Cooperative Justice: A Photo Blog

Curious what we were up to for two weeks in the Bay Area? We’re here to show you, and we’re stoked about it. So get ready.

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Hey there, San Francisco!

We start every week off with games. This is not only the most fun way to kick off a week of learning, it also builds rapport within the group and reinforces the values of cooperation.

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Because of the social justice angle with which we approached this trip, it was important to come to common ground about language we might use. We had students share reflections about terms like ‘oppression’ to help their peers understand what it can mean to different people.

Every trip comes with a  good ol’ classic co-ops 101. We’re very particular about getting students to truly engage with these concepts so they not only remember them, but are able to think critically about them and ask good questions all week. They work together to put the principles in order, arrange the definition of a cooperative like a puzzle, and then fill in a matrix about the cooperative difference.

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On day two we pulled in Natalie from inVision Consulting to help the group better understand how stereotypes turn into discrimination and then into oppression using our own experiences. Students were left feeling challenged and inspired. 

It’s definitely not a co-op study tour without visiting some awesome co-ops and co-op support organizations. The first visit was the only one that differed between weeks. Week one students got to hear from the multi-stakeholder Energy Solidarity Cooperative while week two students hung out with Maddy, a former Arizmendi baker and current representative of the Arizmendi Association.

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Monday evening we had the great pleasure of meeting with co-op historian, John Curl, in his home. John is the author of ‘For All the People.

We had Tuesday afternoon off, but we had to jam pack our morning first. First stop: Mandela Marketplace and Mandela Foods Cooperative to learn about food justice in Oakland. Then off to a talk about social justice design work with Design Action Collective. Finally, we got silly with Farzana of Cooperative Food Empowerment Directive (CoFED) and learned about their model for improving food access on college campuses.

By Wednesday we knew enough to start making things more complex. We started the day with an interactive workshop with Ricardo of the Sustainable Economies Law Center (SELC) who walked us through the legal aspects of starting a worker cooperative. Then we visited with Leslie at Rainbow Cooperative Grocery and learned about their complicated system of autonomous, consensus-based committees that run all aspects of their grocery store. They have over 220 worker-owners in a completely flat structure!

Wednesday evening really took the cake. Or the pie. The pizza pie. From Cheese Board Collective, of course. And guess who else was hanging out – Hilary from Project Equity, Ricardo from SELC (again!), Zen from Democracy at Work Institute (DAWI), Ada from Prospera, and Amy from the United State Federation of Worker Cooperatives (USFWC). And they shared all the ways they’re working to build cooperative ecosystems in the Bay Area, and also engaged us in conversation about the motivations, inspirations, and challenges therein. What an exciting afternoon!

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Obviously we weren’t about to go to the Bay Area without tromping through the redwoods. Thursday morning was perfect for unstructured hiking in Redwood Regional Park.

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Our final visit was with Payam Imani, a co-founder of the worker-owned Alchemy Collective, who told his own story of helping to start Alchemy and offered plenty of inspiration for students to follow their own co-op dreams.

Thursday evening was for reflecting, playing, and talking next steps. We heard everyone’s highlights and remaining questions. We ran around in the lycra tube (#humanrubberband). We wrote affirmations for each other. It was perfect for setting us up to recreate this excellent experience again soon. Thanks to everyone who helped make this trip a success. We’re so grateful for you!

A Student’s Perspective: Aynah Spring Break 2016

“I spent the second week of my spring break on a trip to the Bay Area led by the non-profit Aynah. The trip aimed to show how co-ops and movements for social justice intersect by teaching the basics of the cooperative structure; discussing issues of power, privilege, and oppression; and seeing it all in action at Bay Area cooperatives.

rainbowgroceryAt the beginning of the week, the trip leaders provided us with some reading. In this article, author Tim Huet explains why he believes there is no more important social change work you can do than supporting cooperative development. In the airport waiting for my flight to San Francisco, I read the article and felt inspired and excited, but mostly confused. I didn’t know enough about cooperatives to see the meaning or power of a democratic workplace. After my week with Aynah, I now feel I can truly understand Huet’s passion for the cooperative movement.

