As part of Co-op Week—an annual series of networking and thought leadership events held during the first week of May—members of the NCBA CLUSA Board of Directors and distinguished guests on Wednesday heard from experts at the forefront of the inclusive economy movement and learned how co-ops can better address the nation’s most critical economic challenges.
From the US Partnership on Mobility from Poverty, Executive Director Nisha Patel spoke on the changing labor market and the importance of worker ownership, a space where co-ops are increasingly seen as a policy solution. Richard Eidlin, Vice President of Policy and Co-founder of the America Sustainable Business Council noted that the organization is working closely with Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) on legislation to support a strong middles class, with co-ops as a key policy tool with support from NCBA CLUSA.
“We think worker ownership is a great strategy to form a strong middle class,” Eidlin said.
In addition to the middle class, Dr. Charles Fluharty, president of the the University of Iowa's Rural Policy Research Institute noted the unique position of co-ops to address the challenge of rural poverty—specifically, the role of electric co-ops in expanding access to broadband.
“Broadband is the most essential inclusive strategy of modern times,” Fluharty said, adding that the work being done by electric co-ops in that space was critical.
In addition to their economic contributions, co-ops and local ownership strategies are building a sense of connection, culture and optimism.
“Material poverty is critical, but so is ‘hope poverty,’” Fluharty said.
Collective investing—bringing together public funds, philanthropy, local communities and private investment—is one strategy to address these issues, Fluharty noted. “You are uniquely positioned in the co-op world to unite these areas,” he said.
Each of the speakers affirmed the role that cooperatives can and already are playing in the inclusive economy. Read more about how co-ops contribute to the inclusive economy here.