Potential member input is vital for establishing cooperatives

Cooperatives serve the needs of members and provide for mutual benefits. Open communication allows for free expression of ideas and expectations.

Starting any business is a difficult task. Organizing and launching a cooperative business that is both sustainable in the marketplace and meets member needs requires an orderly process. The United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Rural Development Publication (page four; figure one) lists the 16 steps necessary for forming a cooperative. This article will review the first two steps.

A meeting of small group of potential members to discuss issues related to the economic needs that a cooperative might fill. This meeting should be a general discussion of ideas. What would be the purpose of the cooperative: securing inputs, marketing, educational or sharing equipment? Making this decision is one of the important outcomes of the first two steps is the formation of a steering committee. This small group of dedicated potential members will guide the process of cooperative development to assure that the resource providers are staying on track to develop a business that meets the needs of the members.

Commonality of purpose or need could generate interest using the collective wisdom in the group to coalesce around an economic need. Discussions with other groups of potential members can be conducted to broaden the base of support and to further refine the concept. The group should seek assistance from someone familiar with cooperatives to guide the various stages of starting a cooperative.

The Michigan State University Product Center - Food, Ag, Bio, through its Cooperative Development Program, provides comprehensive cooperative business development services in Michigan rural areas.

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