As we learned on the first day, a cooperative is an autonomous association of persons united to meet their common economic, social, and cultural needs and aspirations through a jointly-owned and democratically-controlled enterprise. In simpler terms, cooperatives are businesses owned by members (often workers or consumers). In a worker co-op, for example, each worker owns part of the business and has an equal voice in the decision-making process. There are no bosses, bonuses, or hierarchies in the traditional sense. In contrast with for-profits where shareholders can buy as many shares as they want to increase their control over a company, co-ops run by the ‘one member one vote’ rule. This structure works to level the playing field in a world with historically and systematically reinforced inequality and oppression.

We spent most of the week visiting Bay Area co-ops. For example, we saw Energy Solidarity Cooperative, a multi-stakeholder cooperative that aims to democratize the financing and ownership of renewable energy through partnerships in traditionally disenfranchised communities. We talked with a worker-owner at Design Action Collective, a graphic design cooperative that services progressive movements fighting for social and economic justice (they designed the Black Lives Matter logo!). We visited Rainbow Grocery, a worker-owned co-op that sells sustainable, local, and organic products. In our meetings with these co-ops and others around the Bay Area, we got to discuss both the technical aspects of running a cooperative and the ideology surrounding their work. Each person I met involved with the cooperative movement inspired me with their deep commitment to fighting inequality and oppression in their workplace and community. They promoted the idea that workers should be respected for their whole personhood, rather than their title, resume, or background. Accountability, rather than traditional professionalism, was the most important quality each person brings to a democratically-run workplace.

When we weren’t visiting co-ops, we were engaging in workshops led by team members of InVision Consulting to unpack the effects of power and privilege in our lives. These workshops gave us the language and background to better understand which barriers and systems of oppression co-ops are trying to break down. We discussed times where we felt oppressed or oppressive. We learned how to calmly and effectively point out instances of oppression in our everyday lives. These skills are necessary to develop a cooperative ecosystem that actually accomplishes its mission of social and economic change.

Overall, my week with Aynah shifted my perspective on social justice and the working world in a fundamental way. It showed me a real, tangible, and beautiful alternative to an economic system that looks increasingly unsustainable and unjust. As Tim Huet explained, there can be no social justice without economic justice, but we cannot expect a change to the prevailing system without providing a good alternative. Co-ops can be that alternative.”

This blog was originally posted here: http://engageduniversity.blogs.wesleyan.edu/2016/03/21/enrichment-grant-report-michaela-fisher/

Spring Break in California: You coming?

photo from commons.wikimedia.org

“What an exhilarating week I spent exploring the Bay Area! Co-ops serving pizza, co-ops selling bikes, co-ops providing free health care, co-ops performing free theater, co-ops supporting new co-ops… It’s a lot to take in! How are these cooperative businesses serving the most marginalized folks in their communities? How are they implicit in the systems of oppression that hold our world so tightly? What are they doing to make sure justice is served? I can’t wait to explore these questions and more with all the passionate people of the Bay Area and YOU!”       – Natalie, Director of Education and Programs

In March, we’ll be taking a trip to the Bay to play, relax and meet some of the most inspiring leaders of our generation.  Our mission: learn how the co-op model can support our movements for social and environmental justice.

Convinced yet?  Come with!

Cooperative Justice: How Social Justice Movements and Co-ops Intersect in the Bay Area of California

March 12 – 18 (register here) …or… March 19 – 25 (register here)

Come spend a beautiful spring break in the Bay Area of California (Berkeley, Oakland and San Francisco) and explore how co-ops engage with social justice movements.  How do cooperators respond to gentrification, climate change, racial injustice & more?  During the days, we’ll venture into the cities to tour cooperatives in various sectors and understand the different applications of the model. When we’re not touring, we’ll be in interactive workshops on co-ops and cooperation, playing games, and simulating our own worker cooperative start-up process. (Plus having fun bonding with young people from across the world!)  Perfect for students who don’t know anything about the cooperative model and for folks who want to learn more in depth.

