Together We Grow : Registration for Georgia Co-op Academy is Now Open! Register Now!

Georgia Co-op Academy is back! Don’t miss the next cohort exploration of the business model canvas and the business ownership models, key components to launching your co-op vision. We’ll take you through it and much more and get you ready for the next steps. Post-course coaching and technical assistance offered. Scholarships also available! Register at Eventbrite here!

Are you a co-op leader in the cooperative movement? Are you committed to empowering the next generation of co-op visionaries and innovators for the new economy? We’re now accepting sponsors for our Fall Georgia Co-op Academy! Give us a call at 770.284.0042 or email us at info@georgiacoopdc.org to learn more!

Course Details Here

Course Modules by Week

#ShopCoop Georgia Co-ops!

At Georgia Co-op Development Center, wherever possible, we believe in finding win-win-win solutions. For Co-op Month we’re practicing more P6 that’s Cooperative Principle 6 or “Cooperation Among Cooperatives”. We’ve assembled a list of Georgia co-ops, and partner nonprofits, below who we love and are part of the vibrant growing co-op movement and new economy. Join us in supporting these great organizations. Check out some fellow #ShopCoop lists from our friends. Enjoy! And if you notice your co-op missing, just drop us an email at info@georgiacoopdc.org. Happy Co-op Month!

USDA’s Rural Co-op Development Grant and GCDC

We did it! with your support, Matthew Epperson, and the GCDC family we did it! We were awarded RCDG grant of $70K!  Back in 2021, our former ED, Matthew Epperson wrote 40+ pages of grant narrative for GCDC’s fiscal year 2021-22 USDA Rural Co-op Development Grant (RCDG) and it wasn’t for nothing. It’s going to support two more years (2022-2023, It’s been extended) of rural co-op development, education, technical assistance and more! Thanks Matthew and GCDC Board for all of your hard work and diligence in getting us these funds. We’ll keep y’all posted on all the goings on and how we put those funds to good use.

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Have you ever heard of the RCDG? If not, it was first launched in 1990, and offers up to $200,000 in grant funds to help (among others) Co-op Development Centers provide services to help develop rural co-ops. Here are some prior year awardees to give you a flavor of who is applying and what for. You can find more program information here if you’re curious, and for a deep dive, here is the USDA’s Rural Co-op Magazine . Most of the organizational members of Cooperation Works! apply for this funding, and it provides a crucial Federal funding backbone for many centers that have been around longer than GCDC.

USDA has a long history supporting cooperatives, primarily as part of their programs to support farmers. More recently, with some of the legislation with things like the Main Street Employee Ownership Act (MSEOA), the US Small Business Administration (SBA) has been looking to USDA for guidance on crucial topics like personal guarantees (which have been SBA standard, but co-op advocates are fighting to waive or modify for 7(a) loans to co-ops, and USDA has not had this practice historically).

Well, with GCDC’s RCDG, we managed to dot i’s and cross t’s as we got together letters of support, quotes, matching funds, proof of incorporation of co-ops with the Georgia Secretary of State, and more. We got together the minimum 25% matching requirement — and were able to submit on grants.gov before deadline!

USDA Rural Development Connie Baker Wolfe State Director for Wyoming USDA, Rural  Development WyoNAHRO Conference Wyoming Rural Development Programs and. -  ppt download

Bette Brand named USDA's Secretary of Rural Development

(Image Credit: NCBA-CLUSA, “Longtime cooperator Bette Brand named USDA’s new Rural Development Deputy Under Secretary“)

It’s hard to decide what to ask for when you’re asking for a relatively large amount of money! We decided to focus on (1) launching the Co-op Academy (see our last post about it!), and (2) helping to further launch GCDC itself with all of the people and money systems necessary to keep the work sustainable and able to report on our metrics of helping folks start or convert into co-ops. We’ll be putting these funds toward bringing together even more of the talented folks to do things like teach cohorts of hungry, smart cooperators about business planning, and to turn GCDC into an even more systems-based nonprofit, full of standard operating procedures and best practices.

