There aren’t very many people who use the words “passion” and “governance” in the same sentence. But Patricia Bradshaw, Dean of the Sobey School of Business at Saint Mary’s University in Halifax, is no ordinary business school administrator.
At last year’s International Summit of Cooperatives in Quebec City, Dr. Bradshaw garnered headlines in both co-op and academic media by insisting that all university business schools should include co-operatives in the curriculum. And for her, hosting this week’s International Co-operative Governance Symposium is an exciting opportunity to discuss one of her favourite subjects – governance – and bring together academics with the people who govern or manage co-ops on a day-to-day basis.
“My passion is governance,” she said in an interview before the symposium’s opening reception. “I’ve been studying the governance of non-profits for more than 20 years.”
Taking her cue from the terminology of parliamentary politics, she describes good governance as “a form of Loyal Opposition."
“We don’t just want boards to rubber-stamp everything – the board table should be a place for questioning and discussion,” she said.
A former professor of Organization Studies at York University in Toronto, she was an obvious candidate to take over the top job at the Sobey School in June 2012. By the time she arrived, Saint Mary’s had already distinguished itself both nationally and internationally as a leader in co-operative management studies with its Master of Management, Co-operatives and Credit Unions program. The program is not only one of the few in North America aimed at co-op practitioners, it is also conducted primarily online, which has made it particularly appealing to international students.
In October 2012, the university organized the Imagine 2012 conference on co-operative economics, held in Quebec City just before the International Summit . And just before this week`s symposium began, a group of participants met to discuss holding a conference at Saint Mary's on tools for measuring co-operative performance, tentatively scheduled for the spring of 2014.
Dr, Bradshaw said her interest in co-operatives grew out of her work on non-profit organizations and her fascination with “the continuum of innovation and models.” But she refuses to take the credit for her school’s impressive achievements in this area. That, she says, belongs to her committed faculty members and support from the university’s president, Colin Dodds.
“He’s the one who took this university global,” she said. “And he’s also the one who embraced the co-op program.”
Today, a little over a year after Dr. Bradshaw took over, the Sobey School continues to expand its reputation as a place for co-op practitioners to improve their knowledge of governance and management. In addition to its well-established Master's program, the School has added a shorter Graduate Diploma in Co-operative Management program. And it is now partnering with IRECUS, the co-operative research and education institute at the French-language Université de Sherbrooke, to offer a bilingual package of courses entitled “Co-operative Management 101”.
John McNamara, business manager at the Madison, Wisconsin worker co-op Union Cab, said Saint Mary's has been ideal for him because he could still live in Madison and keep his job while pursuing his education.
Mr. McNamara, who completed his Master's degree in 2010 and is now a PhD candidate at Saint Mary’s, said the knowledge he gained through the program made a big difference, not only to him, but also to his co-operative.
“The program is designed to make our co-ops a living laboratory: you can put what you learn right into the workplace,” he said. “I was able to share what I learned with the other workers in my co-op and it really made a difference.”
His comments are music to Patricia Bradshaw’s ears.
“I’d like to see the Sobey School positioned as the creative space between the academy and the practitioners – the sweet spot,” she said.