Sunday, April 27, 2008

more on the BM food coop | an ex-Director speaks

i've just returned from 10 days in the blue mountains where the food coop situation has been developing on a day-by-day basis. to summarise, the petition was successful. another example of online advocacy. 500 signatures were gathered in two weeks using the website and gathering signatures by hand outside the coop.
in response to this campaign, the Board held an information meeting on 26th march. on 28th march the "save our food coop" group submitted the petition to the Board requesting that a General Meeting be called. the Board have responded and called a General Meeting for thu 8th may.
on 20th april, the "save our food coop" group submitted four resolutions to the Board, calling for the current Board to step down and for the re-election of a new Board of Directors. Margot Turner submitted resolutions (see insert above) to the Board on 25th april, calling for open dialogue and the swift election of a fully operational Board.

meanwhile, the Board and Management of the food coop continue with the change management intiative started late last year when external change management consultants were engaged facilitate the process. on sat 19th april a change management workshop was held with staff (i want to say more here, but this post is already turning into an essay).
following the information meeting, another group formed. this was initiated by Dianne Jacobus who felt that something more needed to come out of that meeting. this group is calling itself "friends of the food coop".

i attended a couple of the "friends of the food coop" meetings and felt that although there are tensions between the various groups (board, staff, members); significant break-ups in communication (and an erosion of trust); and, a lack of transparency with some practices in the current management of coop, there is a genuine intention by the board, staff, coop membership and the community, that the food coop continue to exist and thrive - and a desire on all sides to see a positive outcome.

my observations are centred around the need to review the governance structure and address issues contained in the current structure that make it inherently difficult for the current (or any) board to function in true cooperative spirit (that is, following cooperative principles). put bluntly, the food coop has grown significantly from one part-time shop coordinator and a handful of staff, to a team of about 20 staff, including coordinators with specific roles in marketing, stock ordering, financial, and overall management. there are some varying views amongst the membership and the Board about how the food coop needs to address this growth (management structure, active member participation, etc.). this divergence was present when i was on the Board 5 years ago. there are also some changes that have been made to policy and rules in the last few years that i don't believe are in the interests of the coop.
these and other governance issues will be the subject of the paper i am writing for presentation at the 8th May meeting. it will suggest some positive ways of taking this forward without moving into an adversarial (us and them) or blaming approach.
it is worth noting that in amongst all this, the current board has 4 members, of which 2 have resigned (to take effect from 31st May). No matter what else happens, the present Board is barely a quorum and therefore, as Margot's resolution states, it is imperative that a full Board be established with the requisite skills and diversity of views to adequately represent the coop's members as soon as is practically possible. Coop members with those skills, and the desire, need to step up now :-)

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