From 15 Skeptics to 5 million

A year ago, I wrote this article and included it in our Annual Report. I'm sharing it here because today because in the past year my colleagues Joe and Jessica have repeated this process with other groups and the possibilities for more are growing. I think this story is important. -Felipe


Imagine this. You've gathered 15 contracting managers for the third month in a row.

At the first meeting you pitched them on an idea to save them $5 million for their facilities. Met with incredulity, you bring your knowledgeable finance friends to the second meeting to explain the details.

As you paint the picture, the objections become more real: "We lease our building, so we couldn't..." laments one. Another asks: "Wouldn't that mean we'd have to pay taxes?" and a third complains, "My lawyer won't let me do that."            

As you walk into the third meeting, you realize your hands are trembling because you're nervous. In the back of your mind you know the odds are stacked against you. Organizations have incredible inertia against fixing something that's not broken. The status quo is powerful. The world has too much uncertainty to get a series of decision-makers to proceed with any 10- or 20-year agreement, let alone something they've not seen before.            

But to your surprise, this third meeting is different. Nate, the business manager, came prepared to answer an objection about a leased building. Sarah, the CFO, talked to her finance committee and board chair and got their approval to explore further.     

Fast forward 6 weeks and you're on the verge of becoming the DC solar market's price maker—not just the price taker. You have two vendors lined up to install the system at no cost to the school and they're eager to sweeten the deal with additional payments. Over 20 years, the solar systems will put $5 million into teaching—not just paying to keep the lights on.

A year ago, CPA invited 15 school business managers to come together and identify shared points of concern. We've negotiated copier contracts, we've pushed back on under-performing security companies and most critically, we have experienced the strength that comes with collaboration. We have grown to trust and rely on one another. Though we are comprised of completely independent institutions, we are beginning to see what is possible when we work together.            


This is the promise of CPA’s model. It's also the promise and history of results from cooperatives that have shaped the fabric of communities throughout the world. From agricultural marketing co-ops to rural electric cooperatives, ACE Hardware, REI, Land-O-Lakes and Organic Valley, cooperatives are both an old and a new way to build a better world.