Co-UP: A Networking & Learning Experience

On Saturday, May 14, 2016, I had the privilege to represent the Bethlehem Food Co-op at the Philadelphia Area Cooperative Alliance’s “Co-UP” teach-in held at Temple University. 

This conference is an annual event organized by PACA for the benefit of all types of established cooperatives, start-ups (like us!) and for people interested exploring the possibilities of co-ops. The day was broken down into four sessions with a choice of four distinctly different presentations during the session time.  I choice to attend Co-ops 101: an introduction to democratic enterprise; Practicing non-extractive finance:  how to get resources to the communities that need them; and Hangouts, GoTo Meeting and Conference Calls. 

One interesting fact I learned during the Non-extractive Financing presentation is that 90 percent of co-ops are still in existence in five years compared to only FIVE percent of other small businesses. This tells me that my investment as a member/owner of the Bethlehem Food Co-op is a smart one. The presenters included an employee of a financial cooperative named Working World, which is a great example of cooperatives helping cooperatives (Cooperative Principle #6). Another presenter was a member/owner of Red Emma’s in Baltimore, Maryland, a cooperative bookstore/coffee shop which went from 800 square feet to 5000 square feet in business space, and used Working World as one of their sources for financial loans. Working World works side by side with cooperatives with all aspects, such as business plan, budget, market surveys, projections, etc. PACE is currently working on developing a Philadelphia Area co-op loan fund. 

There were a wide variety of co-ops represented at the conference.  As examples: a woman exploring the possibility for a solar co-op for her community, a start-up co-op for language translating equipment/services, a real-estate cooperative, a day-care cooperative, and more. The Keynote speakers (Councilwoman Helen Gym and Councilman Derek Green) stressed the economic advantages/model of cooperatives as an alternative to standard investing in the Philadelphia area—People taking control of their livelihoods as opposed to depending on big business. 

All-in-all it was an encouraging, informative day.  I met many generous people and ate some terrific food at the “Rad Dish,” Temple University’s food co-op dining facility. And I came home with valuable information for our co-op. 

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