The ACE Institute – San Juan, Puerto Rico in 2023

The ACE Institute, an annual gathering of co-op educators, developers, and researchers, came to life in the vibrant city of San Juan, Puerto Rico in 2023. This four-day conference, supported by dedicated sponsors (NCBA CLUSA and USDA, Impact ON (formerly Cooperation Council of Ontario), CDF, Seguros Multiples, Shared Capital Cooperative, Ralph K Morris Foundation, BancoCoop, Seed Commons, Cooperation Works, Co-operatives First, LEAF, Minnesota Farmers Union, Cabo Rojo Coop, RemCoop, FideCoop, Cooperativa de Ahorro y Credito Morovena, Cooperativa de Ahorro y Credito San José), played host to 101 attendees hailing from the United States, Canada, Puerto Rico, and the rest of the Caribbean. Participants explored the role of the cooperative movement in connection with climate, resilience and cooperatives to discuss ways that cooperatives can continue to meet the needs of communities.

During the four-day conference, August 7-10, over 100 people gathered in San Juan, Puerto Rico for the second in-person annual Association of Cooperative Educators Institute since COVID-19 pandemic. This was a great place and space to convene the cooperative educator community. The energy from the participants and speakers matched the energy of the vibrant Puerto Rico and the local hospitality.

The 2023 Institute brought reflection on the ability of cooperatives to meet the challenge of resilience as shared in the messaging by Jose Ramirez Ruiz, who was the keynote speaker opening the conference. Mr. Ramirez Ruis shared insight about the cooperative ecosystem in Puerto Rico where he serves as Executive Director of FIDECOOP, a cooperative investment and development fund. FIDECOOP provides loans, venture capital and business technical assistance services. His messaging was uplifting and communicated the political, business and economic environment that supports the cooperative ecosystem in Puerto Rico to include the General Cooperative Law that governs the establishment and operating of cooperatives.

With the first ACE conference taking place in 1952, it has withstood and demonstrated a resilience to withstand time and global economic challenges, while holding the torch and being the beacon of cooperative education, community and principles for cooperators across Canada, United States and Puerto Rico. This year’s conference was no different in the mission and outcomes of bringing people together to share, learn and connect around the power of cooperatives to be a part of the solutions that bring people and communities together through trust and collaboration toward changing the world around us.

As with the conference in Vancouver in 2022, this year’s conference brought together a diverse group of cooperative educators, developers and thinkers to share their knowledge and experience with attendees.

Diversity and Inclusivity

One of the hallmark features of the 2023 ACE Institute was its continued commitment to inclusivity and diversity. With participants from a wide range of backgrounds and expertise, the event served as a melting pot of cooperative knowledge and ideas. This diversity and inclusivity was demonstrated with 33 speakers hailing from the US, Canada, Quebec, and Puerto Rico who delivered insights across 15 panels and workshops, all offered in English, Spanish, and French, reflecting ACE’s aim to communicate across linguistic boundaries through intentional language accessibility.

Community Engagement

Beyond the conference rooms, the ACE Institute organized three formal networking events, including a heartwarming Welcome Reception, a Banquet filled with cooperative discussions, and a Lunch Open Mic session encouraging open dialogue among attendees who shared the state of their work and aspirations in the cooperative movement. Attendees also had the opportunity to explore the local cooperative ecosystem through three Co-op Tours, visiting seven Puerto Rican co-operatives and three institutions that support and develop co-ops on the island. While the networking events allowed attendees to actively participate in the conference, the tours allowed the attendees to explore the island beyond the conference through breathtaking, informative experiences with local communities across Puerto Rico.

Supporting the Local Community

The 2023 ACE Institute didn’t just celebrate cooperatives; it actively engaged with the local co-op community. Approximately 40% of vendors and suppliers for the event were local co-ops, promoting the sustainability of cooperative businesses within Puerto Rico. Notable mentions include TraduCoop, PR Coop Tours, Old Town Glasswork co-op, and Cooperativa de Servicios Empleados Departamento del Trabajo y Recursos Humanos. Many attendees shared their excitement openly following the tours along with optimism for the future of cooperatives across the cooperative ecosystem.

Fundraising for the Future

One of the highlights of the awards ceremony and banquet was the ACE Silent Auction, which raised $1,000 to support Puerto Rican participants in attending the 2024 Institute. A number of cooperative organizations provided items to be auctioned. The auction’s success demonstrated the Institute’s attendees commitment to giving back to the community and the dedication to fostering the growth of cooperatives in the region.

Honoring Excellence

The ACE Awards Ceremony recognized outstanding individuals and organizations in the cooperative sphere. This year, three remarkable awardees were celebrated: Kirstie Boyette, William Hlushko Award for Young Cooperative Educators; Emprende Coop, John Logue Award; and Esther J. West, Jessica Gordon Nembhard Cooperative Education and Training Award. Their contributions to cooperative development serve as an inspiration to all.

Looking Forward

The 2023 ACE Institute concluded with the ACE Annual Meeting, providing attendees with an opportunity to delve deeper into the ACE community and explore avenues for expanding cooperative education beyond borders along with how to join ACE. It highlighted ACE’s commitment to fostering collaboration and knowledge sharing among co-op enthusiasts. As we look forward to the next ACE Institute, mark your calendars for June 24 – 26 as we meet in Bismarck, North Dakota to continue building through cooperative education and connecting cooperators to meet the needs and concerns of their respective communities.

In closing, the 2023 ACE Institute in San Juan, Puerto Rico, was a resounding success, uniting co-op advocates from diverse backgrounds and fostering connections within the cooperative ecosystem. With its commitment to inclusivity, local engagement, and the pursuit of excellence, ACE has once again demonstrated its dedication to advancing cooperative principles and strengthening the cooperative movement for years to come.

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