And now, with budgeting and scoring criteria writing wrapped for the 2021 RCDG application, it’s a time also to say thank you to all of the folks who have helped GCDC get to where it is, and able to apply for this crucial funding. It’s a list too long to give here, but you all know who you are. Thank you! We listed 11 direct partner organizations in this application! And there are so many more individuals who have been such a huge help to this center. And I’d be remiss to not specifically shoutout Thomas Beckett of Carolina Common Enterprise, our sister serving the Carolinas, for his willingness to answer seemingly countless small but crucial grant clarification questions. This process has been a great reminder of how wide and deep the co-op community is, and how many folks in the co-op space find themselves coming together to get this grant over the finish line each year.

From here, we wrote in an expected launch of grant activities on October 1st, 2021, running through September 30th, 2022. We should be hearing more from USDA soon, and will check back in as we learn more. Got questions? Thoughts? Drop us an email!

Co-op Academy Coming Soon!

Many like to say “we don’t need to reinvent the wheel”, to suggest the borrowing of something that already exists, and works. In “co-op land” this is sometimes called “P6’ing” (in reference to the international cooperative 6th principle of cooperation among cooperatives), and I’ve recently coined another useful phrase for it when it’s coming from a non-co-op source: “ethical repurposing”.

What does this have to do with a co-op academy? Well, suffice it to say I’ve been watching these types of academies, boot camps, fellowships and accelerators being hosted by cooperative development peers for a long time, and behind the scenes, GCDC and Regenerate Atlanta Cooperative Loan Fund (RACLF) have been gearing up to make our own contribution to this particular subfield of co-op development. To help us co-develop this academy, we’ve submitted an idea proposal to SOCAP21, where peers will contribute their two cents to a model that we’re envisioning as distinctly southern, led by majority BIPOC cooperators, and many of whom are worker- or producer-owners of their co-op. To get this idea to SOCAP21, we’re asking for your vote!

Vote for Us!

So which wheels are we borrowing from? With due credit, we’re inspired by: Green Worker Co-ops in the Bronx, Start:ME in Atlanta at Emory’s Goizueta School of Business, the Propeller Accelerator in New Orleans, and the nationwide Start.coop accelerator, among others.

Take the Survey!

Ultimately, though, what this academy ends up becoming isn’t totally up to GCDC or RACLF, or even our development peers, and that’s why I’m asking for your input! Head here to tell us what you think the most important topics are, how to deliver them, what time of day, etc. Our initial plan is to kick off in August with an 8 part, 4 month (2x/month) program with each session being around 4 hours each. We’re not sure how many co-op startup teams we want, but probably want to combine conversions and startups to mix and match the needs and strengths. Each team will have a mentor co-op and/or consultant. And of course as teachers of democracy, we’re not going “sage on the stage” and just lecturing through 8 sessions. We’ll be integrating “popular education” (learn more from our friends at TESA) throughout. Take this quote from Paulo Freire:

Liberatory education is fundamentally a situation where the teacher and the students both have to be learners, both have to be cognitive subjects, in spite of being different. This for me is the first test of liberating education, for teachers and students both to be critical agents in the act of knowing.
A Pedagogy for Liberation: Dialogues on Transforming Education

We’ll be holding the academy online for sure, and possibly a hybrid in-person format. We’ll be bringing together both rural and urban co-ops, and a mix of industries as well as types of ownership.

So why create an academy? A few reasons come to mind. First, it’s efficient. Where one mentor-one mentee relationships are all about depth, an academy creates the opportunity for breadth, whereby numerous co-ops each take a little bit of everyone’s time. Which leads to reason #2: emergent knowledge. When we come together, we’re always smarter than the sum of the intelligence of everyone in the room. Why? Because something magical happens when we think together about important things like: “how are we going to sustain ourselves running our co-ops? How can we grow to sustain even more folks?” This is principle 6 in action, and it helps us get in the mindset of participation as well. After the academy is over, each team will set about taking that participatory ethic into their co-ops, sharing power, sharing knowledge, and sharing the benefits of their labor together in the form of patronage dividends. So many co-ops, as they grow, lose this fire that comes from genuine participation, the practice of democracy, and our academies can stoke that flame, and teach participants to keep it alight over time, and pay the flame forward.

I’m excited to say that I’m working on a new contribution to the field of cooperative development, and this academy will also be my chance to share this new tool, test it, and iterate. Stay tuned for more to come!

