Cooperatives are owned and controlled by their members, who receive benefits in proportion to their patronage. They can provide virtually any product or service, and can be either non-profit or for-profit enterprises. Co-ops are formed by their members when the marketplace fails to provide needed goods or services at affordable prices and acceptable quality. The cooperative sector keeps dollars circulating within the local economy, provides secure employment, and is a means to revitalize and sustain healthy communities.
Credit unions are a significant sector within the cooperative movement. However, there are many others including agricultural co-ops, electrical co-ops, food co-ops, and worker co-ops. The majority of credit unions are not actively engaged with other co-ops or cooperative sectors despite the commonalities of mission and purpose. The Filene i3 team Why Coop asks why credit unions are not part of the larger cooperative movement and how to include them.
To facilitate a broader inclusion of credit unions in the cooperative movement, and to benefit all cooperatives, Why Coop is developing a collaborative website to connect cooperatives of all sectors. By creating this linkage and serving as a resource to those in the general public that are not familiar with cooperatives, the Why.coop directory will create a cooperative connector. This will allow for increased co-op to co-op business activity, along with greater awareness and growth for co-ops. The online gateway would be composed of three main sections:
- Learn: Section one would provide information about cooperatives. It would be static detail that would be a single data gathering point for those interested in cooperative.
- Find:: Section two would be a co-op connector tool. It would allow a user to find cooperatives in certain areas of the country for the purpose of collaboration.
- Succeed:: Section three would share cooperative collaboration success stories. Users will be able to learn about cross-sector collaboration efforts among cooperatives that have yielded growth and further success for all parties.
Why Coop has partnered with the National Cooperative Business Association (NCBA) on this initiative. NCBA is the lead national membership association for co-ops in all sectors of the economy. Their mission is to develop, advance, and protect cooperative enterprise. NCBA has lobbied other cooperatives and cooperative sectors and has received widespread support for the Why Coop concept.
The data behind the “Find” section is based on the largest study ever of cooperatives. It was commissioned by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). The University of Wisconsin completed the study for USDA in early 2009. It includes information on over 29,000 cooperatives. NCBA has submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to USDA in to order release the information. Initial feedback has been positive to releasing the data, but no firm date has been set.
PSCU Financial Services is developing the web based tool and database at no cost. It is a contribution to the health of the credit union movement and cooperatives. They have developed the scope document for web development and accompanying database. PSCU is also looking at how it can assist with hosting and maintenance of the site on an ongoing basis. Development of the tool with be contingent on the release of the data by USDA.
Next steps include finalizing the web site concept, obtaining the database for USDA, and website development. In addition, NCBA and Why Coop will be seeking to raise funds for the ongoing maintenance costs of the website. Questions on Why Coop can be directed to Tim Mislansky.