Analysis of the case studies

Prepared by
Fiona Duguid
The Co-operatives Secretariat
February 2008

These case studies include information about how the co-operatives chose to use the co-operative model as an organizational structure.

Fédération des coopératives du Nouveau Québec

This co-operative is located in rural Quebec and supports the First Nations' communities by supplying much needed retail goods (groceries, gas) in the extremely isolated region. It has also taken on an advocacy role for the communities in terms of providing a voice for the region and people. This co-operative is a Federation. It was incorporated in 1967 and is in the expanding and maintaining phases of the co-operative life cycle.

Co-operative Auto Network

This co-operative is located in urban Vancouver, BC and provides alternative transportation service to car ownership through a car sharing program. It has also taken on an advocacy role in terms of promoting progressive transportation policies in the municipality and in new developments. This co-operative is a consumer co-operative. It was incorporated in 1996 and is in the solidifying and expanding phases of the co-operative life cycle.

Ukrainian Co-operative Nursery School of Toronto

This co-operative is located in urban Toronto, Ontario and provides nursery school and Kindergarten opportunities to the Ukrainian community of Toronto. This co-operative is a consumer co-operative. It was incorporated in 1968 and is in the maintaining phase of the co-operative life cycle.

Northwest Co-operative Fisheries Ltd

This co-operative is located in rural northern Manitoba and supports a number of First Nations' communities. It provides goods and services from the fishing industry. This co-operative is a producer co-operative. It was incorporated in 1993 and is in the expanding phase of the co-operative life cycle.

Saint-Camille Co-operative Initiatives

This co-operative is located in rural Quebec and provides long term housing and seniors care and services in order to help seniors stay in their community. This co-operative is a consumer and housing co-operative. It was incorporated in the late 1990s and is in the expanding phase of the co-operative life cycle.

Lamèque Renewable Energy Co-operative

This co-operative is located in the rural Acadian region of New Brunswick and is developing a renewable energy project (wind). This co-operative is a solidarity co-operative. It was founded in 1999 and is in the start up phase of the co-operative life cycle.

La Siembra Co-operative

This co-operative is located in urban Ottawa and has producer co-operative partners in the rural South. It is a retail co-operative that distributes fair trade sugar and chocolate. This co-operative is a worker co-operative. It was incorporated in 1999 and is in the solidifying and expanding phases of the co-operative life cycle.

This grid describes the motivations of co-operators to develop enterprises that provide goods and services needed in their region.

Motivations for developing a co-operative
Motivations Fédération des coopératives du Nouveau Québec Co-operative Auto Network Ukrainian Co-operative Nursery Northwest Co-operative Fisheries Ltd. Saint-Camille Co-operative Initiative  Lamèque Renewable Energy Co-operative La Siembra Co-operative Inc.
Concern about social impacts
Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Concern about
economic impacts
Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Build/support local economy
Yes Yes   Yes Yes Yes  
Provide members with what they need
Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes    
Provide local control/
independence
Yes     Yes Yes    
Create jobs, better paying jobs
Yes     Yes Yes Yes  
Concern about environmental impacts
  Yes       Yes Yes

This grid describes the motivations of co-operators to develop enterprises that provide goods and services needed in their region. It also taps into why co-operators choose to develop their enterprise as a co-operative. There are two motivating factors that each of the case studies discuss - the interest in having economic and social impacts. Not only do co-operators want to be economically sustainable for their members, but they also have their communities' economic interest at heart. This directly relates to another motivation for co-operators, the need to build and support the local economy. In this sense, co-operators wanted to build enterprises in their community in order to provide the needed goods and services from locally-owned co-operatives whereby they can keep money in the community longer. Also related to building the local economy, the co-operators wanted to provide meaningful employment in their community. Another motivation for co-operators was to build enterprises that have social impacts, such as providing decision-making opportunities in the community, providing services which prevent out migration patterns, creating quality jobs or building community capacity. In all of the case studies the twinning social and economic impacts is the reason the co-operative structure was the best fit for them and their community. Co-operators felt that using a co-operative model helped them address both of these concerns of their members and community.

The final word on motivations goes to: providing members with what they need. Some of the case studies are of co-operatives in isolated areas, where the provision of different services, such as health care or seniors' care as well as goods, sometimes even the basic subsistence groceries or supplies, such as petrol, were not being met by the public or private sectors already in the community. Co-operators saw the demand for services and niche markets for goods in their community.