EARLY BIRD DISCOUNT: Register by Feb. 8 and the price is only $350 plus the price of travel.  After that, the cost is $425.

NEED-BASED SCHOLARSHIPS ARE AVAILABLE! Request this in your application.

Oakland anti-displacement signs.JPGAnti-displacement signs in Oakland.  Photo by Natalie Locke, Dec. 2015

Valuing the whole co-op identity

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Students acting out the cooperative value of ‘openness.’

Co-ops have values. Who knew?

We did. And we use them to teach about cooperative identity and the role cooperatives can play in building more just communities. But when we ask the co-ops we visit how the values affect their work, we get the same responses over and over again: “We really just follow the principles. There are co-op values?”

What gives?

On the International Cooperative Alliance’s (ICA) website, the cooperative identity page lists the cooperative definition, then the values, and finally the principles. The values are FIRST. AND the principles are introduced with the following: “The co-operative principles are guidelines by which co-operatives put their values into practice.” So the values come first and the principles are the way we act on the values. Simple enough. But somehow the values seem to have been lost in that process of actually cooperating.

So let’s start at the beginning. What are the values?

According to the ICA’s website: “Co-operatives are based on the values of self-help, self-responsibility, democracy,equality, equity and solidarity. In the tradition of their founders, co-operative members believe in the ethical values of honesty, openness, social responsibility and caring for others.”

We at Aynah can’t provide any explanation for why these values aren’t widely known. They’re actually pretty cool concepts, we think. Like, what if all businesses called out equity and solidarity as foundational to their work? That’d be rad. So we’re excited to dig into this, to raise some awareness for these values, and to incorporate them even more explicitly into our education. Consider this the first step.

On Experiential Education

I received an email recently from Training for Change, an organization that provides activist training for groups standing up for social, economic, and environmental justice through strategic nonviolence.I’ve never participated in any of Training for Change’s programs because the timing has just never aligned. But I’ve heard good things. And I stay on their email list because of emails that open like this, reaffirming why we do education the way we do at Aynah:

The impact of experiential education stays with people long after the workshop is over. That’s because it’s based off of the psychological way people learn. Many people have said that it’s felt intuitive and “a natural progression of how I already think.”

If you click on the link from their email text it will take you to some tidbits about how they do what they do and some workshop ideas that you can incorporate into your work. One of my favorites is this one, not because of the activity, but because of the concept behind the activity. It’s based entirely on the premise that the best and most memorable learning happens when we’ve stepped outside of our comfort zone. For most people that means that our best learning is NOT done with books, papers, and lectures, through which we can passively take in information. No, our best learning happens when we’re engaged with our minds, our bodies, and our hearts in the content that we’re focusing on. This is why Aynah doesn’t make power point presentations or show up to speak at an event without a game up our sleeves. This is why we explore the communities where co-ops have started and walk the floors of those co-ops with the folks that work there and ask them questions about what they do. We’re aiming to get in it with our whole selves so we can carry the lessons we learn long and far. We’re really glad to have folks like Training For Change on the same page with us. It validates what we do and provides inspiration to take new and bold steps in the world of experiential education.

Just a quick note, too – I think it can be useful to actually think about there being three zones – a comfort zone, a discomfort zone, and a panic zone. Our best learning doesn’t happen in our comfort zone, and it also definitely doesn’t happen in our panic zone. That’s the state we enter when we’ve been pushed too far away from comfort. Steer clear of the panic zone, even if that means more time in the comfort zone as you figure out where the lines are. Panic is not the kind of memorable experience you want to create!

Now go play!

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Leadership Retreat participants using games to better understand their leadership on their campuses.

Aynah is Seeking New Candidates for the Board of Directors!

