Co-operatives First: one year later
- EFN Staff | October 18, 2017
This month marks one year since Cooperatives First opened its doors with sights set on engaging Western Canada about the value of the cooperative model and how it fits into today’s economic reality. What began with a change in leadership to Federated Coop Incorporated in 2011 led to new CEO Scott Banda starting the conversation around how cooperatives were viewed in the context of a rapidly changing demographic and shifting shareholder expectations within the traditional business model.
Cooperatives First Board Chair Vic Huard recalls that the time had come to “challenge the assumption that everyone knows how coops work, and loves them. It was a time of self-reflection, and the accepting of the notion that the value of the coop brand wasn’t passed down through the DNA of the next generations parents.”
In late 2013, the Saskatchewan Centre for Cooperative Research engaged in an arms length analysis through the University of Saskatchewan that approached rural and Indigenous communities across Canada to ask the question “how much do people know about cooperatives?” Huard recalls that the research “validated our findings that there was work to be done to have more in-depth conversations about how cooperatives could serve to help us get to where we are going as a society.”
Modeled closely after research done by the Plunkett Foundation out of the UK, Federated Coop Limited committed 5 million over 5 years to engage a team who would be tasked to define how coops could provide impact to communities above and beyond gas stations and grocery stores. “We set out with the viewpoint that this would be a multi-generational project. It is going to take time to think, learn and apply the cooperative model in communities where it is the right fit, you can’t rush something like this,” said Huard.
Executive Director Audra Krueger has learned a lot over the last year gaining a sense of the level of knowledge of what a coop is. “We have been working diligently to take what we have learned and build a suite of products that will offer a variety of tools that are practical and useful. We know that we will be reaching out in different ways to educate and equip a diverse group of people to build functional solutions, at the community level, to meet their needs. This will only come if we take the time to build honest, trust-based relationships with communities who share similar values.”
A strong focus on Indigenous engagement is a priority for Cooperatives First, as the values of control over economic security and improvement to the quality of life are at the forefront for many Indigenous communities. “We can see that jobs, safety, economic development and capacity building are central drivers for many communities,” Krueger said about the first year of engagement. “Our goal is to coach and support communities through needs assessments, idea prioritizing, with a focus to build lasting skills and capabilities that stay in the communities for the long term. Ultimately, the impact for a community to take this on is one of future benefit and sustainability. The cooperative model helps to keep profits and decision making local, which is what makes it distinct and appropriate in the context of community development.”
Going forward, Cooperatives First hopes to have “developed a network of well equipped economic development officers who have undergone workshop training who can bring the coop ecosystem back to their own communities and implement it into daily functions,” says Krueger. Support and partnerships will be an area of increasing focus as well. “We hope to start to align with like-minded organizations who see the value in this initiative and are looking to contribute in an authentic way.”
To learn more about Cooperatives First, or to see how you can get involved visit, www.cooperativesfirst.com