Co-op Study Tours: Advancing Local and International Cooperation

This year CBLD is introducing two co-op study tours in partnership with the National Cooperative Business Association (NCBA) and St. Mary’s University Master of Management Cooperatives and Credit Union (MMCCU) program. These study tours are meant to give directors an opportunity to learn about others and see their own cooperatives in new ways.

The NCBA trip is slated to go to El Salvador in May 2011, where participants will meet with cooperative producers eager to partner with co-op leaders in the U.S. In October 2011, the MMCCU program will be taking participants to Spain to study the Mondragon cooperative system. (More information about these tours at end of this article.)

“This is a CBLD program feature that we will work hard to have around for years to come, providing opportunities for those who can’t go this time to plan ahead for the future,” said Mark Goehring. “While this is a pilot project, the goal is to have study tour options every year.”

People who have gone on study tours in the past have found that doing it left an indelible impression, giving them an up-close-and-personal view of how co-ops benefit communities worldwide.

Bob Noble, a board member at Weavers Way in Philadelphia, Pa., went to Singapore and Sumatra with NCBA in 2007. He was in Singapore for an international congress of cooperatives and spent another 10 days with a delegation of people who went to Sumatra to study coffee and microfinance cooperatives.

sumatra-growing-coop“It was an amazing experience,” Noble said. “The biggest thing you get from this is how the co-op movement is really international. I met people from India, Japan and all over Europe.” He also got to see firsthand how cooperatives were helping people cope with the aftermath of the tsunami that had devastated Sumatra. “I saw how co-ops helped people get back on their feet.”

Noble said it became a powerful professional motivator as well and that he’d encourage people who are able to do the travel to go on a study tour. “I felt it was worthwhile many times over.”

Bentley Lein was also profoundly impacted by an NCBA study tour that he took in 2004 to Ghana in West Africa when he was a director for the People’s Food Co-op in La Crosse, Wis. He was able to directly see the benefits to his own cooperative.
ghana-group-415“Whenever you find yourself in another culture it allows you to see your own place more clearly. As board members we are entrusted with articulating a vision. A study tour deepens your knowledge of the co-op sector and allows us to be true leaders for our organizations,” Lein said.

ann-h-ghanan-woman-200About the upcoming tour to El Salvador, William Allmart, Senior Project Manager for NCBA’sCLUSA International Program, said, “What I saw when I visited these cooperatives in El Salvador was people, both old and young, with a vision and a spirit that makes you WANT to work with them to realize their dreams. They have good products, some of them have experience, that’s all true; but what is more is that they have passed through a terrible time in their country’s history and they are motivated to make something new where before there was just trouble and strife. Who wouldn’t want to go those extra miles to collaborate with them in making that new beginning?”


El Salvador Study Tour

NCBA is developing a new program to connect producer cooperatives outside the U.S. with consumer cooperatives in the U.S. With USAID support, NCBA will work to create new business opportunities in expanding markets, to establish socially responsible partnerships across borders and expand the diversity of cooperatively produced foods available in the U.S. Participants will be selected to best accomplish these important goals.

While CBLD Study Tours participants won’t be involved in the deal-making aspect of the trips, we do expect these NCBA trips to provide rich insights into the world of cooperatives and cooperative development. The CDS Consulting Co-op CBLD Team has established a partnership with NCBA to allow several directors of food cooperatives to participate. The cost per participant is estimated to be about $4,000 for a 7 to 8 day trip in May 2011. Financial aid might be available. (Download a flyer about the El Salvador tour here.)

Mondragon Study Tour

The International Master of Management—Co-operatives and Credit Unions program at Saint Mary’s University ( does a study visit each year to either the Mondragon co-operatives in the Basque Country of Spain or the cooperative networks of Northern Italy around Bologna and Trento. (2011 Mondragon; 2012 Italy.)

Each year they make two places open to non-students. On the visit, participants meet with leaders of the cooperative networks, visit cooperatives and cooperative organizations, have presentations on the key attributes, innovations, strengths and challenges facing the cooperatives. The cost of the 10-day trip, October 9-18, including the study visit fee, airfare, accommodations and meals is about $7,000. CBLD participants will receive a special $500 (Canadian currency) discount on the fee.

For information

To find out more about these study tours for directors of U.S. co-ops or to share an idea for a study tour you’d like to see, contact Mark Goehring at Participants (and/or their co-op) pay most of the costs associated with a trip. A scholarship fund is being developed to provide financial support; ideas welcome!

Photos provided by Bob Noble (Ghana) and Bentley Lein (Sumatra).

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By |March 2nd, 2011|Categories: Connections|Tags: , |

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