At last year’s CoopEcon gathering, Jessica Gordon Nembhard offered a keynote address on the history of cooperatives within marginalized African American communities. Below are some links to papers she’s written on this subject.
From “African American Cooperatives”:
African Americans, as well as other people of color and low-income people, have benefitted greatly from cooperative ownership and democratic economic governance throughout the history of the U.S., similar to their counterparts around the world. Cooperatives contribute to community economic development because they anchor economic activity and recirculate money and other resources within the community/neighborhood, facilitate joint ownership and asset building, practice democratic economic participation, and provide jobs and meaningful work to community members. As such they address market failure, marginalization and discrimination. Also cooperatives provide education and training to members and the community, usually with some continuity, develop leadership among members, and usually promote environmental sustainability.
From “Cooperative Ownership in the Struggle for African American Economic Empowerment”
Many different kinds of cooperative ventures have been tried in the Black community. A few of them are highlighted above. Many Black-owned cooperatives were/are a great success, particularly as strategies to save costs, provide quality goods and services, increase income, combat racial discrimination, and increase Black economic stability and self-sufficiency. They saved and created decent jobs in their communities, and often allowed members and employees to control their work environment. Organizers and members believed in education and training, both in relation to their economic ventures and organizational needs. They provided additional services to their communities and often stabilized them. There have also been failures -often for lack of enough resources (capitalization), lack of enough specific management experience and training, and because of poor business planning. On the other hand, there are also many examples of sabotage -rents increased to exorbitant rates, insurance coverage or other support services and/or capital withdrawn or not affordable, unfair competition, and other deliberate subversions. All the cooperatives had grand long-term plans that they did not always achieve, although many of the initial and intermediate goals were realized -some quite successfully. In addition, even if short lived, these experiments and experiences had far reaching consequences for the members and their communities, who were usually better off because of these efforts.
Jessica is part of the organizing group again for this years event and will be with us in Epes in October.