Innovative Program to Build the New Economy

saint_marys_logoKalista Popp, a recent graduate from an innovative co-op program at Saint Mary’s University, reached out to tell us about the Co-op Management Education Program for Credit Unions and Cooperatives. We thought it was interesting and that you’d probably want to hear about it too, so we asked her to write a guest blog post for us.

By Kalista Popp, CME Graduate (’13)

As a recent graduate of the Saint Mary’s Co-op Management Education (CME) Program for Credit Unions and Co-operatives, I want to contribute to promoting the master’s degree option to more co-operators. Despite how much I have talked up the program in conferences, work exchanges, and personal discussions with many people from co-ops and credit unions, I always discover more untapped areas of different co-op sectors to reach.

In nearly every conversation, people are surprised to learn such an educational program exists—and immediately excited about the idea of a business management degree focused on the co-op model. I want to build on that excitement and grow the involvement in this degree program, to show how valuable this degree is to cooperatives and credit unions.

Education is at the heart of the co-operative movement, a core part of co-operatives’ commitment to membership and triple bottom line. The fifth co-op principle lays out a clear path for the role of education:

“Co-operatives provide education and training for their members, elected representatives, managers, and employees so they can contribute effectively to the development of their co-operatives. They inform the general public—particularly young people and opinion leaders—about the nature and benefits of co-operation.”

The history and origins of the CME program came from the mind of Tom Webb, a lifelong co-operator who worked with Co-op Atlantic.

As Webb says, “Co-ops often don’t account for our other [than monetary] bottom lines. Where are the tools that let a co-op know if we’ve balanced our multiple bottom lines?”

Imagining an innovative program for co-operative leaders that would deliver business management tools and education tailored to the co-op business model, Webb and a group of academic and co-op leaders founded the Co-op Management Education Co-operative (CMEC) in 2002. The program is housed in the Sobey School of Business at Saint Mary’s University. Students get the equivalent of a traditional MBA degree and get to work with professionals in multiple co-operative sectors.

The thinking is that if we’re going to reshape the economy, we need to give people the tools to do so successfully, so the goal is to equip managers for the challenges of leading co-op businesses in a global business world.

“The challenges and opportunities executives face in a co-op or credit union are different from those one would encounter in other types of business, yet the model is often overlooked in business schools,” Kathy Bardswick, CEO, The Co-operators explains. “There is no program that does a better job of preparing the next generation of co-op leaders than CME.”

There are two international management program options available that teach management skills to co-operative leaders. The programs are unique options for students seeking business management degrees rooted in co-operatives, since these are the only degree-conferring programs in English currently available.

Designed for working professionals seeking a part-time program, students, faculty, and researchers connect from around the globe and from a diversity of co-operatives and credit unions. Throughout the program coursework, students focus on their home co-operative or credit union and propose changes to any or all aspects of the organization to improve its operations and enhance its value to its members, governance issues, planning processes, and approaches.

This program “has been a real-skill building and door-opening experience,” Aaron Dawson (’12), Customer Service Manager at Equal Exchange, USA, told me. “I went in hoping to learn a little more about the wider co-operative world, and I walked away with a rich understanding of the broader co-operative movement, along with knowledge that has real life application: from marketing the co-operative difference to a deeper understanding of co-operative governance. To say that this program has prepared me to take on my new role as a board member of Equal Exchange would be an understatement.”

Embarking on a graduate program is a significant undertaking—one for which understanding the impact is important.

On our study tour visit to Italy, we saw how a co-operative economy can play a key role in a whole region,” explains Norma Babineau (’09), Co-op Atlantic. “You can understand why this program was created and why it is so important.”

Saint Mary’s is holding a webinar on March 6, 2014 for those who want to learn more. You can register here. You can also contact Kalista her to get more info. 

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