Federated Co-operatives Ltd. has contributed $1 million in a two-year partnership with the University of Saskatchewan to explore co-operative business development.
The partners involved in the project will work with rural and Aboriginal communities to explore ways to expand the co-operative business model in communities where co-ops have not previously been present.
“We believe at Federated as a co-operative that there is some value in our model in co-operative principles, in co-operative models, in the values that we represent that by working together we can find solutions,” said FCL chief executive officer Scott Banda.
“We don’t have all the answers, but we believe that if we have come together and unleash our human capital, unleash our financial capital, that we can find solutions to anything,” he said during the Nov. 13 announcement.
The two-year project is led by the university’s Centre for the Study of Co-operatives in partnership with the Johnson-Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy (JSGS), the International Centre for Northern Governance and Development, the Edwards School of Business and the Plunkett Foundation in the United Kingdom.
Banda said Western Canada’s demographics are rapidly changing. Rural populations continue to decline, but the Aboriginal sector is growing.
“The markets we operate in and various commodities all across Western Canada, and the communities, just continue to change physically, and the definition of a community is changing,” he said.
“We have social communities, we have business communities and Aboriginal communities and how these all fit together to collaborate because we’re all in this together.”
George Lafond, treaty commissioner for the province, welcomed the initiative, saying it was long overdue.
“My view is that the social capital in Saskatchewan is at an all-time low. We need to bring that social capital back up. We have to begin to understand each other,” he said.
Professor Murray Fulton of the JSGS there is a need to improve the relationships between First Nations communities and non First Nations, and work together to propel themselves forward.
“The starting point is to go into these communities, find out what people need and find out the business models that are going to really work to provide those needs, not for the short run but for a much longer period of time,” he said.
He added that an obvious example is a community that lacks a grocery store. Steps would be taken to create a store that would be owned and operated on a co-operative and community basis.
Other examples might include housing, access to credit or provision of business services.
Fulton said the project will provide leadership for communities to assess their own specific needs.
“We know there’s a certain kind of assistance needed, but at the end of the day the impetus has to come from the communities themselves.”
FCL will consider long-term funding to support identified projects following an assessment of the program in late 2015.