Aynah is Seeking Candidates for the Board of Directors

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In order to create a more open and inclusive leadership team, Aynah is making a public call for applications to join its board of directors.

What is Aynah?

OUR VISION

Aynah envisions a world in which cooperative tools and opportunities are accessible to all people.

OUR MISSION

By providing students with greater access to experiential and inclusive cooperative education, Aynah will empower generations of students to work collaboratively to transform their communities and build a more just and sustainable world.

WHAT WE DO

Aynah designs and delivers cooperative education to students through on campus trainings and experiential learning trips in the US and abroad. Aynah uses education models that highlight the power of collective organizing to solve social, economic, and environmental challenges.

More concretely, Aynah is a three year-old non-profit based in Minneapolis, Minnesota. We have two full time employees who create and run programming designed to provide undergraduate students with awesome educational experiences centered on the cooperative model.

Who is currently on the board of directors?

The Board currently consists of 7 youth leaders (20-30 years of age) who have been elected for two-year terms on a staggered basis. You can read more about current board members here: http://aynah.org/index.php/about/our-team.

What are the responsibilities of a board member?

Aynah’s Board of Directors is in charge of setting the organization’s policies and strategic direction. We consider ourselves a working board— and that means we sometimes ask big favors of our directors.

Board members are required to attend all monthly board meetings––typically two-hours––as well as occasional one to two day strategic planning retreats. In addition, board members are expected to attend and help with as many organizational events as possible. Board members should also expect to put in time between meetings.

Some activities our board members perform: remaining active and engaged in committees, reporting to stakeholders, recruiting new members, fundraising, informing the organization’s strategic vision, and supervising our team of Co-Directors.

What qualifications should an applicant have?

The current board is looking for applicants with a strong track record of leadership. We want good communicators AND good listeners. It’s important to note we will only accept applicants who reside in Minnesota at this time, as attending in person meetings is a vital aspect of Board service. Students are welcome to apply.

Beyond that, we would be especially interested in applicants who have (or are eager to build)…

-experience with cooperatives or cooperative support organizations as a member-owner, employee, and/or director

-a familiarity with accounting

-skills as non-profit administration

-a commitment to social justice

-an interest in creating a more open, inclusive, and diverse world

-a willingness to ask for money (or are already skilled grant writers and fundraisers)

-a background in education, youth leadership, and/or program design

Do I have to be rich? Is there a specific financial commitment?

Because of Aynah’s commitment to creating an inclusive environment for young leaders, board members are not currently required to meet a certain level of stewardship. That being stated, board members are responsible for the financial health of the organization and are thus strongly encouraged to donate and fundraise in a manner in accordance with their means.

How do I apply?

Interested candidates should send a cover letter and resume to cpeaslee@gmail.com with the subject heading Aynah Board Application. We’ll accept applications until Dec. 3.

Thank you for your interest in serving on Aynah’s Board.

Sincerely,

Carl Peaslee

Aynah Interim Board President

cpeaslee@gmail.com

Coop Movement Man – Our New Director of Operations and Development

We were so busy with our fall break trip, we almost forgot to introduce you to our new staff, Coop Movement Man, the Director of Operations and Development. He joined us in September from the Marvel Universe and hit the ground running supporting our fall break trip and beyond. We’re so excited to have him on board. Here’s a bit more about his life.

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Cooperative Movement Man – FACTS

Real Name: Jason Rodney

Powers: Group facilitation, participatory budgeting, strategic thinking for social movements, blue-glowing force fields

Weaknesses: fresh-baked scones

Origin Story: Born in the Nuclear Free Zone known as Cleveland Heights, OH, Rodney learned as a young child the many forces that threatened all things good.  The racial wealth divide, a fossil-fuel dependent economy, disconnected people – he knew he had to do something.  Mentored by secret heroes he was taught about collective organizing for the liberation of all people. He moved to MN to study at Macalester College and worked for 5 years in St. Paul Public Schools. Now, equipped with the magic gauntlet of cooperative economies, he has joined forces with Aynah to create a more just and sustainable world.

