|Board of Directors Report: Ends Policy #7|
by Daniel Seals
Do we, as a co-op, feel that people, the people in this community and in surrounding communities, have reasonable access to participation in the Co-op? Probably. The doors are open fourteen hours a day, six days a week (and 12 hours on Sunday). There are staff members available to answer questions. If you can get in the door, you can participate.
But what constitutes participation in the Co-op? Shopping at the Co-op is participating. Interacting with staff is participating. Filling out a feedback form is participating. Investing $80 to become a shareholder is participating. Being a working shareholder is participating and so is attending shareholder and board meetings (If you feel that I’m missing something here, please feel free to stop me behind the Deli counter or in the aisles to share your views). If you asked the patrons and community members if they have reasonable access to participation in the Co-op, what would they say? Some would say yes. It’s here; it’s friendly. Of course there is access, and it seems quite reasonable. Others might not agree. An $80 fee to become a shareholder can seem a barrier to some. Finding the time to do shareholder hours can be tricky for others. Staying informed about the status of the Co-op, participating in elections, and keeping this in balance with the rest of one’s life might not even be feasible for some.
Participation in the Co-op is not a one-size-fits-all situation. It is a series of decisions leading progressively towards greater levels of involvement. Become a shareholder; become a working shareholder; become a well-informed, voting, working shareholder who attends shareholder meetings and/or board meetings. These decisions require time, money and information.
Does the Co-op provide the necessary infrastructure to promote this kind of investment? Yes. Could it be improved? Of course. Always. Strengthening the interaction between Co-op and community requires mutual investment.
One of the primary focus points of the Board of Directors right now is to understand and implement new ways of engaging and interacting with shareholders and the community at-large. The other side of the coin is the different constituents of the community understanding what the Co-op offers, and in what ways they can interact with the Co-op so it better reflects their needs.
This is not, however, a linear interaction. One does not lead directly to the other and the relationship is not static. Rather it is cyclical. One interaction follows the other through gateways of listening and understanding, and each cycle strengthens the next. This cycle of interaction feeds greater understanding on one side and greater service on the other. The Co-op’s job is not just to serve the shareholders, but to understand and serve the community in which it is based as well. This fosters interest and participation among community members (shareholders and nonshareholders alike), which fosters growth in the Co-op as a community organization as well as an economic institution.
The Co-op’s seventh Ends Policy reads “Reasonable access to participation in the cooperative.” This is an End for which the Brattleboro Food Co-op strives continually. But striving is the key word here. This is not an End to be simply fulfilled and tossed out, but continually re-evaluated. Continuing outreach to the community for feedback, good and bad, is required if the Co-op is to serve our community. A similar responsibility falls on Co-op shareholders and patrons. The Co-op is a grocery store, and it’s a consumer cooperative. We have rules, regulations, policies and by-laws that must be followed, Ends Policies to meet, and money we need to make in order to stay in business. The Co-op is also an enterprise created by humans. Meaning that it consists of humans. And is run by humans. So I’m emphasizing two zones of participation here: