Georgia General Assembly
The National Cooperative Grocers Association (NCGA) held its first annual member General Assembly at Callaway Gardens south of Atlanta this past February. More than 90 member cooperatives were in attendance for a very full organizational agenda.
An opening welcome and introduction by NCGA Board President Holly Jarvis was followed by Michel Lafleur’s presentation on his model of cooperative challenges. NCGA management and staff reports were followed by the introduction of our “marketplace of ideas.” The NCGA board of directors took the stage on Saturday morning followed by a continuation of work in the marketplace of ideas. The full two-day assembly agenda plus Eastern, Central, and Western corridor meetings and a board meeting provided the NCGA membership its first opportunity since last year’s reorganization to engage with one another and the NCGA staff as a national body.
Cooperative challenges, NCGA challenges
Michel Lafleur’s keynote address focused on his research on cooperatives at the University of Sherbrooke in Quebec. Lafleur conducted case studies of the Brattleboro and Port Townsend food co-ops, and his address included specifics from this work. Lafleur suggested that cooperatives have specific challenges in the marketplace, but our unique identity as cooperatives also provides us competitive advantages. His work suggests that we must identify these challenges and address them strategically with a unique aspect of our identity. This gives us the opportunity to convert the challenge into a competitive advantage very difficult for non-cooperatives to duplicate.
Lafleur presented eight specific areas of opportunity for us in this work—governance, intercooperation, capitalization, values, use value, community development, cooperative education, and products and services—and we had the opportunity to make use of his model in small group projects. This topic was particularly appropriate since the concept of identifying our challenges and using our unique cooperative structure to turn these into advantages is why we created NCGA. (For a summary by M. Lafleur, see Cooperative Grocer #116, Jan.–Feb. 2005: www.cooperativegrocer.coop/articles/index.php?id=572).
NCGA management and staff reported on their work getting the organization on its feet coming out of our reorganization. CEO Don McLemore and members of his staff shared some of their plans for the coming year, including the national purchasing program, meeting needs of larger co-ops, expansion of noncore business services, expanded training programs, a food safety program, new store development support, and a better process for communicating product recalls. Time was spent sharing the staff’s vision for improved communication with the membership. McLemore also shared his view of the importance of the development directors and their increasing role within the organization.
Stas’ Kazmierski joined us again as a facilitator and assisted us in putting into practice the marketplace of ideas concept originally outlined in the reorganization plan. We generated a wall of ideas for consideration by the group and were able to condense these to a handful of specific projects to consider going forward. While the timing of this year’s General Assembly didn’t permit us to significantly impact the organization’s direction for 2005, we enjoyed the opportunity to begin the process of how we as members will determine what NCGA will provide us in the future.
The NCGA board received member support for its proposed member grievance process, rounding out the five points of member influence in the organization, as well as support for a stipend for the board president. The board also presented the details of next year’s director elections, which still reflect the transition from the regional associations. The board also took time to recognize NCGA board member Dan Foley’s contribution to Wedge Co-op and to our sector as he leaves to pursue other interests.
With equity formerly held in regional associations having been transferred to NCGA, the lack of parity in corridor funding was finally addressed at the General Assembly. The NCGA board had directed management and staff to come up with a solution, and McLemore presented their proposal at the board’s meeting on Wednesday. Then the proposal was presented to the membership in detail at each of the corridor meetings and received approval from all three corridors. We are all grateful for the staff’s work on this issue.
The NCGA staff did a fabulous job of planning and coordinating this first member General Assembly. While our membership certainly had many different ideas of what our General Assembly might look like, our first effort was given good marks in the member evaluations. These evaluations will serve to help us ensure that our gatherings meet the needs and expectations of our diverse membership.
NCGA members, now nearly 100 strong, will gather outside of Denver in late September for our second General Assembly, where we will again have the opportunity to share with one another and the NCGA staff our vision for our national association. As a cooperative, we will continue to explore our vision of and expectations for one another. The September meeting will permit us as members to impact the programs, plans, and budget of NCGA for 2006 and give us the opportunity to increase the value of NCGA membership. If your co-op is not already a member, call or e-mail NCGA to get more information on joining us in our endeavors.
*** C.E. Pugh is national development director for the National Cooperative Grocers Association and formerly was general manager of LaMontanita Cooperative (firstname.lastname@example.org).