Earlier this year, Courtney Berner, the Executive Director of the Center for Cooperatives at the University of Wisconsin, wrote an article called “Where are New Co-ops Emerging? The Changing Map of Co-op Development” for Nonprofit Quarterly. In the article, Courtney writes how Resident Owned Communities are a sector-specific strategy that is changing where new cooperatives emerge. Courtney joins today’s episode talk about the article and to provide a brief history of cooperatives.
Episode: The Changing Map of Co-op Development, with Courtney Berner of UW Center for Cooperatives
Welcome to the Ownership Matters podcast, where hosts Paul Bradley and Mike Bullard of ROC USA speak with people invested in manufactured housing and Resident Owned Communities! ROC USA has been working with resident owners in manufactured home communities since 2008, and today, Paul and Mike take a step back from the exciting work ROC USA and its member communities are doing and look at cooperatives in the United States more broadly. They welcome guest Courtney Berner, executive director of the University of Wisconsin’s Center for Cooperatives.
0:12 – Introduction to the episode and to Courtney Berner
The impetus for the conversation is an article that Courtney recently wrote for Nonprofit Quarterly. The article highlighted the Food Cooperative Initiative and ROC USA as organizations helping to change the map of cooperatives in the US. Both are sector-focused and centered on meeting specific needs and play a significant role in the rich history of American cooperatives.
2:18 – History of UW Center for Cooperatives
To kick off the interview, Courtney shares about the history of the UW Center for Cooperatives, the way cooperatives have long been ingrained in the mission of the University, and how she and her colleagues at the Center interact with UW students.
10:58 – Courtney’s recent article
Turning to the article Courtney recently wrote for Nonprofit Quarterly, Paul notes that the article includes both a history of large-scale cooperative ownership in the US and an overview of some current trends. At his request, Courtney walks through the 19th and 20th-Century history of American cooperatives, highlighting the groundbreaking role of rural electrification co-ops, the common thread of seeing co-ops as an option for meeting community needs, and much more.
17:19 – First trend in co-op development today
The first trend today that Courtney explored in both the Food Cooperative Initiative and ROC USA is a sector-focused strategy. The strength of this focus is that people with a shared need that can be met by cooperative action are energized to drive change, and they also receive the technical assistance and financial capital necessary to move forward in cooperative action.
21:30 Worker-ownership and resources
Another trend today is that of worker-ownership. To shed light on this trend, Courtney turns to her own city of Madison, WI for examples of co-ops that demonstrate how broad the model can be; she mentions Union Cab and Isthmus Engineering, among others. She also recommends resources for listeners, including three interconnected options: the Democracy at Work Institute, the US Federation of Worker Cooperatives, and Workers to Owners.
27:52 – Advice and Recap
Moving forward, Paul asks Courtney what advice she would offer co-op leaders. She explains that she wants to normalize the understanding that the work of cooperatives is hard. At the same time, though, the work matters. Co-ops serve people, and they offer tremendous value! As the episode comes to an end, Paul and Mike offer their own thoughts on the insight Courtney shared.
Check out Courtney’s recent article for Nonprofit Quarterly.
Learn more about ROC USA through our website.
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