On April 29th, over 30 cooperators from around the state of Maine gathered in Gardiner to connect and learn together and to expand organizing for the Cooperative Maine Business Alliance. Cooperative Maine has organized for 10 years, and a focus of this year’s annual gathering was to review our past and look forward to what we wanted to create in the state together.
In the morning, Deborah Hawkins from the Cooperative Fund of New England reviewed the history of Cooperative Maine. Rob Brown and Jonah Fertig from CDI shared about some of the organizing work that they and others have done including participation in a Chapter Network Fellowship Program with the Democracy at Work Institute and US Federation of Worker Co-ops and a survey of co-ops in Maine. They also shared about models of co-op networks in other parts of the country and across the border in Quebec.
We then broke up into sector based conversations with consumer Food Co-ops, Worker Co-ops and Resident Owned Communities and Housing Co-ops talking about what the needs of their sector are, shared challenges and opportunities. After these sector based conversations we shared a delicious lunch prepared by the Belfast Co-op.
After lunch we heard from the sector based conversations and discussed next steps for organizing a cooperative business alliance. We decided on the new name Cooperative Maine Business Alliance and people volunteered to join our new steering committee which will meet in June for the first time. While a definite mission is still being determined, some of the goals of the Cooperative Maine Business Alliance are facilitating technical assistance and peer-to-peer mentoring and networking to develop workforce training, business planning, management, and financial literacy skills. It will create opportunities for co-ops and their members to lower costs through shared services, and advocate for wider recognition, understanding and support of the cooperative economy among the public, private and philanthropic sectors. Engaging coops in the Cooperative Maine Business Alliance will help them sustainably improve their operations and fulfill their missions.
We closed the day with three workshops. Ownership Culture and Participatory Management presented by Marcel Gagne and Jonah Fertig from CDI, Jeanee Wright, Rob Brown and Doug Clopp from CDI presented a workshop on political advocacy for cooperative development in the Maine legislature focusing support for LD 1338 An Act To Create and Sustain Jobs through Development of Cooperatives and Employee-owned Businesses, sponsored by Rep. Martin Grohman of Biddeford. Deborah Hawkins from Cooperative Fund of New England presented a workshop on Financing for Co-ops.
In the coming months, the Cooperative Maine Business Alliance Steering Committee will be sharing more plans, ideas for structure and goals for the alliance and will engage other co-ops, individuals and advocates in the state in building Cooperative Maine Business Alliance. Additionally, CDI is supporting a Cooperative Leadership program for co-ops in the midcoast with peer learning, cross sector collaboration and workshops to expand the skills and connections amongst co-ops in this region. This program is funded by the Maine Community Foundation and CDI is appreciative of their support in helping us grow the cooperative ecosystem in the state.