Co-ops critical to rural rebuild, Agriculture Secretary Vilsack says

Tom Vilsack 500 853f6Tom Vilsack 500 853f6Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack speaks at NRECA's Annual Meeting this month. [photo: Luis Gomez Photos]
During remarks at the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association's 2016 Annual Meeting, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack commended cooperatives for helping fuel economic recovery in rural America in partnership with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. With its Rural Cooperative Development Grant (RCDG) Program and newly-formed Interagency Working Group on Cooperatives Development—provisions advocated for by NCBA CLUSA—USDA is a strong supporter of cooperative enterprise and its positive impact nationwide.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told electric cooperative leaders “we’re headed in the right direction in rural America” and said co-ops are crucial to that progress.

“We want to make sure that production agriculture has its rightful place at the center of any rebuilt and revitalized rural economy,” Vilsack said during the February 17 closing session of the 2016 NRECA Annual Meeting.

And while stressing how vital farmers and ranchers are, Vilsack said another important piece of the puzzle is “the opportunity to bring manufacturing back to rural America—something that I know co-ops are extremely interested in and have been investing in.”

Vilsack pointed to “the bio-based economy—the ability to take what we grow and raise and convert it into far more valuable components and ingredients.”

It goes beyond renewable fuels—expanding into “chemicals, materials, fabrics and fibers” and making for “a $369 billion industry that helps to employ nearly four million people in our country, and we’re just getting started,” Vilsack said.

“It plays to the strengths of rural America and it plays to the strengths of cooperatives that provide energy and power to rural America.”

But Vilsack made clear that “we still have challenges” and cited one of the toughest: opioid and heroin abuse.

“I suspect that you know someone who’s been impacted and affected by this,” he said, noting that rural America’s mortality rates are increasing. Vilsack said an “aggressive effort” is underway with state, local, nonprofit and private industry leaders to increase awareness of the issue and expand treatment opportunities.

“The key to that will be investing in the infrastructure that will allow behavioral sciences either to be located in a particular community or be available via Internet and broadband—once again playing to the rural responsibility you all have as cooperatives,” Vilsack said.

Looking out at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center packed with co-op leaders, the secretary told them, “This is an organization that has done incredible work, and I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge the great work that’s been done by co-ops around the country in partnership with USDA.”

“As we progress as a country,” he said, “I think there will be an even greater awareness and appreciation for the importance of rural America to this country, and to the world, and to those who make it all possible: the folks who work at the cooperatives and the rural electric co-ops across the United States.”

Treasury, NCUA partner to increase opportunities for low-income credit unions

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The National Credit Union Administration (NCUA) and the U.S. Treasury Department’s Community Development Financial Institutions Fund recently signed an agreement that will streamline the application process for low-income credit unions to become certified as Community Development Financial Institutions.

Credit unions that obtain CDFI certification can access training and competitive award programs provided by the CDFI Fund, and these resources can aid these institutions’ capacity to provide underserved communities with access to safe and affordable financial services.

“This Memorandum of Understanding opens up enormous possibilities for credit unions,” NCUA Board Chairman Debbie Matz said. “By facilitating the CDFI application process and, ultimately, increasing the number of certified CDFI credit unions, we’re laying the foundation for greater access to affordable financial services and more investment in local communities. This will help credit unions better serve members and communities that have been difficult to reach, and that will help more people build wealth and more secure financial futures for themselves and their families.”

“CDFIs nationwide are making a real difference in low-income communities by providing consumers with safe and affordable financial services and by providing neighborhood businesses with access to capital,” CDFI Fund Director Annie Donovan said. “Many low-income credit unions are already performing this important work, but need more support. By partnering with NCUA to increase the number of credit unions certified as CDFIs, we will not only expand access to the CDFI Fund’s programs but also reach more unbanked and underbanked individuals.”

“We’re looking forward to helping more credit unions become certified as Community Development Financial Institutions,” said William Myers, Director of NCUA’s Office of Small Credit Union Initiatives. “We’re going to be able to help credit unions save time and money in the certification process and bring more recognition to what credit unions do so well.”

Today’s action launches a plan with the goal of doubling the number of certified CDFI credit unions by the end of 2016. Increasing the number of certified CDFI credit unions could significantly expand funding that can be used to offer financial services to underbanked low-income individuals and make investments in local businesses, affordable housing and community facilities.
There are currently 295 credit unions certified as CDFIs. The majority of these also hold NCUA’s low-income credit union designation.

NCUA is the independent federal agency created by the U.S. Congress to regulate, charter and supervise federal credit unions. At and Pocket Cents, NCUA also educates the public on consumer protection and financial literacy issues.

