Education in Cooperatives
A commitment to ongoing self-education and education of others was one of the critical elements of success in the modern cooperative movement launched by the Rochdale Pioneers and is also the Fifth Principle in the International Statement of Cooperative Identity . Cooperators are expected to pursue the knowledge necessary to keep their businesses healthy.
Starting a Cooperative
To start a co-op often requires that many if not all members climb a significant learning curve. In addition to learning how to launch and maintain a business, perhaps including floating loans, negotiating property agreements, meeting strict regulations, and keeping scrupulous books, they must also learn how to do this as an effective group of owners. Cooperative development practitioners have experience helping groups through this process. They also consult with partnering local community and business development specialists, and they hold an annual training for co-op development practitioners. Their national network is called CooperationWorks!.
Once a co-op is up and running, there will be a person or persons responsible for keeping up with innovations, regulations, risks, and opportunities that could affect their co-op. These people may include active members, hired managers, and elected directors. CooperationWorks! centers (see above) offer a broad range of board and management training programs and other support products and services, often tailored to the specific group.
Training programs and educational opportunities are offered by the US Federation of Worker Cooperatives and numerous local and regional associations of worker co-ops, by the National Cooperative Grocers Association, the National Association of Housing Cooperatives, and the North American Students of Cooperation to name a few.
Cooperatives in Universities
Most formal educational offerings to cooperative directors or managers offer a certificate to show the person has taken a course or courses that teach the history of cooperatives, the stages of co-op development, marketing the co-op difference, or board leadership training. Notable among these are University of Southern New Hampshire’s CED program . The Center for Cooperatives at University of Wisconsin-Madison conducts research and holds conferences and other events for cooperators. Recently, several colleges and universities in the US have begun to offer courses in cooperative economics:
- UMass Cooperative Enterprise Collaborative: http://www.umasscec.org/
- Boston College New Economics Summer Institute: http://www.bc.edu/schools/cas/sociology/neweconomics/
There are few post-graduate educational options from accredited universities that look at every single aspect of business management and ask, ‘How does a co-op do this differently?’ One exception is the international Master of Management, Co-operatives and Credit Unions . The distance-based program was designed by and for cooperatives ‘from scratch’ and has been highly praised by its international alumni, 25% of whom manage US co-ops (see online Profiles of graduates and faculty).