2020 Recap

Y’all, happy new year. In the wake of multiple pandemics, from racism to COVID-19, wild fires, women of color flipping Georgia Blue, a Christmas Day bomber, and so much more, it’s definitely time for a breath, some tea (or wine) and reflection. If you’d indulge me, I’d like to reflect some on my perspective on the status of cooperative happenings in Georgia from 2020. I’d also love to hear your reflections, so drop me an email (matthew@georgiacoopdc.org).
So here goes:

  1. GCDC assisted over 18 different co-op startup groups or individuals in industries ranging from vehicle repair to mesh fiber internet to catering, grocery, martial arts, graphic art, hemp farming, housing and much more. In total we spent over 100 hours in 2020 on the phone or on Zoom calls directly or indirectly assisting our startup community.
  2. We applied for and did not receive funding from the Rural Co-op Development Grant (RCDG) of the USDA. We were to request over $100,000 in grant dollars, which would of course transform GCDC from a primarily volunteer run organization into a paid staff organization. This was a challenging defeat, given how many hours I and our partners put in, as well as dollars, toward ensuring we had a strong application as well as cash match for the grant. Still, this was an enormous learning opportunity once again to put together a coalition of partners, and plan out our activities for 2021. Stay tuned for a published version of our strategic plan for 2021.
    1. We continue to be so grateful and proud to have raised over $4,000 from over 35 donors – and on short notice!
  3. It was a hard year for (most) Georgia co-ops. When we reached out to our co-op client-partners in April we learned that due to COVID-19:
    1. There was an average 45% drop in sales year over year, but 1 co-op is doing better than same time last year, with lows for the drop in sales of 20% and highs of 75%.
    2. There was an average decline of 31% in hours for workers in GA co-ops, indicating some protective buffer for workers
    3. 86% of Georgia co-ops have been significantly impacted in their business processes
    4. 21% are not current on their rent or mortgage payments
    5. 79% have had their supply chains disrupted
    6. 57% of co-ops are either not at all or not well equipped to offer telecommuting to workers
    7. 71% would like a payroll related grant from the government, 64% would like a working capital grant
    8. 64% would be interested in a loan between $1,000 and $25,000 (35% between 1 and 10K, 28% between 11 and 25K) from the government
    9. 71% would like an online class on how to sell products online offered by Georgia Cooperative Development Center
  4. In response to #3, we hosted a cash flow management webinar with board member Tom Strong, who is a certified Open Book Management coach with the Great Game of Business, as well as founder of the Georgia Employee Ownership Center. (If you missed this webinar, reach out to me and I’ll get you plugged in!)
  5. We are still planning to offer an online sales related webinar, focused on digital resiliency. Stay tuned for more details on that, coming soon. Plus of course, holiday sales reflections.
  6. I got the opportunity to meet a credit union legend and now Co-op Hall of Famer, Mike Mercer (congratulations, Mike!). Mike has some interesting plans cooking up with some co-op partners that will have some positive ripple effects here in Georgia, bringing together the “P6 sauce” of cooperation among cooperatives. I can’t wait to see what becomes of all of this.
  7. I was able to attend multiple co-op sector events, conferences and webinars such as the Up & Coming Food Co-op Conference, National Cooperative Business Association’s IMPACT conference, and the African-American Credit Union Coalition’s Commitment to Change Credit Unions Unite to End Racism. These events let me share in what our co-ops are learning, and continue to pass on that knowledge to our startups and conversions in Georgia.
  8. I’ve recently learned about the Justice for Black Farmers Act proposed by Senators Booker, Warren and Gillibrand and I look forward to working with groups like Stacey Abrams’s Southern Economic Advancement Project (SEAP) in supporting this crucial bill to redress the discrimination and trauma related to the past and present practices of the USDA. If such a bill were to pass, it would go beyond the promised 40 acres and a mule. I highly encourage anyone interested in this crucial issue for American society to watch this webinar.
  9. We continue to make a great team as Founder/Executive Director and Board of Directors here at GCDC, and I am so grateful to our board for all the ways they’ve stepped up to assist me in doing this work of supporting startup Georgia co-ops. These days, new inquiries are vetted by a board member, and I am thrilled to be given a little more breathing room to focus on following up and diving deeper with our existing client-partner co-ops. This year we’ve been able to build long term relationships with two co-ops made up of Black farmers and fishermen and I am proud of the work we’ve managed to accomplish.
  10. It’s been a great year also for partnerships. GCDC signed on to the Atlanta Wealth Building Initiative’s Business is Black campaign to help ensure Atlanta’s economic recovery is equitable and beneficial to Black owned businesses. GCDC continues to work closely with both Regenerate Atlanta and the Georgia Employee Ownership Center on ways to help promote more startup and conversion worker cooperatives in the greater metro Atlanta area. It’s our hope for 2021 to be able to conduct a more active outreach campaign to “legacy business owners” on the possibility of more worker co-op conversions.
    1. Speaking of partnerships, we’ve developed a growing partnership with Jillian Hishaw and her team at 30,000 acres/F.A.R.M.S. They do incredible work – check it out!

