At Equal Exchange, we talk a lot about co-ops but we don’t always talk about our co-op.
That is why last November, our Marketing Director, Dia Cheney and I led an exercise with the worker owners of Equal Exchange: we asked them to list what they valued about working at a worker owned co-operative, and what made the experience different from working at another type of organization. The original goal of the exercise was to help worker owners find ways to talk about what is so special about our organization and help them feel more comfortable talking to others about our co-op. Clearly, our broader goal was that worker owners would help spread the word about the benefits of working for a co-op and share the excitement we feel about owning our own organization.
One exciting realization that we got coming out of that meeting was that all of the talking points we developed during that meeting fit pretty neatly within the framework of the Seven Co-op Principles, with the exception of Principle 1: Open & Voluntary Membership and Principle 6: Cooperation amongst Co-operatives. In the end though, despite getting some great stuff that seemed to fit pretty well within the co-op principles and getting people thinking about what it really means to be a part of a worker co-op, we felt we were still missing the piece about how to get the worker owner voice out there to the public!
Thus, on May 6th, the day before our Annual Worker Owner Meeting (the meeting in which the worker owners vote for Equal Exchange Board members and other co-op representatives), Dia and I, along with the help of others in the organization, planned a follow up event.
And what an event it was! We took the worker owner talking points and printed each one onto a laminated green paper leaf. We then created a five branched tree using brown construction paper. Each branch represented a different co-op principle, and it had two big roots, one with the different types of co-ops that we work with (producer, consumer, worker, etc…) representing Principle 6: Cooperation amongst Co-operatives, and the other root which all the worker owners signed to represent Principle 1: Open and Voluntary Membership. We then distributed the leaves and had the participants decide which Co-op Principle each talking point leaf represented.
During the second part of the meeting, we asked each person in the room commit to a different “co-op challenge”, where everyone in attendance committed themselves to doing one or two things to help get the word out about worker co-ops and co-ops in general. Some of these commitments included: contacting a local school to get them to include education materials on co-ops, do a presentation about co-ops at a local church or university, or write a piece about working in a worker cooperative on our blog.
At the end of these exercises, we read out our commitments and then put up the leaves on the co-op tree. As you can see by the photo, it was certainly a successful exercise. And hopefully the other result that comes out of this exercise is that you will be hearing more from us about us and about the unique organization that we work for; and… well, I get to cross off one commitment from my own list with this piece!