The USACYC Cohort brings young people and their ideas to cooperative events historically accessible only to older people. Cohorts engage young people directly in cooperative movement conversations and decision-making processes. For a Cohort program, USACYC recruits and organizes a group of youth together before a conference or event to prepare them for attending the event together. During the event, Cohort members attend all the regular programming of the event, as well as daily Cohort-specific conversations and trainings. Cohort trainings focus on public speaking and networking skills, providing background information or context for the focus of the larger event, and facilitated reflection on our experiences during and topics of the larger event. We have discovered that “scholarships are not enough” to successfully engage and retain youth in our cooperative movement – complementary, supportive programming like the Cohort provides is necessary for more meaningful youth engagement in our cooperative movement.
The goals of the Cohort program are as follows:
- Increase the number of young people, as well as the range of identities and backgrounds represented among those attending cooperative events,
- Empower youth attending cooperative events and programs to fully participate and contribute,
- Build leadership and meeting skills among youth – e.g. facilitation, public speaking, networking.
- Motivate and reinvigorate non-youth through interaction with youth, their ideas, and enthusiasm.
The Cohort program effectively empowers young people to engage in events they would otherwise be unable to attend due to the prohibitive cost, the assumption that we are not “welcome,” and/or not being aware that the event even exists. The Cohort brings people into cooperative movement spaces who are often underrepresented in those businesses or spaces (e.g. people of color, young people, low-income). USACYC diversifies the cooperative movement by bringing young people of different communities, backgrounds, and identities not previously involved in cooperative business. By diversifying the cooperative movement, USACYC makes it more inclusive, accessible, and representative of the very people cooperative businesses wish to serve. We keep the cooperative movement relevant by empowering the voices of young leaders – as these young leaders will be a source of the innovation cooperative businesses need to thrive in a changing marketplace.