And I am sure there is more to it than that, but as with any mighty challenge, it’s important to know when to stop and take a breather. Please be sure to sign up for newsletter which I am re-committing to sending out quarterly (at least) in 2021. If you want to support our work you can (1) Donate money, (2) spread the word on your social feeds, tell a friend or family member, or your elected representative, something exciting about co-ops that you bet they don’t know, or (3) talk to an entrepreneur friend who might be a good fit for a co-op about GCDC, or (4) get creative!

Here’s to 2021, y’all. Still, stronger together.

P.S. Shoutout to my co-op home forever, Daily Groceries Co-op, on truly surviving in 2020, including becoming full fledged members of National Co+op Grocer’s! This was in the works for SO LONG, years and years, and I am so proud of that team for utilizing everything in their toolkit to make it through 2020. Love.Daily

P.P.S. I am proud of Georgia for having nearly 40 co-ops on the .coop directory! Nice job showing off the cooperative difference with your website, y’all.

Cash Flow Management Free Webinar Tues 5/19 8:00 PM EST

Join us for a fun and interactive webinar, hosted by Georgia Cooperative Development Center Board Director and Founding Board Director of the Georgia Center for Employee Ownership, Tom Strong. The topic will be how to use open-book management techniques to manage cash flow in crisis (such as COVID-19). Maintaining positive cash flow is crucial to keeping any business thriving, including co-ops; this session is about how to engage your entire team in this process.

This is a free session, and login information will be shared soon. Please RSVP here to let us know you’re coming — and tell a friend! Some materials for this webinar are courtesy of the Great Game of Business®, an open-book management coaching firm that works with many employee-owned companies. Co-ops, B corps, social enterprises and even democratic non-profit and for-profit businesses are all welcome to attend.

Webinar Login Info

https://meeting.zoho.com/joinWebinar?key=1041484097&digest=b153b68c4f8b9ca77479802402cf34ec79a0f2c689013dda7d41ed7e08d0bd16
Join using your phone:
+1 408 469 4614
Access Code: 1041484097 #

Up & Coming Food Co-op Conference 2020 & GCDC!

The Up & Coming Food Co-op conference is a wonderful annual gathering of peer startup food cooperators from across the US, all focused on supporting each other in working toward opening new community owned grocery stores. 2020 was no exception to this, and for my first year attending, I had a blast! Hosted by the Food Co-op Initiative (FCI) and Indiana Cooperative Development Center at the Sheraton Hotel in Madison, Wisconsin, this year continued the trend toward a greater emphasis on addressing food insecure areas, in both rural and urban settings. One of our long-time friends and client-partners, Market 166, sent their Board President Jenna McMullan-Freedman, and two GCDC Board Members, organizer of the West Georgia Farmer’s Co-op Eric Simpson, and Columinate CPA and Red Clay Co-op organizer Audrey Griffin, and yours truly GCDC Executive Director Matthew Epperson, all converged from down south up in the still chilly Midwest. (There was still plenty of snow-pack off of the sides of the road, y’all.)

Each session was fit to the 3 stage development model FCI uses as its road-map for startup food co-ops, ranging from the organizing stage 1, through stage 3 implementation. I was able to attend some great session. The first was on creating a “pitch packet” to tell the story of your co-op with Darnell Adams of Firebrand. Then, how to utilize Nationbuilder for your customer resource management (CRM) (basically to stay in touch with them through email, donations, social media interactions, and more) with the Oshkosh Food Co-op. Third was bylaws and legal concerns with Dave Swanson, and finally Breaking Down Systemic Oppression with Jamila Medley of the Philadelphia Area Cooperative Alliance.

