Hey, What’s Your Problem?

Chances are there is a Co-op Solution

In the 1930s & ‘40s rural areas had a problem. They did not have access to electricity so a group of neighbors and friends set out to form a cooperative solution. At about the same time folks in 1,000 other rural communities throughout the United States were doing the same thing, creating rural electric cooperatives. Interestingly, folks in urban areas were also forming co-ops not electric or farm co-ops but credit unions and housing co-ops.

Cooperatives in all forms get started when the “market” fails to offer a good or service or does so at such a high price few people can afford it. So back in the time of the great depression when banks did not have much interest in extending credit to people of modest means formed credit unions. They got together with their friends and neighbors collected the $5.00 membership (and remember in the 1930’s five bucks was real money) and formed over 23,000 credit unions. They solved their problem with a cooperative solution. Today, mostly due to mergers between credit unions there are about 6,00 credit unions with just over 100 million members.

Meanwhile in New York City folks needed to find safe and affordable housing. So what was the answer? Form a housing co-op and they did by the hundreds. Today, nationally there are over 3,000 housing co-ops, while mostly in urban areas they are a growing solution in rural areas and a number of mobile home parks are being converted to cooperative ownership.

Is reliable child care a concern? There are over a 1,000 pre-school cooperatives operating in the U.S. While some require parents to volunteer a certain number of hours per month it has been a great solution for the vast majority of families where both parents need to work outside the home.

On the whole other end of the spectrum there are even co-ops covering funeral needs. By joining the co-op which has pre-negotiated the price of the funeral based on your preferences, consumers can save up to 40% over the average cost of a funeral and burial. From cradle to grave co-ops have you covered.

Perhaps you own a small business and you are looking to lower your cost of the goods you sell, maybe you are one of over 50,000 small business owners that is a member of a purchasing cooperative. These are designed to allow small locally owned business to compete against “big-box” stores like Wal-Mart and Home Depot. According to the Small Business Administration dollars that are spent locally stay in the community at least three times longer than dollars spent at stores owned outside the community.

So what do all these businesses have in common? Local people coming together to solve a problem with a cooperative solution. One of the reasons co-ops are so popular in so many different industries is that they answer the question: What’s in it for me? With a solution that also serves we, the community. So the next time your area is facing a problem, think cooperatively and chances are there will be a cooperative solution…

Posted on January 13, 2014 in Articles

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About the Author

Adam Schwartz is the founder of The Cooperative Way a consulting firm that helps co-ops succeed. He is an author, speaker and member-owner of the CDS Consulting Co-op. You can follow him on Twitter @adamcooperative.

Response (1)

  1. Joel B.
    February 26, 2015 at 8:48 pm ·

    Hey, whats YOUR problem!? Great article!

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