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Our History


Created in 1944, the Cooperative Development Foundation (CDF) was first known as the Freedom Fund. It focused on the reconstruction and development of European cooperatives in the post-war era, an initiative that engaged the entire U.S. cooperative community. One of the CDF's most significant investments was a $30,000 grant to help launch Cooperatives for American Relief to Europe. Today this organization is the Cooperative for American Relief Everywhere, better known as CARE. 


In the 1950s, CDF turned its attention to the development needs of Third World nations. In partnership with the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, CDF established a permanent office in New Delhi. Founded on the concepts of self-help and mutual aid at the grass roots level, the programs developed by the India office became the blueprint for cooperative development in Latin America, the Caribbean, Indonesia, and Africa. Over the years, CDF invested over $1.5 million in India and, in partnership with U.S. fertilizer, dairy, and oilseed cooperatives and the leading Indian cooperative organization, helped create three of the largest cooperatives in Asia at the time. 


To harness the human and financial resources of the U.S. co-op community for the benefit of domestic and international cooperative development projects, CDF established the Worldwide Co-op Partners program. This program was the predecessor of VOCA (Volunteers in Overseas Cooperative Assistance) part of today's ACDI/VOCA.


CDF helped launch the University of Wisconsin Center for Cooperatives, which has trained thousands and performed valuable research about the cooperative business model. 


Shifting its focus to the States, CDF launched a project that started five cooperative organizations to serve Native Americans in Arizona and New Mexico. CDF assisted in the creation of the Federation of Southern Cooperatives, which brings cooperative development to some of the country's poorest counties. CDF partnered with the Ford Foundation to launch a cooperative housing training institute that was run by the Cooperative Housing Foundation to train co-op housing organizers, managers, and directors

CDF hosted the first annual Cooperative Hall of Fame, an event honoring individuals who have made outstanding contributions to the cooperative community. 


CDF rallied the cooperative and philanthropic communities to support predevelopment financing for cooperative housing for seniors in rural areas. The funds made over 200 pre-development loans and created 149 units of senior cooperative housing. 

The first annual Co-op 5k was held to support the work of the Foundation. 


CDF was instrumental in the creation of the Homestead Housing Center, a national effort that led to the development of 334 units of senior cooperatives housing in rural communities. CDF was heavily involved in the National Rural Cooperative Development Task Force that recommended the funding of the Rural Cooperative Development Grant (RCDG) program to create a national network of cooperative development centers. The network is now CooperationWorks!. For several years, CDF provided CW with assistance in networking, administrative support services, publications, and visibility.

CDF helped to form funds that support sector specific grant making, such as the Howard Bowers Fund, which provides training and education grants for staff and boards of food cooperatives.  


The Cooperative Development Fund was formed from the donated assets of The Mutual Insurance Foundation. This dramatically reshaped the organization and brought about a new focus on finding cooperative solutions for meeting the needs of rural seniors. The Cooperative Development Fund supported senior cooperative housing in rural areas, education of member-owners of mobile home park cooperative conversions, and a feasibility study to establish a purchasing co-ops for senior housing co-ops. Through public forums, such as the White House Conference on Aging, CDF elevated awareness of the role of cooperatives in meeting the needs of seniorsToday, this work is supported by CDF's Cooperative Development Fund. 

CDF expanded the reach of the Disaster Recovery Fund to aid U.S. and overseas cooperatives, and took over leadership of the Cooperative Hall of Fame. 

2010s to Present

The Rural Cooperative Development and Socially Disadvantaged Group grants from USDA allowed CDF to expand its support for cooperative development. With these resources, CDF focused on expansion of worker owned homecare cooperatives, and began hosting the national Homecare Cooperative Conference. 

The Cooperative Issues Forum was added to the Cooperative Hall of Fame events to elevate cooperatives among Washington policy makers and thought leaders. 

The Foundation's assets doubled during this period with the addition of the $2 million grant of the assets of The  Cooperative Foundation to establish the Cooperative Education Fund and a substantial donation from CoBank to establish the CoBank Donor Advised Fund. 

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