The Graduate Institute of Cooperative Leadership (GICL) started as a dream – in response to an urgent need.

Howard Cowden, former employee of MFA Incorporated and founder of Farmland Industries, understood the unique skills and traits required to lead and govern patron-owned and -controlled entities. However, in the mid-20th century, investment in research and extension services for cooperative education began to decline. Therefore, Cowden noted a need for sophisticated governance and management training to address issues relevant to cooperatively owned enterprises. He envisioned a “mind-stretching experience” for cooperative leaders.  

Cowden took his idea to Elmer Kiehl, Dean of the College of Agriculture at the University of Missouri. Kiehl involved faculty from agricultural economics and rural sociology. Then, Cowden provided funding to initiate the Graduate Institute of Cooperative Leadership in 1971. The University formed a 15-member board of trustees, representing leading cooperatives and their trade associations, to govern the Institute.

GICL directed its first programs to middle and upper middle management. Over time, this experience evolved into today’s “Summer Institute,” which serves rising talent in middle management and emerging senior employees. Later, the GICL Board of Trustees requested programming for senior leaders, so the Institute established the Chair/CEO Conference in 1982. 

Building on its 50-year legacy, GICL continues to serve the unique educational needs of today’s cooperative leaders.