Nationwide grant to support CDF cooperative innovations initiatives

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The Nationwide Foundation has awarded a grant of $60,000 to the Cooperative Development Foundation (CDF) to support start-up cooperative business associations as well as general operating expenses.  

“Nationwide Insurance Foundation’s generous support allows CDF to build capacity, leverage resources and raise public awareness about cooperatives,” said CDF President Leslie Mead.  

Nationwide Foundation is an independent corporation funded by contributions from Nationwide companies. Since 2000, it has given more than $345 million to non-profit organizations. Nationwide, an NCBA CLUSA member, is based in Columbus, Ohio and is one of the largest insurance and financial services organizations in the world.

The Cooperative Development Foundation is a 501(c)(3) non-profit foundation headquartered in Washington, D.C. CDF's mission is to promote community, economic and social development through cooperative enterprises.

New app-based booking could revolutionize housecleaning worker co-ops

si se puede web eb806si se puede web eb806[A group of Si Se Puede's 65 worker-owners pose for a recent photo.]Founded in Brooklyn, New York in 2006, Si Se Puede! Women’s Cooperative brings together immigrant women to create a women-run, women-owned, eco-friendly housecleaning business that provides living wage jobs in safe environments. Now 65-members strong, Si Se Puede! has partnered with a group of researchers from Cornell Tech to plug into the digital-sharing economy. Co-operative News published this report:

In New York, a new mobile app could revolutionize business growth for worker co-ops in low-income industries.

An initiative between the housecleaning co-op Si Se Puede! (We can do it!) and a group of researchers from Cornell Tech Graduate School aims to allow them to offer home-cleaning services to a wider spectrum of clients, connecting workers to the ‘digital sharing economy’.

The Coopify app was unveiled at the Platform Cooperativism event in New York last November. Clients can easily request house cleaning through the app, which is owned by the worker-owners themselves.

Melina Diaconis, an MBA candidate who helped develop the app, said the businesses could grow and “won’t have to rely on the bottleneck of office managers for bookings." She also said that “the money is going to the worker, not the business of the Coopify platform.”

This partnership has been in the works for two years. The developers from Cornell and worker-owners from Si Se Puede! connected via Robin Hood, an organization dedicated to fighting poverty in New York.

Together, the developers and worker-owners have been collaborating to create unique features on the app such as multiple languages, ease of use—they believe ordering a house clean should be as easy as booking an Uber—and a connection with Facebook to allow people to easily spread the word.

Emma Yorra, the co-director of the cooperative development program at the Center for Family Life in Brooklyn, works with Si Se Puede! and also presented at the Platform Cooperativism event. She says Coopify should “bring a face and a sense of community to the app-based booking world.”

Coopify will be unveiled in beta form in spring 2016, before a full release in the autumn.

Pachamama coffee chosen in blind tasting to serve at TED Conference

pacha logo web f1230pacha logo web f1230NCBA CLUSA member and global cooperative Pachamama Coffee—the only U.S. coffee brand 100 percent owned by smallholder farmers—is partnering with the flagship conference behind the popular TED Talks. Pachamama's Yirgacheffe Gedeb, a single-origin coffee from Ethiopia, was selected by a panel of experts in a blind tasting to serve at this week's TED2016: Dream, a conference to stimulate conversations and innovation around technology, entertainment and design meeting in Vancouver, British Columbia. Pachamama is honored by the selection, which marks the first time that TED has partnered with cooperative coffee farmers.

“Coffee offerings at TED are curated internationally by a panel of experts, so it is a great honor and a validation that we are creating value for Pachamama's farmer-owners,” said Thaleon Tremain, co-founder and CEO of Pachamama.  

In addition to its coffee being served during the week-long conference, Pachamama’s Manager of Cafe Operations Cruz Conrad will attend the event as a guest barista. Conrad is among a group of baristas who are serving the world's finest coffees throughout the conference.

Mollie Moisan, Pachamama’s Director of Cooperative Development, said the theme of this year's conference, TED2016: DREAM, is a perfect fit for Pachamama. “We’re representing the dreams of Pachamama’s 142,000 small farmers from five countries," Moisan said. “Showcasing our farmers' best organic coffee and selling direct to consumers and retailers in the U.S. brings more revenue back into the hands of those who’ve worked so hard to take care of their farms. Specialty coffee depends on the success of small, often remote, coffee farmers.”

Established in 2006, Pachamama Coffee Cooperative opened its first brick and mortar location in Midtown Sacramento in 2012. Now, with its own roaster thanks to a successful crowdfunding campaign, Pachamama is the only coffee company in the U.S. 100 percent cooperatively owned by coffee farmers around the world.

Pachamama's certified organic coffees are available at many co-op grocers nationwide. Pachamama's Ethiopian Coffee earned a score of 93 from Coffee Review, setting the bar for not just ethics, but also for well-respected premium coffee.


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