Bob Cohen

Cohen connects with world through co-ops
Bob Cohen gets around, and his cooperative connections are to thank for much of that.

For almost 30 years, the Ohio-based educator has been teaching others about the cooperative business model and its benefits. His work, combined with a love of travel, has taken him to every U.S. state as well as many foreign countries.

His work as a cooperative training instructor has helped him visit almost every county in America’s heartland. His travels have also included trips to the CCA Institute to teach the Co-op 101 workshop.

“I enjoy teaching people about cooperatives,” Bob said. “Whether it is the day-long workshops for cooperative employees, or the Co-op 101 session at the CCA Institute, it’s exciting to see people be able to combine the pieces of their cooperative knowledge into a more comprehensive understanding of the model and its benefit to members.”

When he’s not talking co-ops, Bob is busy advising entrepreneurs at Braintree Business Development Center. Braintree is a non-profit business incubator which assists business startups and emerging companies in North Central Ohio.

How did you become interested in the cooperative business model?
In 1990, I was teaching several college-level business courses in Ohio, and I had the opportunity to teach a course on cooperatives at one of the regional campuses of The Ohio State University.

Although I had covered the topic of cooperatives in general business courses, and had been a member of cooperatives (rural electric and grocery), I was far from being an expert in cooperatives. The more I learned, the more I realized the common sense of the cooperative model from an economic standpoint. I ended up teaching that course for 28 years.

Where has your cooperative educator role taken you?
In 2001, I was asked to become the lead instructor for the Cooperative Dynamics Workshop of the Cooperative Council of North Carolina. These days, I continue to conduct employee orientation workshops for both the Mid America Cooperative Council and the Tennessee Council of Cooperatives.

In 2003, my role as a cooperative educator helped me land a decade-long position with ACDI/VOCA, an international cooperative development organization. By helping people start or strengthen cooperatives in developing countries, I was able to see first-hand the impact the cooperative business model had on people’s lives.

Why did you become involved in CCA?
Once it became clear I was going to teach a college-level class about cooperatives on a regular basis, I reached out to both CCA and the Association of Cooperative Educators. I knew I needed to “rub elbows” and learn from people who had spent more time talking about cooperatives.

CCA has really helped me to become a better cooperative communicator, and a better communicator in general. There is no doubt skills I have picked up through attending CCA Institutes and Professional Development Workshops have had just as big of an impact in my non-cooperative activities. Through CCA, I have learned a lot about writing, photography and social media.

Tell me about your work at Braintree Business Development Center.
Budding entrepreneurs come to us with business ideas, and we guide them through the necessary steps to build a business around the idea. This is not directly related to cooperatives, although we do occasionally get company founders that explore the worker cooperative model. So it is almost like I have a “split personality”— one job working in the start-up world not directly related to cooperatives, but a second stream of activities that’s all about cooperatives, involving cooperative education, development and research.

Do you have a favorite co-op job memory?
The opportunity to go places and meet people is what stands out. When I worked for ACDI/VOCA, I was able to travel to places I would not have otherwise been able to visit, like Uganda, Ethiopia, Kazakhstan and Mongolia.

Tell me something interesting about yourself that most CCA members don’t know.
Hardly anyone knows I was a Girl Scout Brownie Leader. In fact, whenever I have been in a group that played that ice breaker game of matching participants with an interesting fact they submitted, I usually use that. And I am nearly always one of the last few people matched with their activity.

How do you have fun?
I really enjoy traveling and have now been to all 50 states. I once had a goal of going to every country in the world, but that no longer seems likely. (I have only been to 35). But I also have a goal of going to every county in the United States, and that is more likely to happen someday. I have been to almost two-thirds of them.

If someone gave you a ticket to do anything you wanted, what would you do?
I would ask for a 30-day unlimited airline ticket. I would try to go to as many places as possible and never stay more than one night in the same place.

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