(P.S. When he’s not in costume, he looks like this…)

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Thinking Outside the Boss – A Photo Blog

Wondering what all went down when Aynah was in Madison? Here’s your photographic overview. Further reflection to come.

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Every good trip starts with good food. Jason, our new Director of Operations and Development, is pictured here in his element: picking out delicious fruit at Willy Street Co-op.

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It was a request on a previous trip that students be allowed more involvement in the logistics of the trip, including cooking meals together. We took it seriously. Here we see Jesus and Utsho making delicious curried burritos for the group on our first night together.

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Cooking, eating, cleaning, and a round of introductions and we’re still in the mood for s’more bonding.

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Our Co-ops 101 workshops focuses on helping students become more familiar with the cooperative identity, included the principles and values. Umer and Fatimatu are trying to decide if they think the order of the principles makes sense.

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Aynah uses a set of group agreements to get everyone on the same page about how we learn together. After reading, reviewing, and leaving room for editing, we all sign the agreement together. Then we did into the specifics of how we learn. What lenses are we bringing to this trip? What questions do we want to ask of our tour hosts?

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Steve and Carlos of the Interpreters’ Cooperative of Madison hosted our first visit. With no office of their own, we met at Mother Fool’s Coffee House. It was a perfect first visit. Steve’s shirt says it all.

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Eric was especially excited about the drop-off at Rainbow Bookstore Cooperative on Sunday afternoon. “Rainbow is Madison’s cooperatively owned and collectively-managed bookstore that provides books and resources which challenge the status quo.” We’re all about that.

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Sunday’s adventure in Madison concluded with a social hour with MadWorC, the cooperative of Madison area worker cooperatives. Organized by Ole Olson, we had a chance to chat casually about all things co-ops while chomping on some tasty treats at Brocach Irish Pub.

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When we returned on Sunday night, we opened our boxes of Co-opoly and got to cooperating. One student said “This game enhanced my understanding of cooperatives!” Thanks, Toolbox for Education and Social Action!

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Monday was stacked full of co-op goodness. First stop – Community Pharmacy, where were glad to see any explanation of how they operate featured prominently on their wall.

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Okay, so we tried to spell out “coop” with our bodies outside of Nature’s Bakery and it only kind of worked. Cute though, right?

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Four Star Video Cooperative! One of the newest worker co-ops in Madison with a totally great conversion story. Plus they have the most impressive video collection we’ve ever seen. Sit down, Netflix!

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Doc at Union Cab was quick to point to the cooperative values and principles that are hung on their wall when answering questions about decision-making. We love to see co-ops being true to their cooperative identity.🙂

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Easily the most interactive visit we had, Villari’s had us on our feet punching bags and Bob (pictured second from the right) for an hour before they would tell us about how they operate. Thanks for the great kickboxing class, y’all!

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And our wind down: an evening viewing of The Take, the documentary about the worker takeover of abandoned factories in Argentina. Super inspiring!

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Our final visit was with Ole at Isthmus Engineering. What an experience! So many cool machines doing some many mind-boggling things! And a co-op to boot! Wow!

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Our final antics. We do look like the meerkats in our trip logo, right?

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Why we’re jazzed to go to Madison

If the meerkat post didn’t convince you, (which it really should have, let’s be honest), this has GOT to. We are going to be visiting with some really rad folks on our short trip to Madison. Here’s the overview:

Rainbow Bookstore

What they do: A cooperatively owned and collectively managed bookstore, resource center, and media outlet that provides books and resources which challenge the status quo.

Why we’re excited: A sweet hybrid model that’s owned by consumers and democratically run by a volunteer collective. There’s enough to be learned from that, we don’t even need to start digging into their books.

Interpreter’s Cooperative of Madison

What they do: Simultaneous interpretation that is used for conferences. Offered in Spanish, Hmong, Portuguese, and Russian.

Why we’re excited: We’ve seen these folks at work at the ACE Institute the past two years and they are so impressive at what they do.

