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ACE 2023: Co-ops in Puerto Rico—Meeting the Challenges of Resilience

By Charity Schmidt, Gary Hampton and Steve Dubb

Did you miss ACE Institute 2023? This, of course, was our second full-scale in-person conference of cooperative educators since the pandemic, after last year’s Institute in Vancouver.  Nearly 100 people joined us in Puerto Rico, and it was a rich three days of programming. In 2024, we look forward to building on these achievements when we gather in Bismarck, North Dakota on June 24-27, 2024.  

In the meantime—both for those who were able to join us and those who were not—we offer a few highlights. The three-day event in San Juan, Puerto Rico was packed with informative and inspirational sessions on Climate, Cooperatives, and Resilience. It was a wonderful time to share stories and lessons and learn together. 

We are grateful to all the co-ops that organized tours, which provided insights into the robust co-op ecosystem in Puerto Rico. Also, there was Bomba music! A huge thanks to the staff, who did an amazing job of organizing the conference both beforehand and onsite! 

Day 1: Setting the Tone

On the first day, the opening keynote to the conference, delivered by José Julian Ramirez Ruiz—executive director of FIDECOOP, the Puerto Rican co-op financing agency—offered up 150 years of Puerto Rican cooperative history and kicked off the conference. 

Ramirez’s powerful keynote address explored the historical journey of the Puerto Rico co-op movement, beginning in 1873 and experiencing a significant third wave in 1946, inspired by the Antigonish movement led by Father Joseph Alexander MacDonald, chosen by Moses Coady. 

The lecture delved into the victories and challenges faced by co-ops and highlighted the remarkable resilience demonstrated by the cooperative ecosystem in Puerto Rico. For more information, here is the link to the youtube video.

Day 2: Co-op Tours and ACE Awards

Participants of the Institute divided into three tours that visited co-operatives from the San Juan area and beyond to learn about the innovation and solutions of Puerto Rican cooperators. 

Day 2 in the evening was the ACE banquet and granting of ACE Awards. At ACE this year, three awards were announced. Kirstie Boyette was awarded the William Hlusko Award to Young Cooperative Educators, which recognizes outstanding achievement of young cooperative educators who are below the age of 35.  Esther West was awarded the Dr. Jessica Gordon Nembhard Cooperative Education and Training Award, which acknowledges the efforts of an individual or organization for their ongoing work in educating others about cooperatives.  Emprende Co-op, a Puerto Rican cooperative incubator, was award the John Logue Award, which is given to recognize an individual or organization whose educational programs, technical assistance, or research acts as a catalyst for change by creating innovative cooperatives.

Day 3: Building for the Future 
Our last day of the conference was as impactful as the previous two. One highlight was a panel on How Cooperative Developers Support Resilient Communities.

This panel examined how cooperative developers amid the COVID-induced economic shutdown emerged as pillars of support for their communities. In the United States, the Cooperation Works! network provided pro bono assistance, securing federal emergency funds for co-ops in need. 

In the conversation held at the conference, participants explored the role of cooperative developers in stabilizing and supporting resources to build resilient communities through the lens of cooperative developers working in different geographies and sectors across the United States.

For more information, here is the link to the youtube video

For more resources, please have a look at the ACE Institute Booklet and visit the ACE Institute 2023 youtube channel

But Wait, There’s More!  
This short recap only offers a few of the highlights. There is much, much more.  For information on the rest of the valuable sessions at last summer’s Association of Cooperative Educators’ gathering, please go to our comprehensive listing of events here.

ACE would like to thank and recognize the following partners for their support of the 2023 ACE Institute.

The National Cooperative Business Association – CLUSA International
National Institute of Food and Agriculture – US Department of Agriculture
Impact ON
Cooperative Development Foundation
Seguros Multiples
Shared Capital Cooperative
Cooperative Development Foundation
Banco Cooperativo
Seed Commons
Cooperation Works!
Co-operatives First
Local Enterprise Assistance Fund
Minnesota Farmers Union
Cabo Rojo Coop