Report looks at top issues of concern for Canadian co-ops

Raising awareness about co-ops, governance and access to capital were among the key concerns

Raising awareness of the co-operative business model remains the most pressing issue for Canadian co-ops, according to a new report by the Canadian Centre for the Study of Cooperatives.

Based on an annual survey, the Top Co-op Issues 2020 report asked Canadian co-operative leaders and researchers for most pressing concerns facing co-operatives.

Respondents said the awareness problem started with the education system and curricula that largely ignore co-operatives, particularly in business schools.

The second biggest concern is governance. Respondents said that the demutualisation of the Mountain Equipment Co-op (MEC) had been viewed with caution by the sector. To address some of underlying demutualisation risks, they suggested offering co-op-specific training and education on board governance.

Related: How to we get co-ops on the school curriculum?

Another governance concern is board representation; respondents said boards need more diverse representation in terms of factors such as gender and race.

The difficulty co-ops experience in terms of accessing capital and financing was also highlighted, especially for start-up and early-stage co-operative; at the moment, it this makes it hard for co-ops to invest in their businesses and grow. To address this, some respondents suggested that established co-operatives, particularly credit unions, could do more to support and develop smaller co-ops through start-up or business conversion phases. Others argued that governments could do more to support co-operative development, giving the example of Quebec’s strong support for the sector.

Leadership development is another area of concern. Many executive-level leaders are being brought in from investor-owned firms, the survey found, often with little understanding of the co-operative model. Co-operative leadership training would help to remedy this, said respondents. Some also think the sector should try harder to cultivate more diverse leadership in the co-operative sector.

Related: Members of MEC consider life after demutualisation

The poll also pointed to a lack of technical support and guidance around co-operative development, in terms of resources available to build capacity. Respondents want more resources and supports to facilitate co-op conversions and said established co-operatives could play a larger role in stimulating and facilitating this. They also noted that support for conversions varies from province to province, and called for interprovincial cooperation.

In its third edition, the 2020 Top Co-op Issues report is based on the responses of 56 leaders. The full report is available online.

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