This grid highlights some of the main challenges co-operators in these case studies encountered.

Challenges
Challenges Fédération des coopératives du Nouveau Québec Co-operative Auto Network Ukrainian Co-operative Nursery Northwest Co-operative Fisheries Ltd. Saint-Camille Co-operative Initiative  Lamèque Renewable Energy Co-operative La Siembra Co-operative Inc.
Capitalization
Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Developing appropriate skills and knowledge
Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes   Yes
Staff
Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes   Yes
Volunteers
Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes    
Governance
Yes     Yes     Yes
Demographics
  Yes Yes Yes      
Changes in the sector the co-op is working in
    Yes Yes   Yes Yes
Motivation for members to join
  Yes Yes Yes      
Leadership
  Yes     Yes Yes  

The above grid highlights some of the main challenges co-operators in these case studies encountered. The number one challenge for the co-operators was capitalization. This meant different things for each co-operative depending on where they were in the co-operative life cycle. For start-ups such as the Lamèque Renewable Energy Co-operative, they were in a double-bind because: one, energy projects are capital intensive at the beginning and then drop off; two, they are developing their renewable energy co-operative in a rural region without the capital sources to draw on. Other case studies in the solidifying phase find themselves struggling to make the next jump in terms of co-operative development because they do not have the financing needed.

The next two top challenges discussed by the co-operators related to issues of developing appropriate skills and knowledge in order to develop and then operate the co-operative. Co-operators stated that this was within the members, staff, board, volunteers and the community. It could be about technical issues, such as learning computer programs to track membership or understanding the engineering behind renewable energy projects. It could also be about how to run a co-operative effectively or how to be on the board or what membership involves.

This grid presents some of the lessons learned by co-operators as described in the case studies.

Lessons Learned
Lessons Learned (solutions to the challenges) Fédération des coopératives du Nouveau Québec Co-operative Auto Network Ukrainian Co-operative Nursery Northwest Co-operative Fisheries Ltd. Saint-Camille Co-operative Initiative  Lamèque Renewable Energy Co-operative La Siembra Co-operative Inc.
Thinking creatively to solve problems
Yes Yes   Yes     Yes
Training and learning
Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Developing strategic partnerships
  Yes Yes   Yes Yes Yes
Positioning enterprise, Finding a niche market
  Yes   Yes   Yes Yes
Marketing
Yes Yes     Yes   Yes
Thinking entrepreneurially
  Yes   Yes     Yes
Providing top quality goods and services
    Yes     Yes Yes
Turning to credit union for financing
  Yes Yes       Yes
Working with other co-ops
  Yes       Yes Yes
Building and working with networks
  Yes Yes       Yes
Varying stakeholders recognized
        Yes Yes Yes
Planning for member participation
Yes     Yes Yes    

The above grid presents some of the lessons learned by co-operators as described in the case studies. In some cases these directly help to resolve the challenges also discussed above, in other cases, the lessons learned have helped to advance the co-operative in ways they have not anticipated. There are three main lessons described by co-operators. First, in many cases the co-operatives are trailblazers in their region and/or sector, which displays a certain penchant for entrepreneurialism as well as thinking creatively to solve problems. When services were not being provided for rural seniors, the community rallied to develop a co-operative. When pre-school needs were not being met for the Ukrainian community, they formed a nursery school. This initial creative problem-solving drive does not dissolve as the co-operative moved past the start-up phase. This technique or philosophy persists to help them hurdle barriers throughout the life cycle of co-operatives.

The second significant lesson learned was the importance of training. In order to keep up with new technologies, to respond to staff or board turnover, to help staff grow within the co-operative or to educate members about new developments within the co-operative, the co-operatives quickly realized that their budgets needed to reflect diverse learning and training needs.

The third lesson co-operators reflected on was the importance of building partnerships. These partnerships could be of an informal or formal nature and should be sought out with all stakeholders. From these case studies it is clear to see that the co-operatives cast their net widely when considering who or what was a stakeholder. In many cases, this proved fruitful not only in terms of public relations about the co-operative, but also regarding opportunistic situations that can be favourably arranged.

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