The 7th cooperative principle, Concern for Community, says ‘Co-operatives work for the sustainable development of their communities through policies approved by their members.’ Different approaches to community development are being put into action in three countries thanks to an American credit union, a community-focused Canadian co-op, and a £1B British co-op that is addressing social impact and measuring it. Co-ops are changing the world in small ways by considering their communities.
In North Carolina, a credit union helped to solve a food desert in Greensboro recently reported by CU Insight. The Self-Help Credit Union helped make it happen. They operate in underserved communities in multiple states and intentionally locate branches in communities that lack access to affordable financial services. Self-Help provided funding that brought The Renaissance Food Co-op to a blighted shopping plaza.
A marketing co-op in Saskatoon, Canada, called Unite takes community seriously. They espouse strong social principles respecting democracy, economic participation, and environmental sustainability including First Nation treaty rights. Treaties in Canada provide mutual agreements to share land with accompanying obligations.
In 2016 Unite was able to give back to the community that supports them by volunteering time for The Scoop YXE, a social enterprise ice cream shop for First Nation and inner city youth. Unite also helped with LiveableYXE, an initiative to improve Saskatoon on many fronts.
Unite emphasizes the importance of community in practical terms. From their experience in Crowd funding, they provide a tip from their blog: ‘Know the strength of your community: This point can’t be emphasized enough. A strong and well knit community is needed to make your crowdfunding a success. Communities amplify your story, and do the asking on your behalf. Communities are built over time, they need stories to connect to, space and resources to grow, and support to nourish. Hence know the strength of your community.’
In Britain, Cooperative News reports on social impact being measured by The Central England Cooperative with the help of consultant Heidi Fisher. Called social return on investment (SROI), it is a way to standardize ‘soft outcomes’ of a business and assessing non-financial factors. Social Value UK, which works with SROI, describes the business benefits of social impact: 1. Maximise the value you can create 2. Involve the people who matter most 3. Gain a competitive advantage 4. Enhance communications, both internally and externally 5. Gain funding and contracts.
Concern for community: another way in which co-ops are saving the world.