Across North America, a large group of students are carrying on four decades of tradition in building co-operative communities seeking social justice.
The North American Students of Cooperation (NASCO) is a group of associations dedicated to organising and educating co-operatives and their members in order to promote a community-oriented co-operative movement.
Each year, 400 participants from the US and Canada gather for the NASCO Institute to discuss issues relating to the co-operative movement and share ideas and experiences. This year’s Institute is set take place 2-4 November in Ann Arbor, Michigan, with the theme: “Co-operating to Survive and Thrive Beyond Capitalism: Building a Solidarity Economy.”
Emma Rubin, NASCO’s Director of Education, says: “The annual NASCO Institute is always a one-of-a-kind opportunity to network with hundreds of co-operative leaders and employers, to caucus about pressing issues, and to work on building an inclusive and accessible co-operative movement.”
NASCO is accepting workshop proposals until July 25 and is encouraging proposals on the following topics: the role of co-ops in the movement for housing justice; students’ movements in Quebec and Chile; the shape of inequality in the US and Canada; mapping the solidarity economy; economic systems beyond capitalism; and applied solidarity economy models.
Although it acts primarily in the housing sector, NASCO aims to enable mutual aid and support. In 2012, NASCO is working hard to engage membership in “building a community-oriented co-operative movement rooted in social justice". It also helps young co-operators obtain internships at co-operative organisations and businesses across the US and Canada through its Cooperative Internship Network and maintains a Shared Resource Library, a virtual toolbox full of co-operative documents, links, and images.
“Part of that work is to build the leadership capacity of individuals to lead this and future generations in presenting the cooperative business and living model not simply as some alternative enterprise model, but as a movement beyond capitalism,” says Emily Lippold Cheney, Executive Director of NASCO.
She adds that co-operatives could be the key to economic recovery and sustainable development: “Existing co-operative businesses have provided sustainable employment and provision of individuals’ basic needs for an incredibly long time. The resilience of the co-operative model — the adaptability and nimbleness of the organisation in times of crisis, particularly — in a variety of local and global markets is the simplest demonstration of how co-operation, as the chosen development method, will create the most stable businesses worldwide.”
NASCO provides training to its young members, the leaders of the future, in order to help them develop co-operative enterprises in fields ranging from accounting to meeting facilitation, in order to create a better-served community.
“Not only is the co-operative business model a sustainable one, co-operatives businesses are the building blocks of a sustainable society,” comments Emily.
Since its creation in 1968 NASCO has had various policy initiatives and some of them have led to a change in governmental policy.
“Local members have successfully campaigned their cities or counties to formally adopt regulatory language that acknowledges co-operatives as a special housing type due consideration beyond fraternities, sororities, or rooming houses. In many places, housing regulations classing co-operatives as other types of housing have greatly restricted the development of the sector,” explains Emily.
Most recently, the group has also supported the National Co-operative Development Act, which is proceeding through the US Congress. The Act would appropriate federal funds to create and support the continued work of urban co-operative development centres throughout the US. A similar programme, the Rural Co-operative Development Grant has existed for a few years and has been successful in creating jobs and boost the local rural economy.
“This program has, in the rural context, made the cooperative difference astoundingly apparent,” says Emily.
NASCO has 8,000 members of three different types — Active, Associate, and Individual. The majority of the members are between the ages of eighteen and thirty years old.