Since my post last week about the importance of collaboration, that lesson has continued to present itself even more clearly. The executive director of Local Matters has shared many bits of advice with me so far, but one line that I’ve heard multiple times is “never burn bridges.” In an endeavor such as opening a cooperative grocery store, you never know what challenges you will face or what people you will need to call upon for help. It seems intuitive that a cooperative business is founded on principles of cooperation, but the extent to which success relies upon the help of so many varied people and resources is eye-opening.
Even though this lesson is still coagulating in my mind, it’s demonstrably solidified in other co-op managers. I’ve made several phone calls that I anticipated would be sensitive or awkward – for instance, asking for financial documents or member income levels – but everyone that I’ve spoken with has been more than happy to honor my requests, and on top of sending me the requested documents, they extended offers to help in any way possible. This is even true of several co-op managers in Columbus, who I expected would be hesitant to speak with me since the Near East Side Co-op could be viewed as competition. Instead, these managers answered my requests with a resounding “YES!,” and then mentioned the importance of cooperation among cooperatives in order to further the community-based mission of such businesses.
This work is completely different from any other work I’ve ever done. Instead of approaching projects with the question of “what’s in it for me?,” cooperatives seem to approach projects with the question of “how can I complete this in a way that will best serve my community?” I went to St. Olaf College for my undergraduate degree, and part of their mission statement is to prepare students to live lives of worth and service. I heard that phrase so many times while I was at school there that it started to sound trite; however, delving into cooperative business has re-ignited the meaning of that phrase for me. I’ve set the intention to embody an attitude of service in my everyday life, and I imagine that it will allow me to enrich the lives of others while simultaneously enriching my own.