NCBA - National Cooperative Business Association

10/28/2020 | Press release | Distributed by Public on 10/27/2020 18:26

Achieving diversity, equity and inclusion commitments will require tremendous change

Change-good change-is rarely an accident.

It wasn't an accident that farmers turned to cooperatives in the early 20th century to create some of the oldest and best known co-ops like Ocean Spray and Land O' Lakes. It wasn't an accident when rural households finally got access to light, power and economic opportunities at the flip of a switch. And it wasn't an accident when the Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund took on entrenched racism, organized opposition and financial hardship to begin reversing decades of Black land loss across the American South.

These examples show us what is possible through cooperation-even in the face of adversity. They remind us that our own challenges present not only an opportunity, but also a responsibility to affect real, enduring change.

Good change happens when people come together to meet a common need and advocate for a set of policies that enable their efforts. Our own context, with its extraordinary challenges-a global pandemic and its economic consequences coupled with deeply rooted racism and inequity-is one of these opportunities.

Last week, I spoke at the Colombian Association of Cooperatives (ASCOOP)'s 35th annual conference under the theme 'Identity and Commitment: Builder of the Common Good' about this moment we find ourselves in.

During these turbulent times, it's natural to look for an anchor. As a movement, our anchor has always been our shared cooperative identity. This people-centered business model has transformed the lives of millions of people; we know it can meet today's challenges. As cooperators, we cherish the values of self-help, responsibility, democracy, equality, equity and solidarity. And our identity finds perhaps its fullest expression in the 7 Cooperative Principles. We often think of these principles as unchangeable, but part of their beauty is their ability to adapt as priorities shift and needs demand. In 1995, the global cooperative body voted to add our 7th Principle, 'concern for community.' Now may be the time to take another critical look at our principles. We should ask ourselves, do they reflect today's reality? Do they embody our renewed commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion?

Think about the 1st Principle. While it prohibits discrimination, it does not encourage diversity or inclusion. And as Jessica Gordon Nembhard said earlier this month during her keynote address at the Cooperative IMPACT Conference, 'It's not good enough to be diverse; it's not even good enough to be inclusive. We need to deliberately promote and practice racial equity.' I believe our cooperative principles can more fully embrace this call.

This might mean clarifying the language of the principles to make clear that not only do cooperatives notdiscriminate, but that we are diverse, inclusive and equitable. The difference is critical. To not discriminate is to open the door to those who might be different from you if and when they knock. To be inclusive is to actively invite them in and make sure they feel welcome and heard. To be equitable is to give everyone the same chance to even get to the door.

Achieving our diversity, equity and inclusion commitments will require tremendous change-to our society, to our economy and to our policy landscape. As cooperators, we are not immune.It falls on all of us not only to lead this change, but to demonstrate it in our cooperatives, and in our principles.

This moment calls for courageous, visionary cooperators to collaborate with our allies in the social and solidarity economy. The change we want will take vision, creativity and a willingness to take risks. It will not happen by accident.

-Doug O'Brien is president and CEO of NCBA CLUSA, where he works with the cooperative community to deepen its impact on the economy.