As National Cooperative Month 2022 ends, we would like to highlight a special anniversary in the co-op world. The University of Wisconsin Center for Cooperatives (UWCC), the oldest university-based cooperative center in the nation, is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year. Records indicate that the university was offering courses on co-ops as early as 1910, but the International Cooperative Training Center (ICTC), as it was first known, was officially founded in 1962. ICTC was inspired by the Humphrey Amendment to the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961, designed “to encourage the development and use of cooperatives, credit unions, and savings and loan associations” worldwide. In its first decade, the Center trained over 2,000 co-op leaders from nearly one hundred countries.
Eventually, the ICTC tightened focus and rebranded to UWCC, and since the 1970s has predominantly focused on the needs of cooperatives at the state and national levels. As agriculture and rural economies have changed, so have co-ops, and UWCC has adapted its programming to support them. Today, UWCC staff manage an ambitious portfolio of research, education, and cooperative development programming.
USDA has been a critical funder of UWCC’s research, outreach, and cooperative development programs, particularly over the last two decades. In 2007, UWCC received grant funding from USDA to spearhead an effort to measure the U.S. cooperative economy. The project, Research on the Economic Impact of Cooperatives, led to the completion of the first national census of cooperatives and one of the Center’s best-known products, a map of U.S. co-ops. UWCC continued its efforts to better understand the cooperative economy through mapping with a 2015 award from USDA’s Agriculture and Food Research Initiative. The multi-year grant funded the creation of an interactive map that connects people with cooperative resources in their communities and a report exploring the ecosystems that lead to robust cooperative development in rural areas.
As requests for assistance to support cooperative development increased, UWCC joined a national network of USDA-funded cooperative development centers in 2011. Since then, funding from USDA Rural Development’s (RD) Rural Cooperative Development Grant and Socially Disadvantaged Groups Grant programs has enabled the Center to significantly expand its cooperative development services across the state, supporting the creation of 47 cooperatives between 2010 and 2020.
As the only U.S. university-based center that studies and supports all forms of cooperative business, UWCC provides valued education and research to a diverse range of communities. We at RD wish them another successful 60 years of service to our nation’s co-ops!
*Photo shows the first ever graduating class of the ICTC, from 1962, shared courtesy of UWCC.