E-Merging Co-ops

Co-op solutions

Collaboration and communication among leading food co-op organizations are increasing. Still lacking a unified national program for their sector, many food co-ops are carefully expanding their commitment to joint activities. While many independent retail co-ops are allied in regional Cooperative Grocers Associations and are increasing their participation in wholesaler-retailer programs, the national leadership remains fragmented and inadequately defined.

Frequent reports have appeared here from the National Cooperative Grocers Association (NCGA), which has grown out of the regional efforts. NCGA announced the launching of its new website in early October and is now online at www.nationalcoopgrocers.com. The NCGA website is designed to aggregate member purchasing power for a variety of discounted business services; provide a clearinghouse for CGA information and activities; and offer useful tools and resources to individual co-op managers.

NCGA continues to work with the National Co-op Bank on NCB's new e-commerce website, Coopsolutions.com, which will be a multi-sector portal into various business services that are contracted between affinity groups of cooperatives and preferred providers. Look for updates from NCGA in upcoming editions, and check their website.

Also looking at additional services for food co-ops is CGIN, the Cooperative Grocers' Information Network. CGIN, a non-profit trade association, can be located at www.cgin.org and periodically reports in these pages. The CGIN listserve is accessible to the public and is popular for ongoing discussion of co-op issues, with daily comments and reports by participating individuals and co-ops. The heart of the CGIN site is extensive members-only files, an evolving and expanding resource base for sharing among co-op managers and staff.

Along with Paul Hazen, CEO of the National Cooperative Business Association (NCBA), leaders in these and other food co-op organizations are conducting discussions to make the available services broad-ranging, effective, and seamless to potential users. That is no small challenge, and it is encouraging to know that it is being tackled head on.

Dot coop

Speaking of websites and the NCBA, in early October our national trade association for co-ops filed a proposal for a .coop restricted top-level domain to the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICAAN), the body that makes decisions about (very competitive) domain assignments.

NCBA is proposing the new domain in partnership with Poptel, a worker co-op and Great Britain's leading cooperative internet services and solutions provider, which will serve as the registry operator for .coop. The organizations are promoting the new domain in order to enhance consumer choice and competition in global e-commerce, provide a domain that reflects the unique business structure of co-ops, and relieve pressure on the crowded domain name system.

Said Hazen, "Dot coop is a domain name that will make a difference. The 750,000 cooperatives worldwide and their 725 million members will be able to differentiate themselves in global e-commerce. And since co-ops span all sectors, dot co-op will open up a wide range of new domain names in a way other sector-specific domains cannot."

I was unfortunately unable to include this information in the previous edition. Many U.S. cooperatives and co-op members wrote in support of the new domain name. The ICAAN comment period ends in late October, and its decision on the top-level domain is expected in November. For further information from NCBA, contact Jeannine Kenney at [email protected] or 202/383-5456.

Necessary unity

If the importance of national leadership for co-ops is not already obvious, the reports from Canada, Italy, and Japan should help demonstrate the point. These countries' cooperative sectors and movements illustrate by contrast how underdeveloped the U.S. is in many ways. And they remind us of the need to pull together in order to achieve fundamental goals. The community-based forces that drive many co-ops also lead many of them to value their uniqueness more than their commonality with other co-ops and causes. For many organizations, an independent origin and an independent stance are continuing liabilities.

Speaking of leadership, it is gratifying to see the ongoing contributions provided by NCBA and Paul Hazen, including lobbying for the dot co-op domain name and actively intervening to make certain that food co-op organizations realize their potential together.

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