Thinking Like Owners
Sandra Berman and I are currently involved in research to evaluate the course as a tool for training women in democratic business structures and we have been interviewing the women who participated in the program. All but two are either working or have returned to school; seven are working in co-op organizations, five as a direct result of the program. One feasibility projects had examined the possibility of a co-op to promote the work of women artists. Following the completion of the program the three women involved in the project continued to develop their idea. They successfully applied for a Federal training grant to increase their skills in bookkeeping, marketing and computer graphics and are now in the process of bringing their idea to life as the West Coast Women Artists' Society.

As researchers, we have been specially interested in examining the relationship between the concrete co-op/group training and the personal changes that occurred. There is no question that the program was empowering. For all the women it was a very meaningful experience, for several it was a turning-point in their lives. Many of the women now define themselves in much stronger terms than they did initially: they see themselves as people who can "stand up for what I want", who "can take risks", who "have something important to say."
     As educators, we are interested in understanding how personal development can be integrated into teaching co-op sector participation. Previous co-op experience was not required of every individual who entered the program, although almost half the students had some co-op background (several lived in housing co-ops). At the start of the program, many of the women expressed anxiety and insecurity about co-ops and co-op business training in particular. However, as the personal and working relationships developed, their confidence increased and they began to take on more responsibilities in their classroom studies and at the work placement. Several participants have told us they could now imagine themselves as active participants in a co-op as a result of the information and support they experienced in the program.
    Although we have not yet completed our evaluation of the program, we have re-affirmed the importance of the link between personal empowerment and change on a larger scale, in this case through the establishment of democratic business structures. It is clear to us that for co-operative management training program to be effective, it must be built around individual growth and development.

Melanie Conn has been working with Community Economic Options since 1985. She is involved in education, research and consulting in the area of community economic development as a strategy to empower women.


Back Contents Next