In the year that the International Cooperative Alliance issued its “Blueprint for a Cooperative Decade” (ica.coop), a worldwide campaign to take the cooperative way of doing business to a new level, it was fitting that the Willy Street Co-op Board of Directors attended a day-long learning session discussing topics of cooperative growth, success, leadership and engagement.

The goal of the Cooperative Decade is for co-ops to become the acknowledged leaders in economic, social and environmental sustainability; the business model preferred by people; and the fastest-growing form of enterprise by 2020.

With this global strategy in mind, during our seminar we explored more specifically the strategic direction for Willy Street Co-op as we attempted to answer these questions:

  • Why does growth matter? What might it look like if we are successful?
  • How do we as leaders get our community engaged, aligned and participating?

Dynamic and insightful conversations ensued with members of other co-ops in the region. We all felt we had meaningful discussions related to the goals and vision of our Co-op.

Some of the key themes and ideas that emerged from the strategic seminar discussions included:

Innovation:

  • Growth means always challenging ourselves to do more, never being complacent, looking at new approaches to get healthy food to Owners how they want it and where they are.
  • Success is anticipating Owner needs and surprising them with well-timed solutions; being proactive and not just reactive.
  • It’s important to keep pushing new boundaries; getting out of our league; not to do only what’s expected of us.
  • The concept of “gameification” of the shopping experience is compelling—for example, using receipts to calculate totals of local produce purchased; showing ‘top scores’ on a leader board.

Connection:

  • Our vision should incorporate our co-op’s story, leading with why—why we exist, why we do what we do and why that matters.
  • Willy Street Co-op should become more of a leader in the co-op industry to encourage, mentor and help develop more co-op businesses in Dane County and Wisconsin.
  • Success means we collaborate and cooperate with other co-ops more regularly to further the co-op movement and communicate the cooperative advantage.
  • Growth means serving our Owners better; increasing their experiences and connection to the co-op, not just increasing the size of Ownership.

Change:

  • Success looks like healthy, local, fresh food everywhere becoming the standard, not the exception.
  • Profit is good—not a four-letter-word. We need to talk about it more in terms of how it allows us to do more good in our community and how it helps us achieve giving goals.
  • Growth is exciting! Let’s show that side of it more. It should not be pushed, but rather in response to Owner needs.
  • “Bite the bullet” and go paper bag-less; provide reusable bags only. Other co-ops have moved in this direction.
  • Growth can be looked at in a different way than expected—for example, growth might be defined as shifting from 20% local to 50% local products in the Co-op.

So what’s next? Where do we go from here? The strategic seminar opened our eyes to new ideas and perspectives and started a very important discussion. We have assembled a task force of Board members, community members and Owners to continue the discussion about our Co-op’s growth and development. We are excited to see how Willy Street Co-op will continue to grow and develop throughout the Cooperative Decade.

Northside Animal HospitalMark E. Saunders CFPParadigm

Daniel J. KrauseSerrvCamp woodbrookeFresh ImprovGrass Fed BeefBrush Local