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Education for Cooperative Ownership —At UC Berkeley
by Deb Goldberg Gray

In Fall 1997, I first developed and taught Education 187, “Cooperatives and Community Development:  Education for Ownership” at UC Berkeley. The course emphasizes depth of knowledge about cooperatives, coupled with tools for feasibility analysis to be applied through student projects in cooperative development. The three credit course offers hands on cooperative development experience to 30 upper level undergraduates. The course received rave reviews from students at semester’s end, and has since become a regular offering.

Education 187 is part of the School of Education’s undergraduate minor in education. Its focus on the central role of education in community development provides students with in-depth knowledge and practical experience in a a form of adult education not represented elsewhere in the curriculum. The university has contributed half of the funding necessary to cover the course, with the other half coming from local organizations associated with the cooperative movement.

The course stresses the intersection of adult education and community development: What happens when people who have spent their lives as renters or employees consider becoming owners of their housing or business? How do communities adopt strategies to take control of their own economic destiny, rather than allowing outsiders to drive their economy?

We discuss these questions, and we also talk about the importance of consumer education in influencing individuals to make purchasing decisions which ultimately benefit their community (recirculation of wealth, economic and environmental sustainabilility), rather than basing choices solely on short-term, low-cost criteria. Theory is fleshed out with many real-world examples and case studies—for instance, what is the difference in the economic and social impact of Walmart and Ace Hardware (which is a cooperative)?

The magical thing about discussing these adult education issues is that many students are experiencing their own awakening to these issues, as we discuss them in class. We draw examples from the global arena, all the way down to the college campus.

In this course, students are constantly challenged to apply classroom knowledge in a practical context; first, through rigorous case study analysis and discussion during class, and later through group feasibility projects in the community. Students participate in defining their group projects, and may choose to work within the campus community, or anywhere in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Students are guided through the project definition and feasibility process, both by the instructor and through full-class problem-solving sessions. The projects must be narrow enough in scope to permit a useful feasibility analysis during the semester; students are supported in finding links to non-profit organizations with an interest in making use of feasibility results. What typically emerges is a partnership between students and a non-profit, where the students take on a real issue of interest to the non-profit, and work together with non-profit staff to complete a feasibility study which may be later implemented by the non-profit. Students have the option to continue their work on promising feasibility projects in the community during subsequent semesters for credit, through independent study.

The assignment is for the group to research the feasibility of cooperative development to address the community issue in question. Students are asked to:

• Perform a needs assessment (community) and/or market study (business).

•Construct a model of a cooperative to address the situation.

•Analyze the current situation to assess whether a cooperative could actually go forward.

•Propose a cooperative solution OR explain why a cooperative would not succeed at this time.

Students undertook the following projects during fall, 1998:

1. East Oakland Food Co-op. East Oakland residents lack a local grocery store. Could a consumer-owned food co-op fill the void?

2. UC Berkeley Family Housing Co-op. A major rehab of the University’s Albany Village family housing is driving up rents and forcing low-income families out. Could families join in a cooperative to either buy out the existing property or develop a new housing co-op?

3. Worker Co-op Café. A.What would it take for a group of workers to purchase the coffee shop at Japantown Bowl? B.Is a worker-owned organic ice cream business feasible?

4. Campus Childcare Co-op. Can childcare options for UC Berkeley students be improved through the creation of a new childcare cooperative to serve the campus community?

5. Community Gardens Producer Cooperative. Is there an opportunity for local community gardens to earn money by jointly marketing their produce?

6. Utilities Purchasing Cooperative. Can consumers organize a cooperative to purchase their own power in the new climate of utilities deregulation?

7. Joint Services for Worker Co-ops. Work with the North Bay Association of Worker Cooperatives to determine whether it is realistic for a coalition of West Coast worker co-ops to pursue group health insurance coverage.

Education 187 builds student capacity for cooperative leadership both within the university and in the larger community. It also fosters cooperative development projects throughout the San Francisco Bay Area. Student community projects have resulted in plans to develop a youth job-training cooperative at the former Alameda Naval Base and an initiative to incorporate a food buying club distribution system into East Oakland’s Headstart Program. A feasibility study on the development of low-cost family housing for students is being used by the University Students’ Cooperative Association (which currently provides low-cost housing to over 1200 UC Berkeley students) to assess the potential for development of an affiliated cooperative in San Francisco, to house UCSF students.

In writing about the course, it is hard to convey just how exciting it is—both to teach and to attend as a student. Students express great appreciation for the hands-on approach, the up-to-date examples, and the group projects (although they initially approach the group projects with much fear, and there is always a group or two that has trouble getting it together— which I consider all part of the learning process). Many students (usually about half) arrive with no idea what they are getting into—this is not the typical UCB course. But most times, after getting over their initial panic, even newcomers to ideas of regional economies, legal ownership structures and issues of democratic participation and control, get a handle on the material and put their best into the course and the feasibility project. Ultimately, even if students will never actually do any co-op development, they are acquiring analytical and practical skills which will serve them in whatever they do. For me, the process is incredibly rewarding.

For more information on the course, its pedagogical methods and goals, and sample materials, a new report is available from the UC Davis Center for Cooperatives, entitled “Co-ops and Community Development: A College Course.” Call 530-752-2408 to order.

Deb Goldberg Gray is a cooperative development consultant and former staff member of the UC Davis Center for Cooperatives. She can be contacted at:

2220-M Sacramento St, Berkeley, CA 94702. debgoldberg@earthlink.net Phone: 510-549-3133. Fax: 510-549-3749

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