Ralph K. Morris Foundation 15th Annual Cooperative Leadership Symposium welcomed Keynote Doug O’Brien

Doug O’Brien, NCBA CLUSA CEO was the Ralph K. Morris 15th Annual Cooperative Leadership Symposium keynote speaker on November 13. He addressed the Cooperative Network Annual Meeting attendees with a compelling presentation titled Our Cooperative Moment: Capturing Cooperative’s Potential in Today’s Economy.

He began by sketching the national co-op scene: 65,000 co-ops in US that provide two million jobs, farmer co-ops account for 55% or agriculture sales and electric co-ops power 18 million homes and businesses to highlight the value of co-ops in the US economy.

Doug said, “Today the main challenges faced in the U.S. today are socio-economic fragmentation (losing a sense of community), inequality and inequities, changing work and work security, IT, big data, and climate change.”

Co-ops are a solution to a more inclusive economy. Income isn’t enough, people need to feel like they are being treated fairly and they are thriving in a sustainable inclusive economy.

The co-ops need to create replicable models like the electric co-ops did.  The growth of co-ops can happen quickly like they did for the electrics. He reported rural electric co-ops are now bringing renewable energy to the same places they first electrified. Co-ops provide opportunity in the global market and local food systems. He discussed worker conversions asking, what if 20% of the 2.5 million small businesses in the U.S. become worker cooperatives? What if you took the local grocer and 20 main customers bought the grocery store? IT cooperatives are sprouting up in Boulder needing high risk capital to start up.

With our national debt, Legislators in Washington are looking at sectors that receive special treatment. They think cooperatives are one of those sectors and need to be schooled in understanding the business model. The only way co-ops and credit unions will weather national debt storm is to work together.