Community Pharmacy

What they do: Community Pharmacy is an independent, worker-managed cooperative which promotes health by providing a range of affordable options for prescriptions, herbs, supplements, body care and homeopathic remedies.

Why we’re excited: A worker-owned pharmacy offering alternatives to conventional medicine? Yes please! They’re also in the process of expanding which means they’ll have great stories to tell about scaling up worker cooperation.

Four Star Video

What they do: They rent movies!

Why we’re excited: They rent movies! (And they have some co-op movies we can rent for a movie night on our trip) Double win.

Isthmus Engineering

What they do: Conceptualizes, designs, and build custom automation equipment for various applications.

Why we’re excited: Our non-engineering brains can hardly comprehend all of the hard work these folks do, and while maintaining commitment to reducing their carbon footprint, supporting charitable causes, and operating democratically. What a crew!

Union Cab

What they do: Create jobs at a living wage or better in a safe, humane, and democratic environment by providing quality transportation services in the greater Madison area.

Why we’re excited: Generally speaking, cab driving seems like a trodden-on industry. Folks at the top tend to take a lot of profit. So a democratically owned and run cab company kind of knocks our socks off.

Nature’s Bakery

What they do: A worker-owned and managed co-op specializing in organic whole grains. They offer a variety of vegetarian and vegan organic whole grain baked goods, including sliced bread, pita. granola, burgers, calzones, essene bread, wheat-free flat bread, trail mix, and cookies.

Why we’re excited: Did you see the list of baked goods above?!

Villari’s Martial Arts

What they do: They’re part of a nation-wide system of martial arts centers.

Why we’re excited: Besides the fact that they’re a martial arts center, which is cool enough on its own, the current manager and chief instructor at the school actively participates in sexual assault prevention activism and education, including women’s self defense classes.

MadWorC

What they do: A cooperative organization promoting worker ownership and democratic workplaces in Wisconsin.

Why we’re excited: Principle 6 – Cooperation Among Cooperatives. ‘Nough said!

So join us! There’s enough goodness in all of this for a lifetime of cooperative learning and we’re packing it into a fun-filled four-day whirlwind. Bring it, Madison!

‘Cause all the meerkats are doing it

Aynah trips are all about learning by example. This October, we’ll be learning the cooperative model from rad co-ops like Union Cab and Community Pharmacy.  

But why limit learning by example to just one species, when we could learn from MEERKATS?!

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3 way meerkats are building the cooperative movement

1. Nature’s childcare co-op

Screen Shot 2015-09-29 at 2.16.12 PMThey usually have an alpha male and female that make all the babies. Which is not super democratic. BUT, did you know that the other females in the group, who have usually never reproduced themselves, lactate and hunt to feed the pups, (that aren’t even theirs!), in addition to watching and protecting them while the alpha female is away? Research shows that the level of help that these other females provide isn’t even correlated to the kinship with the litters. They’re just really committed to the collective.

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In true cooperative fashion, they’re also great at assigning different roles to keep their group functioning – some meerkats go hunting, while others stand guard, while others nurture the pups.

3. Backrub circles

So much tScreen Shot 2015-09-29 at 2.16.44 PMo be learned from these kool kats… As the San Diego Zoo website says, “Meerkat mobs spend a lot of their time grooming and playing together to keep the family as a tight unit. This community existence helps the meerkats survive.” Cooperation = survival. Duh.

We can’t guarantee any up close and personal interactions with meerkats on our upcoming trip to Madison, WI. But we will have a lively discussion on the similarities and differences between worker cooperation and meerkat mobs. You don’t want to miss it!

PS – Fun fact we couldn’t otherwise fit into blog post: When the meerkat on guard duty senses trouble, they use a sharp, shrill call to alert others to take cover. But when hunting collectively, meerkats use soft purring sounds to communicate. Cute!

Some resources we used to write this: National GeographicThis Research PaperSan Diego ZooWikipedia