All posts by madworc

MadWorC goes to school!

MadWorC is excited to work with UW CREATe, (Center for Rehabilitation Engineering and Assistive Technology) located at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. It is an organization consisting of students studying engineering, occupational therapy, business, and design studies (both grad students and undergrads). This group uses their talents to design equipment for individuals with disabilities also with efforts in biomechanics and orthopedic implant systems. This is a non-profit team that uses their new skills to help an underserved population in our community.

Jay Martin, the director for UW ARTe Design group (“Assistive and Rehabilitative Technology,” part of UW CREATe), recently met with MadWorC because he is interested in having the center become a worker cooperative. Because the group already practices most of the seven co-op principles, the structure of a worker co-op seems like a natural progression. Most of their projects require more then a semester to complete and the sustainability built into a worker cooperative lends itself to the needs of the group. Functionally, the individuals are much more then students taking college classes -– their projects have the potential to really change peoples’ lives.

The mission of UW CREATe is to engage in engineering research, design, and education that will assist in providing additional independence to individuals with disabilities.

Skis designed by UW CREATe participated in the American Birkebeiner in Hayward, WI, this year. Photo by Ole Olson.

Some of UW CREATe’s past projects have been a huge success. You might recognize one of them if you spent any time at Madison Winterfest – the “sit-ski.” This device allows an athlete with disabilities to cross-country ski. Now, 150 sit-skis have been manufactured and shipped across the United States using UW CREATe’s design. The US Paralympic Committee was so excited when they learned of the initial 150 sit-skis that they are providing funding for an additional 100 sit-skis. Before this project started, there were only 50 Nordic sit-skis in the entire country and they cost over $2000 each. Because of this project, by the end of 2010, there will be an additional 250 sit-skis being donated at no cost across the country. UW CREATe’s current projects also include a wheel chair accessible crib for mothers with disabilities and a self-powered wheelchair lift used to climb small stairways.

One of the biggest challenges for the organization will be how the new UW CREATe worker cooperative is integrated into the University system. Jay has met with Anne Reynolds, the Assistant Director of the UW Center for Cooperatives, and they are working on proposals for the legal relationship now.

Student-led businesses are a new thing for UW Madison, although they do exist at other universities. The University of Massachusetts in Amherst has a well-established group of small worker cooperatives that are led by students. U-Mass provides assistance in the structure and guidelines for these companies, and the students do the rest. These businesses include coffeeshops, bike shops and a copy and print shop. What will make the UW CREATe program unique is that the students will be starting a business where they can actually work in the disciplines they are studying.

For more information on UW CREATe, please visit

Co-op spotlight: Just Coffee

Just Coffee Cooperative was formed in 2001 and started roasting coffee in 2002. Back then, we were working with Zapa­tista growers in Chiapas, Mexico, who were looking for better markets for their coffee. After failing to find roasters in the US to buy their coffee, we relu­ctantly decided to do it ourselves. With no experience, but plenty of idealism, we set out to become Madison’s only 100% fair-trade coffee roaster.

From the start, working with cooperatives all the way down the commodity chain was very important to our business. The growers in Chiapas formed a cooperative called Yachil at the same time Just Coffee was getting off of the ground. We joined an importing co-op of U.S. and Canadian roasters, called Cooperative Coffees, to maximize our buying power and to work on projects within grower communities. This enabled us to connect with other co-ops of small-scale growers as well as providing us with a wealth of knowledge that we could dip into as people with no business experience.

There were only two of us in the beginning, and we added members slowly, so we were forced to organize as an LLC. Wisconsin law requires a cooperative to have at least five members, and we did not qualify until 2005. We began our reorganization then, and filed our paperwork in 2006 to become all legal-like.

Today we have seven worker-owners and four main employees. Anyone who works at the co-op for a year is eligible to petition for membership. We pay between $13.50 and $21.00 per hour, depending on worker-owner status and seniority. We also offer health care bene­fits to anyone working over 20 hours a week. At this time, JC pays 70% of the cost and the worker pays 30%. We constantly strive to make sure that we are compensating fairly for the work we do.

We see our co-op as an experiment: an anti-capitalist endeavor in a “free-market” capitalist system. We try to challenge every assumption of how a successful business is run. and are very vocal about our successes, and our failures as well. We try to offer complete transparency by putting all our contracts and profit and loss statements online, and we encourage people to demand this from every business they patronize. We feel that being a cooperative, and stressing partnerships with other co-ops, is a huge part of any attempt to democratize trade.

Photo by Susan Frikken. Used by permission.

What’s in a logo?

As we search for a symbol to uniquely indentify MadWorC, we have come across some interesting information about cooperative logos.

