Anticipating the International Year of Co-operatives

Anticipating the International Year of Co-operatives

Upcoming Canadian Co-operative Association executive director shares her hopes for 2012

Denyse Guy has several hopes for the co-operative movement in 2012.

Currently executive director of the Ontario Co-operative Association, Denyse will be the executive director of the Canadian Co-operative Association as of Jan. 2, 2012. The United Nations declared 2012 the International Year of Co-operatives with the theme "Co-operative Enterprises Build a Better World.”

Denyse says it’s important co-operative staff, members and boards have a chance to celebrate across Canadian communities, and to fully understand what it means to be a co-operative and their unique contributions as co-operative enterprises.

She also hopes the public gains a better understanding of the co-operative sector.

“It’s often viewed as a dated model and that it only worked in the past and there are a lot of myths in the co-operative model,” Denyse tells Axiom News.

“I think it’s important for the public to understand its historic roots and the sheer size and diversity of the co-operative economy in Canada and worldwide.”

Co-ops build communities, create jobs, and provide services to their members, which are important aspects to know about co-operatives, she says.

Another hope is the continuing of the cluster development happening among co-ops in Ontario and other parts of Canada, says Denyse. The clusters work to develop strengths at a local level to work together and share information on building local assets.

An important area that Denyse says she has been working hard at is having the government adopt legislation and policies to create an enabling environment for the development and growth of co-operatives. This would happen at all three levels of government — municipal, provincial and federal.

“It’s important we work with our regulators and try and build a stronger regulatory environment that supports the development of co-operatives,” she says.

Being covered by the mainstream media is a challenge for the co-operative sector, says Denyse, adding there is hope for a lot more coverage like the recent CBC Radio The Current’s edition on co-operatives to help visibility of the sector.

The Ontario Co-operative Association researched how much high-school curriculum there is on co-operatives and found “next to nothing,” sparking the creation of a high-school curriculum called “All 4 Each.”

The curriculum is supported by all the provincial associations and is viewed as a legacy project for 2012, says Denyse.

The Ontario Co-operative Association has partnered with local credit unions, The Co-operators, Gay Lea Foods Ltd., and the Ontario Credit Union Charitable Foundation to create its own Dragon’s Den-type challenge called "All 4 Each" Create-A-Co-op Challenge.

Designed for people under 25 years old who have new co-operative business enterprise ideas, participants post a video on the challenge’s Facebook page, and winners will receive financial support.

“There’s going to be a huge celebration of ideas coming from that age group and there are sponsors from the co-operative sector who have endorsed this project so that is really exciting,” says Denyse.

At the national level, another legacy project is creating the Co-operative Development Fund for Canada, with capital raised from the sector and hopefully matched by the federal government to enable emerging and established co-ops to access capital, says Denyse.

There has been research completed on the Co-operative Development Fund and there is now work on a business plan and discussions with key people in the co-op sector to seek financial commitment.

“At a global level, what we’re really hoping for is global recognition that co-operatives strengthen communities, and that they build leadership at a local level, independence and self-reliance, and I think that’s really important, especially in this day and age,” says Denyse.

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— Part 1 of a Series

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Jennifer Neutel

Jennifer Neutel is a Story Advocate and Generative Journalist at Axiom News. She completed her Bachelor of Journalism at Carleton University in Ottawa in 2006, and joined Axiom News in 2007. She has taken on a variety of roles at Axiom including new social media intiatives and has a passion for creating strengths-based questions that can lead to positive change.

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