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Non-Traditional Approaches to Developing Non-Traditional Leadership: Learning from the Women's Co-op in Battle Creek, Michigan

As we prepare to head to Detroit, Michigan for this year’s national meeting, Creating Space XII, we thought we would bring you a weekly blog series of stories from Michigan about developing non-traditional leadership in keeping with the theme of CS XII, “Challenging Assumptions: Learning from Non-Traditional Leadership About Community and Systems Change.”   This first blog post in our series is about the Women’s Co-Op in Battle Creek and is based on an interview conducted several years ago with the Executive Director, Teresa Phillips.

What is the Women’s Co-op? The Women’s Co-Op is a group of women helping other women. It began in 2005, not as a formal organization but as a grassroots group of concerned women meeting around their kitchen tables in a trailer park. The goal was to support each other and share resources to help sustain, enrich, and nurture their families. Today its mission remains closely tied to this guiding principle. They believe that by giving back to others, each in their unique way, members collectively grow and gain positive skills, attributes and feelings about themselves. The Women’s Co-Op works to ingrain this belief in members to practice in their daily lives and throughout their community.

What is the Leadership Challenge that the Women’s Co-Op Addresses? People in poverty are very resourceful with survival techniques and yet people working in the system who are looking at how they can propel these people to success never actually look to those families for answers. Bridging these two populations is the real challenge.

What is the Leadership Strategy? The Women’s Co-Op works to increase the participation of people living in poverty in developing solutions by exposing them to as many leadership and engagement opportunities as possible. For example, they sent some of their members to a conference in Detroit around racism and now some of the women are continuing this momentum by addressing special education needs in their community and they are getting those needs met. Parents have to jump through huge hoops in some schools districts to make that happen. Women’s Co-Op is bringing the residents that are being affected by these issues to the table.  They utilize their network to mobilize. Instead of talking to 325 parents from a school, they engage and support the five parents who are Co-Op members to reach out and they cause ripple effects with other parents in a way that could never be done by the Co-Op alone. Resident involvement is the top priority as well as focusing on ‘true collaborations’.  The Women’s Co-Op values collaboration with other nonprofits both within and outside of their sector.

What results does the Women’s Co-Op hope to achieve? The Women’s Co-Op envisions women succeeding in all aspects of their lives through a commitment to building a stronger community in collaboration with one another. By partnering the Women’s Co-Op members have had success within the court system. Residents are fully aware that families in poverty struggle to get through the system and that many attempts to address the challenges people are facing have been unrealistic. In response the Women’s Co-Op started the “Street Court” program in Battle Creek, which is working on extracting people from unaffordable accumulated fines.  They are also partnering with early childhood education programs. One Co-Op member started an art program in which kids are given art kits to take home. Leadership is being developed as women 

Learn more about Non-Traditional Leadership at Creating Space XII

If you missed creating Space XII but want to learn more, see this blog series.