“The BFC exists to meet its shareholders collective needs for…”
by Tom Franks
This is the first phrase of the Brattleboro Food Co-op’s Board of Directors’ Ends Policy. It is followed by six specific “collective needs.” These define what we do, with what resources, and for whom. The Ends guide your board in all of its decisions, and since the board’s decisions on your behalf direct the Co-op’s activities, they are important.
See our Ends Policy on the BFC website (http://www.brattleborofoodcoop.coop) in the Cooperate section, on the Our History page.
Our definition of these collective needs is a few years old, and many things have happened since then. The economy has changed significantly. The new home for the Co-op is almost—knock on wood—completed. We have survived a variety of natural and human disasters. And, as noted in Bob Crego’s January 2012 Food For Thought article, we received an update from our shareholders on your desires and aspirations from the World Café exercise at the 2011 annual meeting.
At the end of his article Bob raised several questions about where we should go and what we should do going forward with regard to the Co-op’s 100-Year Plan. I am pleased and honored to be a part of a committee that has taken up the charge of investigating these questions and the general applicability of our current Ends to the conditions we now see. My purpose today is not to discuss the Ends themselves, but to share with you an overview of this process.
Hard on the heels of the annual meeting, your board held its annual retreat. This day-long meeting is intended to help build an effective team at the board level, so that we can hit the ground running at our first board meeting; to educate all board members about the requirements and refinements of the policy governance (ask me about policy governance, but be prepared for a long discussion) structure under which we operated; and to develop the work plan for the coming year. As part of this work plan, informed by our shareholders’ input, we determined to set up a committee to review the Ends. This committee met and offered the board a variety of options for Ends review at the February meeting. The board as a whole directed the committee to review the Ends in detail and prepare a recommendation for its review.
This committee is not the opportunity for individual members to set the course of the Co-op for years to come. We are constrained by the by-laws, a legal document that prevails over all other policies and procedures we might implement. They state that “the Co-op exists for the purpose of meeting the needs of its shareholders, on a cooperative and nonprofit basis, with a focus on food and related products, and supporting the larger cooperative movement.” They further require that we “shall be operated in accordance with the International Cooperative Alliance Statement of Cooperative Identity” which contains the seven cooperative principles. (Check them out at http://www.ica.coop/coop/principles.html. Great reading, in my humble opinion, but then I’m a policy wonk.)
The committee’s review will be informed by the shareholders’ input, by information on best practices available from the robust network of cooperative resources, and by our past and current policies and plans. We will check to make sure the concepts and words in our Ends Policy accurately reflect both what our shareholders want to accomplish and how they want the Co-op to accomplish these things. We’ll ask questions, and perhaps not answer them, but at least give them serious consideration.
For example, third among the Ends is, “A regenerative business that has a net positive environmental impact.” The word “regenerative” is vaguely defined as “of, or pertaining to, or characterized by regeneration.” Some plants can regenerate a branch, but can a co-op regenerate itself or the community around it? Should it be expected to? How can we measure our progress towards being a “regenerative business”? Can we expect to have a net positive environmental impact in the foreseeable future, when our whole food economy is based on transportation? Is it reasonable to have an End that is not achievable?
The board’s objective is to present any changes, proposed or implemented, to the shareholders at the annual meeting in November. It seems like a long time way, but even with only 73 words in the current policy, it is no mean task.