Volume 9, Number 6 November 2, 2001

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Local co-operative a good case study for grad students

U of S Business Administration graduate students Neville Fernandes and Nikki Hipkin. Photo by Joel Deshaye

By Joel Deshaye

Two graduate students in the Business Administration program at the U of S, Nikki Hipkin and Neville Fernandes, are helping to increase awareness of co-operatives by studying a local community-owned business.

The Quint Development Corporation is based in five neighborhoods on Saskatoon’s west side (hence the name ‘Quint’). Quint’s mandate is to foster a healthy environment for community-based business and locally owned housing, while supporting a variety of programs, such as a home-ownership program for low-income families and a group home initiative for single mothers who want to continue their educations. Quint is largely funded by the government and partly by corporate donations.

Hipkin and Fernandes presented a case study of Quint at the multi-disciplinary Changing the Climate conference, held earlier this year at the Diefenbaker Canada Centre on campus.

The conference, whose keynote speaker was Governor-General’s Award recipient Guy Vanderhaeghe, offered graduate students an opportunity to present their research to a wider audience of students and professors in the fields of the social sciences and humanities.

Hipkin and Fernandes began their study of Quint during a class on Aboriginal economic development. Although Quint is not specifically an Aboriginal organization, its board of directors is chosen from the community associations, where a large percentage of the population is Aboriginal.

Fernandes thinks that Quint, like other co-operatives, is particularly appropriate for Aboriginal economic development because of its community-based approach.

"There’s a lot of focus on community, which is at the core of the co-operatives," he says. "It’s like democracy in its purest form."

He explains that while most business models are based on the individual, the co-operative is based on the community. Quint’s organization is structured on a bottom-up philosophy, so there is no single CEO in total control at the top of a hierarchy. "That’s how [co-operatives such as Quint] approach development, as opposed to individuals’ wants and desires. There are a lot of parallels between co-operatives and Aboriginal cultures in that way."

Both Fernandes and Hipkin are encouraged by the success of Quint. They regard it as the foremost co-operative in Saskatchewan (there are many successful co-operatives operating elsewhere in the world, often in developing countries).

While Quint relies on government funding, Hipkin believes such a successful program could become self-sufficient if there was an incentive to attract the support of local corporations.

"I’d like to see the government come up with a program that gives really high tax benefits for donating to community initiatives. For example, then people who are well-off in Saskatoon could donate to Quint, a local organization that is going to do very good things, and the spinoff of economic development in that area would benefit people in the city," explains Hipkin.

"Then the government doesn’t have to do much and Quint could potentially become an organization that is funded in and of itself ... The increased economic development and activity is going to generate increased taxes, whether income tax or GST, and basically I think the government would get that money back; they would be able to replace whatever money they’re losing [because of] giving the tax credit and many good things would be going on."

In that way, Hipkin suggests, the government’s involvement could be reduced and the city’s wealthier businesses would be encouraged to participate in development efforts elsewhere in the city.

"It’s a simple concept," says Fernandes. "Promote the community and their economic base and everyone benefits."

For Fernandes, it is easy to see the benefits of a program such as Quint. "I was talking to one owner who had opened up a retail store. His attitude really changed after he got his store operating. It was so successful, and he was also helping the community and planning to hire people."

"There’s a tendency for media and society to think of negative things when we mention low-income neighborhoods," he says. "But [the Quint programs] really create an environment where positive things can happen," he says. "You can’t expect people to become self-sufficient or contributing members of society if they don’t have that healthy environment."

Hipkin explains that Quint is an example of a different way of doing potentially successful business. "I think it’s important to have a greater awareness [of alternative development models]. I think a lot of companies now are doing things outside the radar of their business activities, whether they help an organization like [Quint] or whether they have other strategic alliances to community or student organizations. It’s interesting to look at the corporate world so see what else they’re doing other than earning a buck."

Although they concluded their study of Quint nearly a year ago, it is now being used in other research by the Associate Dean of Commerce in charge of the MBA program, Lou Hammond-Ketilson.

Before finishing their MBA, they spent a few weeks in Ukraine on an internship arranged via the Centre for International Business Studies, which sent students to Ukraine, Russia, Japan, and the United States during the summer.

Nikki Hipkin was scheduled to graduate with her MBA in October, and Neville Fernandes expects to finish in December.

Joel Deshaye wrote this profile as part of a fellowship with the College of Graduate Studies and Research.

For more information, contact communications.office@usask.ca

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