From June 11-13, I attended the annual Consumer Co-operative Management Association (CCMA) conference in Boise, Idaho, alongside interim-GM, Paul Kelly. This was the first time a Board Director of our Co-op has ever attended the conference and it was truly a worthwhile and positive experience.
CCMA began in 1957 as a weekend retreat for consumer co-op managers and their spouses. Co-ops that were represented included depression-era grocery co-ops formed in the 1930s and 1940s plus major co-ops in other sectors. In the 1980s, as these older-generation co-ops began to decline, the new wave of consumer food co-ops which emerged between the early 1970s and early 1980s (with which our Kootenay Co-op shares it roots) began attending the annual CCMA gathering. Today, the culture of CCMA seems to be set by these 35-45 year-old food co-ops. The more recent growth of the food co-op sector which began in 2006 and continues today also now appears to be well represented at CCMA.
This year’s conference was attended by 400 people from 75 food co-ops. Attendees are primarily board directors, general managers, and other senior managers of food co-ops. The Kootenay Co-op was the only Canadian co-op in attendance but I felt right at home among the many co-ops which were formed around the same time as ours. One of the highlights of the conference was the Kootenay Co-op being recognized for celebrating our 40th anniversary this year. There were at least 15 co-ops celebrating their 40th birthday and it was an honour to represent our co-op on stage with the other 40-year old co-ops in attendance.
Since returning from the conference, I’ve submitted a lengthy report to the Board which lays out many ideas for future board development. I anticipate that these positive repercussions stemming from the conference plus Paul’s equally positive CCMA experience, will begin to ripple through the organization in the coming year.
Some highlights and takeaways….
The Boise Co-op and their expansion
CCMA was hosted by the Boise Co-op – a 24,000 member co-op formed in 1973. I had the chance to visit their store and the site of their second location – currently under construction and set to open this October.
CCMA as Board Development
Happy to say that the three days at CCMA offered the most diverse and concentrated board development opportunity that I’ve received in my almost 9 years as a Co-op Director. I have already encouraged the Board to consider making CCMA an annual part of our Board’s ongoing development.
Change is Widespread Among Food Co-ops
With our Co-op in the midst of substantial change as we prepare to move into our new store, it was humbling at CCMA to witness how change appears to be the norm among retail food co-ops across the United States. Almost every co-op I interacted with at CCMA is either undergoing an expansion, relocation, capital campaign, governance changes, general manager recruiting, or some or all of the above. Sharing our experiences of change with one another within workshops and plenaries was highly supportive for me as a director.
I attended some great workshops designed specifically for board directors. One of them hosted by Michael Healy of CDS Consulting Co-op offered many tools to support boards in ensuring that the financial reporting which the boards receive from management is sufficient enough to allow the board to carry out its duties to its member-owners. Our Kootenay Co-op board has never worked with a set of standards for the type of financial reporting we receive and this workshop has inspired our Finance Committee to begin developing these standards.
Over eight years ago when the conversations at the board level became focused on the development of our new store, our capacity was diminished for us to ensure that our Co-op’s Rules and Board policies remained relevant. Having the opportunity to learn of the experiences of other directors and managers from other co-ops, I see tremendous opportunity for our Board to create a long-term strategy for it to evolve at the same pace of our Co-op’s current rate of change and for us to emerge as a stronger more resilient board.
Jon Steinman, Board President