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Putting Principle Six in action makes co-ops thrive

US -The sixth cooperative principle (Cooperation amongst cooperatives) provides cooperatives a crucial advantage, enabling them to work together on joint projects, lower costs and exchange knowledge.

This is the case at the National Co+operative Grocers (NCG), a business services cooperative for retail cooperative grocery stores located throughout the United States.

As a secondary level cooperative with purchasing cooperative functions, NCG aggregates volume among its 147 retail food cooperatives to deliver lower costs or improved access to each member cooperative.

Guided by the philosophy of “stronger together”, NCG’s mission is to provide the capacity of a chain while maintaining the autonomy of each individual cooperative. Beyond acting as a purchasing cooperative, NCG actively works to facilitate a strong system of peer support among its member co-ops which makes them more resilient to individual and macro-market events.

NCG also offers training and educational resources through its online learning management system and thousands of consumer-facing brand assets for marketing and promoting its members’ operations. It also publishes annual reports, explaining industry trends and issues frequent communications to keep all audiences apprised and engaged.

“The fact that we are a cooperative permits us to punch above our weight. For instance, in our 16 years of operations, we have never been engaged in a single lawsuit as a result of our practices. In addition, our 147 member cooperatives are willing to guarantee each other’s payables for core purchases and participate in our self-managed system to mitigate and manage that risk,” said Karen Zimbelman, Senior Director of Membership and Cooperative Relations.

NCG also offers legislative and regulatory advocacy on behalf of its member cooperatives, and operates a consumer-facing website as well as a broad suite of consumer-facing informational materials. It conducts regular extensive national consumer research on behalf of its member cooperatives to keep its branding and messaging relevant.

Owned by their local communities, the cooperative members are passionate about local collaboration for positive change. NCG collectively donated over $7.3m to local community organisations in 2020.

Food cooperatives also work individually to reduce their carbon footprint, and collaborate through NCG to reduce the negative environmental impact of their supply chain.

“NCG has accomplished more in our 16 years of operation due to the fact that we are a cooperative. Our members are cooperatives, so they understand and appreciate the idea of ‘the whole benefiting each part’ and the ‘sum is greater than its parts.’ They are familiar with the concept of ‘stronger together’ from their own operations,” said CEO C.E. Pugh.

Another cooperative that is using the power of intercooperation is Cooperativa de Software Libre in Argentina, which has 20 worker members. The cooperative is a member of the Argentine Federation of Technology, Innovation and Knowledge Worker Cooperatives (FACTTIC), through which it engages with other cooperatives.

Set up 15 years ago, the cooperative develops software for other cooperative enterprises and government organisations.

“We work exclusively with free tools and believe that in order to comply with the fourth cooperative principle of independence and autonomy, free software plays a key role,” said Leandro Monk, one of the members of Cooperativa de Software Libre.

Being part of FACTTIC has many benefits, including being able to work together with other cooperatives on joint projects. Formed in 2010, FACTTIC brings together cooperatives that operate in the technology, innovation and knowledge (ICT) industry. It also promotes the creation of new cooperatives, placing a strong emphasis on local roots and development of different capacities.

“For us, participating in FACTTIC and using its integration tools generates many advantages for each of the cooperatives participating. First and foremost, it gives us the tools required to be able to take on new projects without the need for hasty growth. On the other hand, it allows us to minimise the risk of each of these projects in the structure of our entities. We also managed to generate a business or work climate for small new partners,” said Mr Monk.

FACTTIC runs an Inter-cooperative Work Flow (FIT) through which its members develop inter-cooperative projects and are able to exchange knowledge and provide better services for clients. By doing so they also avoid outsourcing, choosing to work with other cooperatives instead.

“Encouraging intercooperation is a duty of the cooperative movement. It is not possible to be supportive alone,” concluded Mr Monk.

Source: International Cooperative Alliance (ICA)

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