A mountainous landscape is made up of layers upon layers of rock, forming stratification patterns over millennia and millennia. The layers on the bottom are, obviously, the first to be laid down, and one can track the history of the area through millions of years by studying the layers.
At co-op AGMs I sometimes think of these layers as members stand up and state their member numbers before asking their questions. A member who stands up with an early member number will command a certain amount of respect. Their tenure with the co-op will place them in a kind of stratum layer in the co-op’s history.
The founding members form the base of the co-op; these are the members who opt in to initiate the co-op. The next members are the pioneers who jump into the unknown, followed by the early-adopters who join and add their voices and capital to the layers. Then, the growth stages come, adding in layer upon layer of new members, allowing new opportunities, lines of business and operational maturity.
At a co-op AGM, I imagine the members like layers of rock, and I hope there’s a solid foundation to build on. I envision the early years when the layers were shallow and no one knew whether they were building a mountain or a small hill.
A healthy co-op will look back at the founding members for inspiration, but rocky landscapes aren’t delicate; we must also look to future generations of co-op members to add height and strength and create something enduring and monumental.
What do the strata layers at your co-op look like? Are they strong enough to support growth? Are they starting crumble under the weight of modernity? How do you engage the co-op members in a discussion about building on your foundation that isn’t polarizing or divisive, but instead seeks to understand how you can continue to build new layers of members in a way that can be truly supported by what already exists?
William Azaroff is the proudly elected Board Chair of Modo, a car-sharing co-operative in Metro Vancouver and Victoria and Director, Business & Community Development at Vancity, a values-based financial co-operative serving the needs of its 500,000 member-owners and their communities.