Trust and Co-ops

Five years ago, I started the Community Purchasing Alliance Cooperative with a Steering Team of church leaders, a community organizer, and a few generous lawyers.

Today, we are 75 member-owner community institutions. We collaborate on $15,000,000+ in contracts each year. Yet the most important thing we’ve created doesn’t show up in the numbers.

It’s trust.

We’ve built an incredible amount of trust with our members. What’s surprising to me about this is that most of the trust-building has happened not because of anything the staff did, but because of the conversations we facilitated between members. When decision-makers are talking to peer decision-makers about a similar challenge, the value they create and insight they’re able to offer builds something special

Nathan Schneider talks about this same phenomenon in his most recent article for the Coop Biz Journal - Winter_2018_Journal_CoverNational Cooperative Business Association. Nathan starts:

“I’ve noticed some patterns that may become more common in the co-ops to come.”

He’s reflecting on his experience as a reporter:

“They will create value not just with the services they offer to members, but with the connections they enable among members—and the efficiencies members discover together.

This rings true for my experience. For example, at the founding meeting of our co-op in 2014, I remember sitting next to Troy Watson and her telling the room of 50 founding and prospective members and others gathered, “While the savings are helpful, it’s the connections I value most.”

I think this continues to be the experience many of our members have. While we help them manage risk and reduce cost in some of their contracts, it’s the personal connections we’re able to help them make with peers that they value most.

Nathan continues:

“Their specialty will be in fostering trust on trustless networks…”

As I think about where we grow next — whether through building out an online platform for users to co-create value and connection building on something like MARVL.org or whether through developing a new co-op using a similar model in another region — Nathan reminds me that the focus of our work must be in fostering trust.

That’s the specialty of what a co-op can offer and offer with great integrity.