For those of you who have been following my adventures, I recently moved to Washington, DC to start a new job!
The NCBA part stands for the National Co-operative Business Association and is the domestic trade association for co-op businesses. We host conferences, advocate for the co-op business model on capital hill, and connect co-op businesses across industries. Some businesses you may have heard of, but may not know are co-ops are REI, Florida’s Natural, Cabot Farms, and Ace Hardware. We also represent groups like food co-ops, rural electrical co-ops, and credit unions (1 in 3 Americans is a member of co-op). To be a co-operative business you must adhere to seven cooperative principles:
- Voluntary and Open Membership
- Democratic Member Control
- Member Economic (Members contribute equally to and democratically control the capital of their co-operative).
- Autonomy and Independence (if they enter into agreements with other organizations, including governments, or raise capital from external sources they maintain democratic control and co-operative autonomy).
- Education, Training, and Information (so that members will be good decision makers, and so the general public will better understand co-operatives).
- Cooperation among Co-operatives (strengthening the co-operative movement by working together).
- Concern for Community (work for the sustainable development of their communities through policies approved by their members).
The CLUSA part stands for the Co-operative League of the USA and is the name most commonly seen on our international work. Part of my job is to unify the two sides for a cohesive NCBA CLUSA brand that works domestically and internationally. On the international side, we truly believe in a community based approach, that works to strengthen groups and service providers to improve livelihoods through market-based approaches (as opposed to humanitarian aid, which comes only in a crisis). That’s a lot of jargon. Basically it means we work to strengthen groups and businesses on the ground through connecting them to outside markets, or making them more efficient, or improving nutrition.
Because of this cooperative foundation, a large chunk of our work is strengthening farmers co-ops, training in conservation agriculture, and nutrition led agriculture (innovations and strategies that work with assessing each community’s individual needs). These help to build resilience in communities. Food security gaps and climate change cause small shocks to be devastating, but increasing nutrient outputs (like planting yams or carrots in communities with Vitamin A deficiencies), or strategically farming with better irrigation techniques make those shocks (like drought or flooding) easier to resist. Because co-ops are community based, development solutions are community based. We work with mother’s groups and women’s savings and credit institutions. We’ve done work with youth and governance, because politically involved youth form community organizations. We work with coffee growers and co-ops and then link them with purchasers in the US (a co-op to co-op trade model that keeps prices fair). We train and support groups all along the agriculture value chain. We are one of the first organizations to start work in Cuba, which is starting to grow its economy by broadening the space for co-operatives.
Personally, my job is the tell these stories. To be able to share the best practices of innovative development in the field. I am helping to redesign what’s presented on our website (coming soon!), opening communication flows with the field teams, and promoting our leaders and techniques as innovators and best practices in the industry. Eventually I will be able to travel out to our projects (overseeing a current portfolio of 17 countries and 21 projects – as of August – projects open and close all the time as they finish their cycles).
My joy is telling stories, and these are the best stories to tell. The stories of overcoming challenges, of seeing opportunity and making the most, of going from barely making it to sharing wealth with others. These stories are why we in the international development industry do the work we do. Every one of the numbers is a story, and it’s my job to make that real and accessible to all of you back here.
So that’s my new job. I moved across the country, and back from Africa to start this next phase. I’m looking forward to a whole lot of new experiences, and meeting some interesting and inspiring people.
From grad school to Peace Corps and now NCBA CLUSA, I’m still telling these stories. But now, I have a lot more potential projects to cover and a wider platform. I will continue to update this blog with more of the personal side (with lots of travel photos!), and you can always see the work I’m doing here.