We kick off the new year of issues of Solutions with the concept of the empowerment stream, and how decisions are made in our cooperatives. As you’ll note from the illustration at left, the empowerment stream flows down through the organization and back up, forming a two-way flow of decision-making and accountability along each stakeholder group.
In this issue, we review the idea of the empowerment stream and give a general overview of how it functions. In subsequent issues, we’ll be examining each stakeholder group along the stream. Our next issue will be focused on membership specifically, and how and why that co-op body is the beginning and end of the empowerment stream.
Empowerment is fundamental to cooperation, but not always top of mind in our co-ops. It’s often a given that people have power because the co-op’s mission is so inclusive. Yet, without systems of accountability, it’s hard to know where “the buck stops” and on whose behalf, and for what reason decisions are being made. It’s nice to know someone’s heart is in the right place, but to be truly accountable, you need a system and data.
This year’s issues will prove to be an exciting study of how much dynamism gets invited into the cooperative process when the empowerment stream is fully functioning. This issue’s case study is focused on Lexington Cooperative Market in Buffalo, N.Y. By consciously enacting systems of empowerment at their co-op, they went from worries about paying the bills, to looking to expand. It’s truly inspiring.