If you only pay attention to mainstream media, you’re likely to miss it, but powerful change is taking root all over the world (yes, even in America!). Fueled by young and old alike, this change in consciousness is helping communities move beyond the stagnant economics of capitalism toward a more inclusive, equitable alternative: the cooperative economy.
When someone mentions cooperatives, I almost always thing of the local food co-op. For many, this is the most salient example of worker cooperative: members are both customers and owners, and often volunteer their time and skills to maintain the cycle of benefits, which include cheaper prices, and a say in how the co-op is run.
But the cooperative economy is much more than food co-ops. The cooperative economy asks: what if we applied this model to everything, not just the bulk buying of healthy produce?
“While comparable in scope and economic impact to for-profit businesses, co-ops are fundamentally different from them. Their values and economic relationships between managers, workers and communities are not driven by the obligation to deliver enormous wealth to top managers and distant shareholders,” writes Frank Joyce for Alternet.
In a time when many citizens feel completely disenfranchised, tossed aside in favor of special interests with deep pockets, reclaiming the economic through cooperatives is a revolutionary act. Want to get in on the action? Check out the events below. Each is aimed at training a new generation of “cooperators” to create a world where people and planet are paramount.
5 Fun Events to Grow the Cooperative Economy in 2014
The European Forum on Social Entrepreneurship – March 20 – 23 in Plovdiv, Bulgaria
Now in its third year, this European forum features an international conference, a roundtable discussion and a European Fair. In 2013, participants included 90 social enterprises and cooperatives from Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Italy, Malta, Norway, Poland, Romania and Serbia, with approximately 30,000 visitors. This year, the European Forum on Social Entrepreneurship is organized by the National Union of Worker Producers Cooperatives, the Bulgarian Agency for Disabled People and CECOP, the European Commission and the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy.
Northeast Student Cooperative Convergence 2014 – March 28 – 30 in Amherst, Massachusetts
The Northeast Student Cooperative Convergence aims to bring together students (broadly defined – lifelong learners welcome) involved/interested in co-ops, social and economic justice to learn from and about each other, share skills, experiences, struggles, successes and food and to strategize to support one another in the upcoming year and beyond. Tickets offered on a sliding scale $25-100, with some scholarships available. More at www.facebook.com/northeastcoops.
2014 National Worker Cooperative Conference – May 30 – June 1 in Chicago, Illinois
Attendees of this event will enjoy 3 days of building the democratic ownership economy. Worker cooperators, allies, developers, funders, financiers, visionaries and public figures will sit side by side, sharing best practices, identifying (and shaping) emerging trends, forming relationships with allied organizations, businesses and economic developers, and just generally having a blast while building a liberatory economy! This conference only happens once every two years, so this is your chance. Tickets range from $115 – $325.
2014 National Center for Employee Ownership Conference – April 8 – 10 in Atlanta, Georgia
Billed as America’s premiere gathering on employee ownership, this conference provides an ideal opportunity to learn, network, and share your knowledge with others. Over 1,000 attendees from across the U.S. and around the world will be on hand to engage with each other through interactive sessions, presentations by leading experts, and peer discussion. In addition to general sessions featuring leaders in the cooperative economy, there are almost 90 breakout sessions exploring a variety of critical issues and discussing emerging trends. From practical case studies and management tips to technical, financial and legal topics, it’s a flexible format that allows you to create the conference you need. Tickets range from $105 – $670 depending on time of registration.
3rd International Conference on Participatory Budgeting – September 25 – 28 in the San Francisco Bay Area
Cooperative models aren’t only for the private sector–they can be infused into our methods of governance as well. Participatory budgeting is a democratic process where community members directly decide how to spend a budget, whether it’s for an organization or an entire community. This conference will provide a space for participants and organizers of the initial participatory budgeting processes in the U.S. and Canada to share and reflect on their experiences, alongside activists, practitioners and scholars. Ticket prices not yet announced, sign up for PBP’s e-newsletter to receive regular conference updates.
2014 International Summit of Cooperatives – October 6 – 9 in Quebec, Canada
The International Summit of Cooperatives is a biennial gathering where leaders of cooperative and mutualist enterprises get together to discuss their concerns about the current and future business challenges they all share. Participants have the opportunity to learn about solutions for addressing the development and performance challenges facing managers, be part of a formal network of decision-makers and managers from the largest cooperative and mutualist enterprises around the world, and create a sphere of economic and political influence that strengthens and promotes the cooperative movement. Tickets range from $900 – $1,500 with some discounts available.
Photo Credits: Thinkstock
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