Food for Thought: Part III

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Written by Elizabeth L. Carter of Urban Cooperative Enterprise Legal Center

In its attempt to create its first cooperative in a place where the term “cooperative” is vaguely understood, the Urban Cooperative Enterprise Legal Center (UCELC) launched its Cooperative Academy. After conducting various presentations on cooperative enterprises, it made sense to create a structured educational platform, such as a Cooperative Academy, that promotes cooperative enterprises, equips participants with tools for starting a cooperative, and provides a structured collaborative environment for participants to come together as a unit.

A Cooperative Academy is an effective way to introduce the cooperative business model to interested parties where it allows for active learning, practical exercises, and collaboration that prepare participants to become a cohesive unit. Creating the format of the Academy is the first step. Thereafter, an appropriate curriculum can be formed. The format and curriculum of a Cooperative Academy varies. For instance, the Cooperative Academy of Green Workers Cooperatives in Bronx, New York is a five (5) month long training and support program focused on worker cooperatives that aspire to make positive environmental impacts.[1] Worcester Roots in Massachusetts has a ten (10) week Academy that provides entrepreneurial training and mentorship to a variety of sustainable cooperative businesses, including youth cooperatives.[2] Similarly, Colors Cooperative Academy in Michigan is divided into three (3) phases including a thirteen (13) week course in phase I describing general cooperative, business, and legal principles, and phase III launching a worker-owned food business.[3] Like Colors, Project Equity has a thirteen (13) week course, but unlike Colors, where the Academy is focused only on worker-owned food businesses, Project Equity opens its course to a myriad of participants interested in various cooperative business models, including cooperative developers, small businesses, and other startups interested in cooperatives geared towards green landscaping, sustainable farming, and local food access.[4]

UCELC’s Academy will be similar to other academies., but unique in its own way.  Like Colors Cooperative Academy, where participants undergo a 13-week course designed to teach the principles of a worker-owned food business, UCELC will also provide a 13-week course. However, unlike Colors, UCELC’s course will go beyond worker-owned food businesses and align with its various campaigns: food cooperatives and agricultural land trusts, housing affordability and gentrification, prison industrial complex and reentry, youth development, sustainable energy, and immigrant rights. Each course will cater to a single campaign consisting of one group with the intent of forming a cooperative out of the group.

The course is designed to empower participants through practical education in addition to theory and principles. The classes will include education on the history, principles, and modern trends of cooperatives; cooperative management; legal and tax implications of cooperatives; community planning methods and cooperative finance; and lastly, practical workshops designed to empower participants through hands-on exercises and a final work-product that will be used to jumpstart a cooperative enterprise.  The practical exercises allow the groups to shape the curriculum so that each course is unique to the participants’ needs. Thus, UCELC’s Cooperative Academy takes on the essence of other academies while also being unique to the community it serves. In the end, I have found that education marks the beginning of a cooperative movement within the City of Newark and what better way to do it than through a Cooperative Academy.

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[1] Green Worker Cooperatives,  “What is the Cooperative Academy,” http://www.greenworker.coop/what-is-the-coop-academy/.

[2] Wocester Roots, “Toxic Soil Busters,” http://www.worcesterroots.org/projects-and-programs/toxic-soil-busters-co-op/.

[3] ROC United, “Colors Co-op Academy,”  http://rocunited.org/michigan-2/colors-co-op-academy/.

[4] Project Equity, “Worker Coop Academy,” http://www.project-equity.org/programs/worker-coop-academy/worker-coop-academy-participants/.