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Catalyzing worker co-ops & the solidarity economy

Co-op Leaders Seek to Reconnect with Movement’s Social Justice Roots

Puusa, in conversation with US co-op scholar Jessica Gordon Nembhard, notes that co-ops have a “dual nature.” While credit unions and rural electric co-ops are nonprofits, most co-ops are for-profit businesses. Regardless of tax status, however, co-ops, like nonprofits, must balance margin and mission. “When times were better, cooperatives did learn to be efficient,” Puusa noted. “But I think that [profit-making] mode may have been left on a little too much,” leading to a decline in community engagement as a result.

For her part, Gordon Nembhard reflected that “some focus more on the business model and don’t focus on mutuality. Others focus more on the mutuality and democratic participation and don’t always have the business model strong enough.”

Both Gordon Nembhard and Puusa emphasized the vital role of education in stripping away narratives that naturalize capitalism as the only form of economic organization. As Gordon Nembhard put it, cooperatives are “strongest when people realize we don’t need capitalism. We don’t have to feel like only an exploitative system benefits—or can deliver—for us.”

A decade ago, it would have been unlikely to hear capitalism even mentioned at an NCBA conference. But the COVID economy and the growing movement against anti-Black racism have changed the tenor of the discussion significantly.

Read the rest at Nonprofit Quarterly


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