Margaret Bau Summit Presentation
Cooperative Development Specialist
USDA Rural Development
Margaret Bau has been a Cooperative Development Specialist with USDA Rural Development since 1998. She has assisted in the formation of 31 cooperatives across her home state of Wisconsin in industries as diverse as long term care, distributing local foods into regional institutions, arts marketing and galleries, conventional groceries, senior housing, disability services, nonprofit shared services, forest management, logging, and employment among people with mental illness.
Margaret organized Cooperative Care, the country’s first rural home care workers co-op. Harvard University named Cooperative Care a finalist in the prestigious 2004 Innovations in American Government award. She organized a second worker co-op called the Circle of Care Cooperative. It was a dismal failure following management embezzlement and poor board leadership. These factors have led Margaret and other co-op development leaders to explore systemic supports needed to foster worker co-op success in the home care industry (via coordination by the Cooperative Development Foundation).
Multiple classes of membership (such as workers + consumers) are a relatively new community ownership development in the US (though popular in Quebec and Europe). Margaret incorporated five multi-stakeholder co-ops and is recognized as one of a handful of national experts in this organizational structure. Margaret also was an early organizer of food hubs, in particular multi-stakeholder co-ops to deliver local food to regional institutions. She developed four multi-stakeholder food hubs in Wisconsin, has advised similar groups in Ohio, Alabama, and California, and provides frequent feedback to researchers exploring this food trend.
Active in the evolution of the US Federation of Worker Co-ops, Margaret participated in the process of creating a network of certified peer advisors, a key element to build capacity and to disseminate development of worker co-ops. She also is on the board of trustees for The Cooperative Foundation, on the Association of Cooperative Educators institute planning committee, on the professional development circle of Cooperation Works, and on the advisory board for the University of Wisconsin Center for Cooperatives. Collaborating with Cooperation Works, Margaret developed and delivered co-op developers training, preparing 300+ professionals for the field since 2004. She has presented on co-op topics to over 7500 meeting, conference, and webinar attendees both in Wisconsin and nationally.
In July of 2016 Margaret served as a subject matter expert in residence for visiting young African entrepreneurs participating in the Mandela Fellowship program on the campus of the University of Wisconsin Stout.
Margaret developed an interest in cooperatives while organizing a rural women’s income generating project as a Peace Corps volunteer in Costa Rica from 1988-1992. Margaret earned a master’s degree in economic & community development from the Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota in 1996 and a Bachelor’s degree in psychology from Carroll College in 1987. From 2002-2004 she participated in the Wisconsin Rural Leadership Program (now Leadership Wisconsin). In her quest to examine how other cultures implement co-op development strategies, she traveled to northern Italy in 2003, to Argentina in the spring of 2006, to Mondragon (northern Spain) in 2008, and to Quebec in 2006, 2010, and 2011.
In 2006 Margaret was recognized for “outstanding contribution to cooperative education and training” by the Association of Cooperative Educators. Northcountry Cooperative Development Fund (now Shared Capital Cooperative) awarded Margaret the Cooperative Service Award in 2009 in “recognition for her tireless efforts” towards co-op development. Margaret now works for the USDA national office as a resource on cooperative development, but remains based in central Wisconsin.