Your Way Together: Building Business As a Community
- Co-operatives First, Advertorial | July 08, 2021
Indigenous communities know how to work together. And this past year, there were many incredible examples as we coped with a global pandemic. But did you know that there’s a business model you can use to capture that ability to collaborate and make things better? That’s what a co-op does.
Community co-operation and working together is not new to Indigenous people, but the co-op business structure and rules, bylaws, and terminology may be. And co-op businesses can be a great fit within Indigenous communities. But the model does require some rethinking of traditional and contemporary ways people can work together to form a business.
A co-operative is a business owned by a group of people with a common interest who make decisions together and share in the business’s profits. The business owners (a.k.a. its members) have an equal say in how the co-op operates and benefits the individual members and the entire membership.
By taking the community view of working together in both prosperous times and during hardships, building a co-operative business can help communities meet both opportunities and challenges.
Communities come together for the common good all the time. For example, during festivals or powwows, volunteers work together to bring joy and celebrations to the community. With a shared vision, volunteers set roles and responsibilities for committees, fundraising, operations, judging, dealing with vendors, and security to make an event happen.
During the pandemic, the women of Kookum's Kitchen were concerned about how physical distancing and limiting household contacts would impact food access for elders and children. So the women volunteered to cook two meals a day for the community elders, make lunches, and deliver them to each household. The women who started Kookum’s Kitchen also purchased, prepared, and delivered the food.
Likewise, communities organized parties to hunt, fish, gather, and share food with community members to feed their families when travel and shopping options were limited and discouraged.
During the recent fire outside of Prince Albert and many communities lost power, people organized BBQs to feed community members with no electricity.
With a co-operative, this energy and community involvement could inspire a community business project, build a Nation’s economy, and provide opportunities for members. Plus, people create co-ops to do all kinds of wonderful things.
For example, farmers often join a co-op to pool funds, buy a piece of machinery together, and help boost community food security. Likewise, artisans form co-ops to market and sell their items together through a website or physical location. Joining a co-op gives the artists more time to create and the opportunity to build, collaborate, and supply larger markets. Sole proprietors sometimes form a co-op with other business owners to share administrative duties, like bookkeeping, marketing, and human resources. Consolidating these costs saves valuable time that they can use to serve customers better.
To learn more or get started on your co-op, visit YourWayTogether.ca.
Written by Trista Pewapisconias, a proud member of Little Pine First Nation and Indigenous Relations Lead, Co-operatives First.