What Does That Even Mean: Cooperatives

#SHEstyles

Picture: Genia and the co-op walking to their water source. They do everything in community. 

Picture: Genia and the co-op walking to their water source. They do everything in community. 

From a pig named "Mercedez Benz" to the rise of birth control in Rwanda to how Eugenia’s cooperative was started, the conversation over our naturally farm-to-table lunch in rural Rwanda was nothing short of fascinating.

Eugenia, or "Genia" as she’s called, is part of an artisan cooperative (or co-op) in rural southwest Rwanda. Over lunch, she explained that her co-op began as a giving circle. In other words, her small community pooled all of their money together weekly and divided it amongst themselves based on need. Community was the priority, over any one person’s status. As they were eventually connected with a partner who agreed to help them by creating a marketplace in which they could sell their work to a broader customer base, they developed into a cooperative and now spend their days working together in community. 

But what does it even mean to be part of a cooperative? Here at SHE Changes Everything, we believe that knowledge is power and and translates into deep impact. Because many ethical clothing and agricultural groups use the cooperative model, it’s important that we stop to ask, “What does it even mean to be a part of a cooperative???”

Picture: Genia is dressing me like a Rwandan!

Picture: Genia is dressing me like a Rwandan!

According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, a cooperative can be defined as, “a business or organization owned by and operated for the benefit of those using its services. Profits and earnings generated by the cooperative are distributed among the members, also known as user-owners. Typically, an elected board of directors and officers run the cooperative while regular members have voting power to control the direction of the cooperative.”

Picture: Genia (In the white sweater), Will (my husband!) and I helping the local co-op collect water.

Picture: Genia (In the white sweater), Will (my husband!) and I helping the local co-op collect water.

Being connected to a larger marketplace has allowed Genia (a single mother) and the other women in her co-op to send their children to a better school. This is how generational change begins: Education. Opportunity. Staying true to your values.

Genia’s advice for success in business:

"Put community first. If your goal is wealth, you are sure to fail."

Dream and do,

Lindsey Raymond