The North American Students of Cooperation (NASCO) annual institute, held at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor from November 8th through the 10th, provided over 400 attendees with tools, networking opportunities, and a weekend of fun and fellowship. The theme, 'Imagining a Cooperative Revolution,' resonated throughout the workshops, management sessions, and shared meals.
As would be expected at a conference called an institute, the bulk of the time was spent in classes. Each cooperator was able to attend one of 12-16 different courses per 2 hour period. Courses ranged widely from walking tours of local co-ops, building consensus within co-ops, addressing oppression within co-ops, constructing eco-villages, creating co-housing, cooperative financing, creating community intentionally, permaculture, and building community through beer brewing. The courses not only allowed for exchange of information, but also allowed cooperators with similar interests to network and discuss problems in their own cooperatives.
The attendees came from coast to coast, and even included a representative from Japan The group from Austin, Texas went so far as to rent a large tour bus for the long ride to Ann Arbor. Many of the local Ann Arbor co-ops flung their doors wide to welcome the institute attendees. The emphasis of the sessions as well as most cooperators¨ experience was in housing cooperatives, though some representatives from worker cooperatives participated. The attendees also had widely ranging background experience, from those looking to form their university¨s first co-op to those that have lived for decades in established communities with hundreds of members.
The weekend culminated with the Institute Banquet. After members of long tenure (some cooperators of over 50 years) were recognized, new coops were presented with their honorary flags and congratulations. The keynote address was delivered by Deborah James, the Fair Trade Director for Global Exchange. Deborah has worked to expand the availability of Fair Trade Coffee. She highlighted the success fair trade cooperatives have had in the coffee industry, as well as the growing call for similar measures in cocoa markets throughout the world. She implored participants to use their cooperatives to work toward a more just world.
NASCO is an association of campus cooperatives in Canada and the
U.S., providing student cooperatives with operational assistance, encouraging
the development of new student cooperatives, and serving as an advocate for
student cooperatives. NASCO teaches leadership skills, provides information,
and serves as the central link facilitating the fruition of the Rochdale vision
in the student sector. By strengthening the student co-op movement, they
believe they can strengthen the future of cooperatives generally. For more
information visit www.umich.edu/~nasco/ or www.nasco.coop.