Co-ops: Building Engaged Communities
Canada’s Co-operative Sector
Canadians become engaged citizens through involvement in their co-ops. More than 100,000 Canadians are actively involved as volunteers on committees and boards of directors of their local co-operatives. Credit union and retail co-op employees collectively donate thousands of volunteer hours to events in their communities every year.
Participation on co-op boards at early stages in their careers has contributed significantly to the leadership skills of elected officials at all levels of government. Co-op sponsored education and training initiatives engage members, increasing their involvement in the organization and helping them develop the skills and confidence to take on additional leadership roles in their communities and beyond.
| Arctic Co-operatives Ltd.
|Arctic Co-operatives Limited (ACL) is a federation owned by 31 Inuit and Dene co-operative businesses in Nunavut and Northwest Territories. Co-op activities, which include retail facilities, hotels, taxis, cable operations, construction, outfitting, arts and crafts production, and property rental, contribute significantly to the social and economic achievements of communities in the Arctic.
Owned and controlled by Inuit, Dene, and Métis people, the co-ops are spread over 3.3 million km2 and are second only to government in employing Aboriginal people. Local co-ops are the heart of their communities, and promoting local culture and heritage is a high priority. To ensure member engagement, ACL’s general meetings are simultaneously available in English, a Dene dialect, and the multiple dialects of Inuktitut. Member engagement has further important outcomes. A 2001 survey indicated that 10 out of 17 members of Nunavut’s legislative assembly identified involvement in their local co-ops as part of their leadership development experience.
|Saskatoon Community Clinic
|The Saskatoon Community Clinic is a health care co-operative that provides innovative, multidisciplinary, primary-care services to 10,000 members and 20,000 patients at three locations. The clinic strives for a world in which communities, families, and individuals actively manage their own health, supported by a publicly administered health care system.
But the clinic is engaged in activities that take it well beyond primary health care. Its Seniors Advisory Committee provides outreach services to older residents. Through participation in its Political and Social Action Committee, clinic members identify key issues on which the Health Services Association should take action. Its Advocacy Network engages members in government-targeted letter-writing campaigns on issues such as addressing determinants of health, pedestrian safety, and access to health services.
|Saskatchewan Wheat Pool
|Formed in 1924, Saskatchewan Wheat Pool was for a time the largest grain handler and agricultural co-operative in Canada. At its height, it served more than 100,000 farmer members and owned 1,224 grain elevators in communities throughout the province.
But the Pool was more than just an elevator company. It played a critical role in the social and economic development of rural Saskatchewan, engaging citizens in co-operative activity that helped them reclaim control of their livelihoods. Pool field staff advocated for farmers at every level of government. They engaged rural citizens in educational campaigns and hundreds of kitchen-table meetings annually. They began the co-operative schools, which evolved into the province’s longest running youth program. Pool field staff helped organize retail co-ops and credit unions, engaging enough people in one memorable five-month period to create 419 farm-supply co-operatives.