Past Event

Co-op Month

*The Public Square is partnering with the North Side Community Federal Credit Union (CFCU) to co-sponsor a Café Society conversation in honor of Co-op Month.

Join us for a lively discussion about the history and models of cooperative business, financial institutions and collective non-profits. Special guests include Mark Fick with North Side Community Federal Credit Union, Victor Cortez of Salsedo Press, Lowell Thompson of Stone Soup Cooperative and Ali McDonald of the Chicago Women’s Health Center. They will discuss the values their cooperatives share, and how they matter now more than ever with so many changes taking place in the global marketplace.

This event is co-sponsored by The Public Square and the North Side Community Federal Credit Union.

Co-op Month

With increasing concerns about our nation’s economy, for many, co-ops show an uncommon loyalty and commitment to their communities. Cooperatives operate with a shared set of values: honesty, openness, caring for others, and social responsibility. Furthermore, for many co-ops, concepts like sustainability, community involvement, and democratic control are more than just buzzwords. They are basic to how cooperatives do business and how they will always do business. For example, the Chicago Women’s Health Center is the longest-operating women’s health collective in the United States, abiding by a collective governance structure since 1975 when it was founded.

Many would argue that co-ops live out their values every day that contribute to a set of organizing principles that help communities grow wherever they operate. At a time when so many investor-owned companies do not live up to their values, cooperatives represent the better business model when it comes to making social and economic change. Cooperatives too have multiple bottom lines, with social as well as economic goals. But the difference for many is that co-cops are not owned by Wall Street investors, but by rank-and-file, everyday Americans. Surplus revenue is distributed to their grassroots owners, rather than to outside investors. While stock company governance is closed to all but the largest shareholders, cooperative governance is open and democratic – one member, one vote.

Credit unions are an example of this kind of cooperative governance. They are financial institutions that are owned and controlled by members; operated for the purpose of providing credit at reasonable rates and providing other financial services to its members. An example of a credit union currently operating in Chicago is the 35-year old North Side Community Federal Credit Union (NSCFCU). An essential part of their mission is to make a special effort to offer affordable and fair financial services and products to people under-serviced or overexploited by what they deem predatory lending institutions. 

While focusing on member needs, cooperatives work for the sustainable development of their communities. Agricultural co-ops help small farmers stay on their land, and electric and telephone cooperatives serve less-profitable rural areas ignored by investor-owned utilities. Approximately 7,500 housing cooperatives provide homes for 1.2 million families, or 3 million people, in America. Chicago’s own Stone Soup Cooperative is a member-owned, housing cooperative community with three properties with 37 members in diverse neighborhoods across the city. There is even a printing cooperative—Salsedo Press Inc.—in Chicago, whose worker-owner model is concerned with the environment and a willingness to help others.

A recently-published study from the USDA indicates that there are more than 29,000 cooperatives that generate more than $652 billion in revenue, $75 billion in income, and create more than 2 million jobs. A conservative estimate of total co-op membership is 130 million, or more than a third of all Americans. There are over 8,000 credit unions, over 40,000 cooperative businesses, and nearly 3,000 farmer cooperatives. Former congressman and co-op leader Glenn English calls that a “force to be reckoned with when we decide to come together.”

Many argue that the economic contributions of the nation’s cooperatives cannot be overlooked. At a time of increasing concern about the national economy, co-ops are creating jobs, income, building momentum and opportunity in their communities every day.  A national alternative grassroots framework, The Solidarity Economy Network, is burgeoning grounded in practice and in the principles of: solidarity, mutualism, and cooperation; equity across differences; social well-being over profit; social and economic democracy; and pluralism.

Do you think it’s important to do business with companies that have community and environmental concerns? Are cooperatives the only business model that incorporate these kinds of concerns into their mission? What cooperatives exist today and why are they important? Should there be cooperatives in a diverse economy, and why? What distinguishes a cooperative from different kinds of business model? Are there any negatives to cooperatives? What kinds of personal and political choices do cooperatives allow consumers to make?

Edited and Adapted from 2009 National Co-op Month press materials by Kristen Cox, Marketing and Community Relations Manager for North Side Community Federal Credit Union.

 Suggested Resources

About our special guests

Victor Corts became a member-owner of Salsedo Press,Inc., a Chicago-based unique and progressive printing cooperative, in 1981. He is currently a member of the executive team. Author of two novels, Avenida Hidalgo #82 and 10 de Marzo, La Marcha, he has also worked for Casa Aztlan on improving educational conditions for local Latino students, and advocating for immigrant and human rights.

Ali McDonald is the Director of the Chicago Womens Health Center, created in 1975 with the mission of offering affordable, educational, and sensitive gynecological services that emphasized self-examination and a peer approach to health care. CWHC continues this mission as the only remaining collectively run women’s health center in the country.

Mark Fick is the Senior Loan/Program Officer with the Chicago Community Loan Fund (CCLF) and has worked on a variety of grassroots community development and organizing campaigns over the past fifteen years. He serves as a board member of the North Side Community Federal Credit Union, and also of NASCO Development Services, a development assistance group serving small to mid-sized housing cooperatives across North America.

Lowell Thompson is an artist/writer and “recovering Adman”. After over two decades creating Ads and TV spots for many of America’s biggest ad agencies and advertisers, he began a transition to become a self-styled media activist and “creative catalyst” for social justice. He has been a member of Stone Soup Cooperative, a member-owned, housing cooperative community since August, 2007.

For more information, call 312.422.5580.