Welcome, Owners, to 2012 and the United Nations’ International Year of Cooperatives! Board President George Hofheimer said a mouthful last month when he encouraged us to think of Willy Street Co-op as an alternative to the corporatism that underlies many of our consumer options. Echoing George’s sentiments, David Thompson, President of Twin Pines Cooperative Foundation, recently wrote, “Our nation’s economic structure is both financially and morally bankrupt, and it is on a lifeline that is being paid for by us consumers. With different policies, cooperatives can revive the rural economy and the family farm, and reward hard work, not daily traders.” In short, the time is ripe for cooperatives to move from being a niche consumer alternative to becoming a new way for everyone in our communities and world to look at food systems, housing, material goods, and health care.

It may seem like a long way to go from just shopping at Willy Street Co-op to achieving a global paradigm shift, but it is really an important fundamental step. When you shop at the Co-op you aren’t just feeding yourself and your family, you are supporting an ethos and set of values elucidated in our mission statement. In fact, the decisions of the Willy Street Co-op Board and management are guided by ends policies that are relatively similar to the Year of Cooperatives key messages. Compare for yourself:

Williamson Street Grocery Cooperative Ends Policies

  • Owners are provided information to make informed choices about food, agricultural practices, environmentally sound practices and the cooperative movement.
  • Owners have a sense of Williamson Street Grocery Co-op (WSGC) community and realize the responsibility of ownership.
  • WSGC is a cornerstone of a vibrant economically and environmentally sound community.
  • Workers participate in management, work in a humane environment and are recognized and rewarded as being fundamental to a thriving community.
  • The Co-op pursues growth and expansion opportunities that meet the long-term needs of its members and workers.
  • Board and management commit to ongoing system improvement.

United Nations IYC Key Messages

  • Cooperative enterprises build abetter world.
  • Cooperative enterprises are member owned, member serving and member driven.
  • Cooperatives empower people.
  • Cooperatives improve livelihoods and strengthen the economy.
  • Cooperatives enable sustainable development.
  • Cooperatives promote rural development.
  • Cooperatives balance both social and economic demands.
  • Cooperatives promote democratic principles.
  • Cooperatives and gender: a pathway out of poverty.
  • Cooperatives: a sustainable business model for youth.

The growth and success of Willy Street Co-op sends a loud and clear message to the rest of the private-sector that there is market value in sustainable practices, local investment, and investing in one’s workforce. So for 2012, I invite you to think about ways that you can help spread the word about cooperatives. Think about the services you use, for example, your car mechanic, gym, or child care provider, and how they could operate with the Seven Cooperative Principles (refresh yourself here: www.uwcc.wisc.edu/whatisacoop). If you’re feeling bold, share those thoughts with local business owners. Educate your legislators on how more business co-operatives benefit your community.

Get involved
2012 is also a great year to further explore what Willy Street Co-op Ownership means to you. Sit in on a Board meeting, attend an Owner forum, join a committee, nominate a candidate for the Board, or even consider running for the Board yourself. Most importantly (in addition to shopping), set aside 30 minutes in August to review the annual Board slate and VOTE in the elections. As an owner, YOU are the shareholder to which we are accountable, and we want to make sure we are reflecting your interests and values.

You can follow the global activities of the UN International Year of Cooperatives at social.un.org/coopsyear.

Attorney Paul O'Flanagan

Tamar Zick, LPC

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