You may have noticed that many co-op organizations use an image of twin pine trees somewhere inside their logo. The logos that we see below all have incorporated pines, usually two pines are shown. Many co-ops also use the term “Twin Pines” in their name.

While tip-toeing through the Internet doing research, we stumbled upon the source of the use of the “Twin Pines” as a cooperative symbol. In an excerpt from a 1921 edition of the magazine “Cooperation,” we found the origination and the explanation of this symbol. This magazine was written by the CLA, the “Cooperative League of America,” and interestingly enough, the article was published as their organization was searching for an identity of their own — just as we are today. This organization eventually became what we know today as the NCBA, and you can see in the logo above that they still incorporate the twin pines in their current logo.

This is a small excerpt from the 1921 article in the CLA’s search for a Cooperative Symbol:

“Many of the symbols were very meritorious. Some represented a high degree of artistic talent. Many presented symbolism which displayed a large grasp of the meaning of Co-operation. But the committee was not able to agree upon any one. The symbols that were artistic were too complicated and difficult of reproduction. Those that were simple and symbolic lacked symmetry and artistic quality. No word that was submitted was found acceptable.

“After repeating the announcement in this magazine three times during the past two years, and still not receiving a symbol and word that could be adopted, the Executive Board set to work to create the symbol and word. After several weeks of trial with many designs, the [twin pines in a circle] seal was adopted.

“The pine tree is the ancient symbol of endurance, fecundity, and immortality. Those are the qualities that we see in Co-operation. In the old Egyptian, Persian and Indian mythology, the pine tree and its symbol, the pine cone are found typifying life and the perpetuation of life. The hardy pine symbolizes the enduring quality of Co-operation. More than one pine is used to represent the mutual co-operation necessary. The trunks of the pine trees are continued into the roots which form a circle. The circle is another ancient symbol of eternal life. It typifies that which has no end. The circle in this picture represents also the world, the all-embracing cosmos, of which Co-operation is a part and which depends for its existence upon Co-operation. The colors of the two pines and the circle are dark green; this is the color of chlorophyll which is the life principle in nature. The background within the circle is golden yellow, typifying the sun, the giver of light and life.”

Now that we have an understanding of where the twin pine logo originated, it is interesting to look at the US Federation of Worker Cooperatives logo to get the perspective from a worker cooperative. This logo was conceptualized in 2004 by Tim Huet and designed by Tim Simmons. The twin pines can easily be seen in the background with a flying V flock of geese in the foreground. The addition of FASTER FURTHER TOGETHER really makes this a great logo for an organization of worker cooperatives.

A complete explanation of this logo can be found at

As our search for the perfect MadWorC logo continues, please feel free to submit your ideas to

By Ole Olson
Isthmus Engineering and Manufacturing

United Nations Declares 2012 International Year of Cooperatives

A cooperative is an autonomous voluntary association of people who unite to meet common economic, social and cultural needs and aspirations, through a jointly owned and democratically controlled enterprise.  In general, they contribute to socio-economic development.

As self-help organizations that meet the needs of their members, cooperatives assist in generating employment and incomes throughout local communities.  Cooperatives provide opportunities for social inclusion.  In the informal economy, workers have formed shared service cooperatives and associations to assist in their self-employment.  In rural areas, savings and credit cooperatives provide access to banking services that are lacking in many communities and finance the formation of small and micro businesses, promotes inclusive finance.

The cooperative sector worldwide has about 800 million members in over 100 countries and is estimated to account for more than 100 million jobs around the world.  The strength and reach of cooperatives are illustrated in the following examples:

  • under the umbrella of the World Council of Credit Unions, 49,000 credit unions serve 177 million members in 96 countries, and 4,200 banks under the European Association of Cooperative Banks serve 149 million clients;
  • agricultural cooperatives account for 80 to 99 per cent of milk production in Norway, New Zealand and the United States; 71 per cent of fishery production in the Republic of Korea; and 40 per cent of agriculture in Brazil;
  • electric cooperatives play a key role in rural areas.  In Bangladesh, rural electric cooperatives serve 28 million people. In the United States, 900 rural electric cooperatives serve 37 million people and own almost half of the electric distribution lines in the country.

International Years are declared by the United Nations to draw attention to major issues and encourage action.  To commemorate the Year, regional conferences will raise awareness of cooperatives and seek ways to leverage their contribution to socio-economic development and foster regulatory frameworks.  A research agenda will be proposed and Member States are to form national committees that will serve as focal points for the Year’s activities.

For more information, contact the Department of Economic and Social Affairs focal point on cooperatives, Felice Llamas,, +1 212 963 2924.

Original here.