Friday, October 28, 2016

Cooperatives Build A Better World

I recently got the chance to screen a PBS Visionaries documentary celebrating 100 years of cooperatives. Can I just say I smiled through the whole hour? Watching the seven stories of cooperatives both in the U.S. and abroad made me swell with pride, pride for belonging to something that is committed to helping one another as a part of the very principles that make up their business model. (Click here to learn about the seven co-op principles.

I am blessed to be not only employed by a cooperative, but also a member of several through our farm. In both of these capacities, I have seen the hard work put in by members, delegates, board members and employees to make an impact, not only in the communities they live in or serve, but across the globe, from little things that multiply to become big things, like Operation Round Up at my local electric co-op, to the amazing list of community organizations my credit union supports, to the work Cooperative Resources International (CRI) conducts through its Cooperative Development and Emerging Markets Programs.

CRI has been working in global outreach for nearly 20 years. A recently completed project in Nicaragua spanned five years as part of a $5 million, USAID funded, Cooperative Development Program (CDP). The project aimed to transform household-level dairy producers and their cooperatives into small scale commercial firms. Dean Gilge, AVP of Global Development for CRI notes, "It is heartening to hear someone such as Norman Montenegro, General Manager for Nicaragua's Asogamat Cooperative, describe the tremendous value the program has made in their operation. Norman credits CRI's help in strong governance foundation, designing a strategic plan and coaching them to success."
Dean Gilge (left) and Dan Diederich, CRI Board Member (right) learn about Quesillos, a tortilla with white cheese, cream cheese and onions, from the Quesillo store manager.
Milk arrives at the central milk collection center in Nicaragua via several modes of transportation.
Recent projects have also taken us to South Africa where CRI has worked with the beef cooperative Inkephu and the dairy cooperative Seven Stars. These businesses were chosen because of their accomplishments in showing an interest and desire to grow as sustainable cooperatives. Genex Board Member, Terry Frost had this to say upon returning from his time working with the co-ops, "While improvements need to be made, the cooperatives' hope for the future is evident. I feel the cooperative members want to improve for their community. These people are very proud of their culture and heritage. They just need the guidance and training the CDP can and is providing."
Genex Board Member, Terry Frost (front) inspects a feedlot with the Chairman of Inkephu Cooperative in South Africa.
Last year, a CRI Emerging Markets Program, with funding from the USDA, brought a delegation of 29 beef industry representatives from China, Kazakhstan, Pakistan and Russia to the U.S. The participants were key dicision makers from large beef operations, universities, agriculture ministries and processing facilities. The tour showcased the U.S. beef industry "from semen to cellophane."
And the CRI commitment to global development is far from over. With current projects in South Africa and the Dominican Republic, we hope to continue to make a difference in agriculture and communities world-wide. 

By the way, if you get a chance to check out the documentary coming to a PBS station near you this November, watch it.  You won’t regret the hour you spend!

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