July 17, 2024

let’s build a cooperative, step 3: consolidate a clear vision

close-up of an orange and red dahlia flower with a brown stone flooring and green leaves behind it
photo caption: a red and orange dahlia occupies most of the frame of this photo. if you want to pull the petals to decide whether to launch a co-op with your friends, i recommend you start by saying, “they co-op me not.”

This is step 3 in my series on how to create a cooperative. In step 1, I assembled a group of potential cooperative members. We started to lay the groundwork for establishing our purpose. In step 2, our fictional members assigned tasks for us to learn more about the niches we could occupy. Now, it’s time to draft our vision of the future. Here’s the table of contents again:

Introduction to cooperatives

Building a cooperative: step by step guide

  1. Collect information, clarify needs, and assemble your founding members.
  2. Discuss needs and vision; coordinate organizing and business research.
  3. Consolidate a clear vision.
  4. Design your decision-making process.
  5. Conduct a feasibility study.
  6. Create a business plan.
  7. Define roles.
  8. Convene your first cooperative owners meeting.
  9. Convene your first board meeting.
  10. Begin operations!

If you’ve read earlier steps, you know there’s a disclaimer coming. Here it is: my blog is a collection of ideas I researched within the span of a week or so. Everything below is my own enthusiastic but informal guidance. I don’t know how to launch a cooperative (yet) and I’m not a lawyer. I don’t even like watching “lawyer reacts” videos on youtube. With that out of the way, here’s step 3!

consolidate a clear vision

I drew guidance from 5 different sets of instructions on how to build a cooperative. This step and the next both originated from a single source. Electric Embers’ guide is for creating a tech worker cooperative. Why did I add these steps to all the ones in other guides? I’m assuming that some cooperatives are truly starting from scratch. Our co-op could include people who have similar ideas but may not have worked together in this way before. I wanted to devote extra time on the details of how we’re going to co-operate our co-operative.

This step, consolidating a clear vision, can act as a kind of pressure value. Crafting a vision for our new co-op can relieve some of the tension and worry in the creation process. In an ideal state, we’d want to build something big, audacious, and world-changing.

Step 3 may also serve as an escape hatch for some members. This is first stage where we are turning our ideas into plans. Electric Embers says that if the interests of the group diverge, now is the time to learn that. They note it doesn’t have to be a bad thing: we may realize the goals we articulate should be two separate cooperatives. What’s better than one cooperative? Two cooperatives!

crafting a vision

A company’s vision is a shared dream of the future. Shouldn’t be a surprise that I love that, right? Creating a shared vision forces us to ask ourselves, “When we do our work well, with nothing in our way, what sort of impact do we want to have? What excites about the work that we do or want to do? How will we make the world, or even just our industry, different?” Realizing a vision may not happen on the scale of a 1-year or 5-year work plan. Instead, it’s a time to peer into infinity: no matter how long it takes to get there, what kind of future will we help create?

Julia Martins at Asana recommends four characteristics for creating a strong vision statement. The vision should be ambitious. It should be a challenge even for workers to achieve—one they want to achieve. The vision should be feasible. What is realistic for us to achieve together? It should be broad enough to contain everything we’re planning to do. Last, it should be strategic. Say our cooperative’s vision is that every llama should have a jetpack. We should already have a sense of how they’ll wear one without burning their fur.

The steering committee could take the lead on crafting a vision for all members to react to. Start by gathering the research and ideas that people collected in step 2. There are many tools the members of a cooperative could use to answer these questions.

The steering committee might explore using a Business Model Canvas like the folks at Collective Remake and LA Coop LAB used in a workshop. The Business Model Canvas is a tool that helps people visualize the company’s big picture. The canvas uses 9 sections (partners, activities, etc.) to help us map out what we know so far.

Collective Remake hosted an in-person workshop that helped cooperatives create their vision. Participants used sticky notes to collect everyone’s input on each section of the canvas. From there, a small group could narrow down each section’s ideas to craft a cohesive statement.

The final vision statement should fit into a single sentence and set a direction that everyone wants to go. Without a doubt, your vision will change over time. Your vision may even change during the formation of this work. For now, it should be a destination that inspires and excites your member-owners. With your vision in place, you are ready for step 4!

case study: Green Worker Cooperatives

Green Worker Cooperatives is a Black-led co-op based in the South Bronx, NY. Omar Freilla founded the cooperative in 2003. Their work helps immigrants and communities of color create their own cooperatives. The academy provides training and support for new environmental justice co-ops. They even have a neat roadmap of the process people go through to build their cooperative.  Their vision is simple, even at 3 sentences:

We envision a world where all people enjoy an economy that works for all. Working cooperatively, we have equitable power, wealth, and resources. We nurture healthy relationships with each other and the earth.

analysis

I know from experience that starting a company can feel overwhelming at times. Cooperatives are intentional about sharing that responsibility between all its members. Crafting a vision together helps us establish a shared purpose. It’s also one of the loftiest steps of creating a business. When else can we imagine the future without any obstacles in front of us?

These early steps show how important it is that we don’t rush the co-op creation process. If we can’t settle on a shared vision, when everything is going well for us, we’ll only have harder times ahead. Step 4 will help lay the groundwork for how we make decisions together. Until we meet again, happy cooperating!

photo of josh martinez

my name is josh martinez. i have always loved trying to understand systems, and the systems that built those systems. i spend a lot of time thinking about how to get there from here.

i own and operate a consulting practice, Future Emergent.

say hello: josh[at]bethefuture.space