During the award ceremony, Ed Whitfield was recognized for his and other organizers’ efforts following the closure of Renaissance Community Co-op to share what they learned, and hopefully help our movement avoid that same conclusion for the next wave of food apartheid overcoming food co-ops like Detroit’s Black Community Food Security Network, among others. Jamila challenged us to think through what it means to be welcoming by sharing the video Look at Art, Get Paid, a study of inclusivity efforts of a museum that sought to pay folks who had never been to the museum before, to provide frank feedback about all the ways un-welcoming messages are sent often unintentionally in progressive spaces.

I leave Wisconsin physically tired, but mentally prepared to continue supporting startup food co-ops in Georgia. If you’re interested in learning more, please drop us an email.

New Year, New Mailing Address

Happy new year, world! Out with 2019, in with 2020, and for Georgia Cooperative Development Center, we have a new mailing address. Going forward, please use:

Georgia Cooperative Development Center
c/o Audrey Griffin
315 College St.
Carrollton, GA 30117

We have discontinued use of the PO Box 307 in Athens, GA, and will be unreachable that way. Thank you for your attention to this matter, if you were planning to mail us a donation or other correspondence.

2019 in Reflection

The Georgia Cooperative Development Center exists to help co-op businesses in Georgia succeed, whether they are startups or existing businesses. We started our nonprofit organization because we saw that there was a need: people wanted to start co-ops, or grow their existing co-op, but they didn’t know where to turn for help. We knew there were some resources for businesses, but none tailored toward the cooperative business model. We also knew that there was data on the economic impact of co-ops in Georgia thanks to the University of Wisconsin’s Center for Cooperatives, but it had become outdated (2009). So the vision was born to bring together services in four key areas to help Georgia co-ops: technical assistance, networking, research and education.

In 2019, GCDC made strides as a small but mighty nonprofit in all of those key areas. For technical assistance, we worked with over 20 co-ops, focusing on topics ranging from legal documents to bookkeeping systems, new product development, patronage dividends, and more. We helped network co-ops in Georgia with examples/case studies, partners and conversations with other cooperators who operate in similar industries. Our research focused on our statewide needs assessment, which resulted in 18 unique co-op respondents to a 62 question survey that went into great depth with each co-op. We learned about demographic information, sales, cooperative principles and values, motivations for becoming a co-op, and more. And finally, we offered education on co-ops in a few different formats, including our first ever webinar, a pitch presentation to 1 Million Cups, a business model canvas workshop, as well as converting your business into a co-op workshop. We also presented about youth cooperatives at the Eastern Conference for Workplace Democracy in Baltimore this year, and shared a panel discussion at this year’s Social Justice Symposium hosted by UGA’s School of Social Work. We also partnered with the Church at Ponce and Highland on the Fair Trade Holiday Market 2020 which brought together over 100 customers and over 30 vendors, all focused on gift items that were made following fair trade principles that empower producers. It’s been a busy year!


Why we do this work hasn’t changed: we believe having more successful co-ops in Georgia helps create a more equitable economy. What do we mean by equitable economy? One in which people are more in control of their economic lives, because as users of businesses, they are also owners, that is what we mean by a more equitable economy. How else can regular people say that they own their grocery store, their own workplace, their farm, their financial institution and their utility company? That’s a key cooperative difference. Furthermore we believe that with ownership comes the control to contribute to the direction of the businesses we depend on for things like power, shelter, food, and so on. And in an age of climate disruption, it will be the cooperatives that continue to lead the way in terms of the resiliency we need as a society to weather the coming storms, and emerge stronger, together. We hope you’ll join us as a donor, a volunteer, a subscriber, however suits you, in 2020. We’re here to help. You can email me at any time, Matthew@georgiacoopdc.org. Thanks for reading!

Needs Assessment Webinar Tues. Dec 17th, 7 PM EST

You are invited to join Georgia Cooperative Development Center for an evening webinar Tuesdsay, December 17th at 7 PM EST. Our topic will be our 2019 Georgia Co-op Needs Assessment: Findings and Takeaways. You can RSVP by emailing us at Matthew@georgiacoopdc.org. This will be an hour webinar, completely free, though of course donations are appreciated (and can be sent using www.paypal.me/georgiacoopdc/10).

We will be sharing what we learned from our first pass at assessing the needs of co-ops both already existing and starting up across the state of Georgia, as well as kicking off our second round of needs surveying for 2020. If you’d like to read up more on our findings you can request by email to receive the Executive Summary document link.

We hope you can join us!

Have questions about co-ops? We can help!

We'll get back to you as soon as we can!

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