A regionally oriented assessment tool to determine what products/crops could be grown in the area based on soils and historical productive capacities, with special emphasis on environmental sustainability. (the author worked with a model based from a project Winnebago Indian Nation in 1991 with the Forestry Dept. at Iowa State University)

Basic Guiding Principles
- Community (regional) Ownership of their Own Destiny
- Education is Foundational (John Hagelin)
- Regional responsibility
- Feed everyone (Norman Borlaug – Nobel Prize)
- Adequate housing (e.g. Habitat for Humanity)
- Activities for youth (Boys & Girls Clubs)
- We are our sisters and brothers “keepers” (Barak Obama)
- Empowered individuals (Desmond Green – The Practice)
- Arts (Yvette Dubel)
- Innovation in agriculture (Rwanda project)
- Environmental protection (Thomas Berry)
- Full-enriched “Quality of Life”
- Eliminating the Middle-man, and helping the region to realize those lost “profits”

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