Eastern Michigan University students, under the direction of Dr. Sadaf Ali and Patrick Campion, were given the opportunity to create a reporting project as a final project in their CTAT 334 class. This is the work of Julia Selig, reporting on a conference hosted by NASCO, the North American Students for Cooperation.
During the first weekend of November of this year, 400 people from all over the country and abroad attended NASCO Institute, an educational conference hosted in Ann Arbor, Michigan by the North American Students for Cooperation, or NASCO, and the Inter-Cooperative Council at the University of Michigan, referred to as ICC Ann Arbor. After an acknowledgement of the Native Land where the University of Michigan resides, Ratih Sutrisno, NASCO’s Director of Community Engagement, introduced the event.
"We have over 400 cooperators from near and far. From Montreal to San Diego and even cooperators from Japan and Germany are here with us today. We are a vibrant and diverse community here to share ideas, learn new skills, and work on building an inclusive and accessible movement for all. NASCO Institute is an event design for cooperators by cooperators and we are so excited for the 50 plus hands-on educational workshops, panels, and discussions, strategies, caucuses, community building, and sharing that will take place these next couple of days. We hope that before you return home you will try something new, expand your cooperative skills to a box, make lasting connections with fellow cooperators, and use this year’s conference to explore new ways that you and your cooperatives friends are connected to a resilient global movement and of course a legacy of cooperation."
Cooperatives are a social, cultural, and economical movement. A movement that wants to put social power in the hands of students, communities, and workers through member or worker-owned organizations based on shared work, education, and a sustainable accessible future. During the conference, I was able to speak with Liz Anderson, NASCO’s Director of Education, on why they have chosen to work in the cooperative movement.
"After college I started working for the US Federation of Worker Cooperatives and that really blew my mind cause up to that point I had been working only with nonprofits. I majored in business in nonprofit management and I thought ‘you know I want to work with nonprofits the rest of my life’.' And then I found that the nonprofit industrial complex was really deeply affecting the work that nonprofits were doing. Foundation grants were really stipulating the work that was done and the way people worked together like not building coalitions or sharing funding or having a big pot that people can work with. And when I got to the Federation Esteban sat me down and was like “this are all of our partners this is our coalition, this are the groups that work with us and give us funding and I was blown away and after that I knew that I needed to work with co-ops."
NASCO’s impact goes beyond the annual conference and can be felt in cooperatives that are part of NASCO. I spoke with John Arnold, a representative of the Interfaith Community for Detained Immigrants, or ICDI from Chicago, Illinois. The ICDI recently opened a cooperative housing community along with their nonprofit and became members of NASCO.
"NASCO has been incredibly helpful in referring us to other coops in Chicago, to help us understand what the coop situation in Chicago is like, providing us with materials to think about how to run a co-op and start a community and you know keep people liking each other and not fighting so we’ve been incredibly happy and grateful to be a part of NASCO and everyone there has been such a great help for us."
One of the most exciting attendees at this year’s conference were representatives of the Japanese Consumers’ Cooperative Union, or JCCU, an organization that represents 28 million people. The JCCU donated to NASCO’s Kagawa Fund. This money will be used to help develop and grow new and establish cooperatives across North America. It was a warm and exhilarating moment when the JCCU was named honorary members of NASCO and see the cooperative bonds across organizations and nations. I was able to speak with Jiro Ito, Manager of Public Relations at the JCCU, who told me what the cooperative movement is like in Japan.
"Majority of our member coops are community based food coops our members-majority of our members are ordinary consumers mainly housewives. 90%- more than 95% is women and some of our members are university cooperatives that are very similar to yours but university cooperatives in Japan don’t do the housing business mainly they are running small stores which sells groceries also there are book shops so it is very new fur us to know that in the United States you are doing the housing cooperative. It’s very unique for us."
The International Cooperative Alliance estimates that there are 3 million cooperative organizations across the world. In the US and Canada, NASCO is made of 50 different cooperative organizations representing roughly 4000 people. These first 50 years of NASCO are the groundwork towards 50 more years of cooperation, growth, and inclusive accessible power.
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