About Nora Russell

Nora Russell is the publications and communications officer at the Centre for the Study of Co-operatives, University of Saskatchewan

Co-ops and Universities: Seeking the Elusive Partnership

Part 3: The Faculty Dilemma

Brett Fairbairn, with Nora Russell

Part 2 of this post, “Viable Partnerships,” looked at how co-ops might work with universities and suggested three possibilities: the three I’s — the Individual, Incentive, and Institutionalizing approaches. How does it look from the other side? If you are a faculty member inside a university, what are your options for how to engage the co-op sector?

Where the co-op’s problem is how to influence the behaviour of the faculty, the faculty member’s problem is how to access resources to enable different behaviour on the part of faculty and students. There are a variety of solutions to this problem. Continue reading

Why Are Agricultural Co-ops Declining in Saskatchewan?

Yawen Luo

Agricultural co-operatives have deep roots in Saskatchewan. Since the early part of the twentieth century, farmers have used the co-operative model to organize agricultural activities. The last two decades, however, have seen significant changes in agricultural co-ops, including the disappearance of the Saskatchewan Wheat Pool, once the largest agricultural co-op in Canada. While research has focused on the failure of the large co-ops, little attention has been directed to smaller agricultural co-ops and the environment in which they operate.

Recent research at the Centre for the Study of Co-operative shows that the number of agricultural co-ops in Saskatchewan has fallen from 307 in 2001 to 178 in 2015, a decline of 42 percent. Why has this occurred? Continue reading

The Saskatchewan Disability Strategy: Why the Co-op Model Is a Good Fit

Victoria Taras

People with disabilities face barriers to inclusion as full and autonomous members of society. Inclusion of a person with blindness on their commute, for example, requires tactile and audio signals on the bus, at crosswalks, on their cell phone, and to find the right building, the right floor, and the right room. It also requires special equipment and training on how to get around, as well as an employer, landlord, and bus driver who understands his or her needs and rights. Every element of this wide range of daily activities needs to be addressed for the person in the example and for all people with disabilities. Presently, we fall short. Continue reading

OSFI Advisory Should Provide Exemption for Credit Unions

Dionne Pohler

Dionne Pohler.* Photo credit David Stobbe / stobbephoto.ca

I grew up in a small farming village in rural Saskatchewan, where we commonly referred to the credit union as “the bank.” It was the only deposit and lending institution available in my hometown.

The words “bank” and “banking” have clear meanings in common language: Canadians use “banking” as a gerund in the same general way that people use the term “google” to mean an Internet search, or “uber” to ride share. Few understand “banking” as a term reserved exclusively for a subset of federally regulated financial institutions.

On June 30, however, the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions (OSFI), the national regulator of Canada’s federally incorporated banks, issued an advisory that clarifies their interpretation of the Bank Act. The advisory aims to discourage what OSFI claims is increased use of the words “bank,” “banker,” and “banking” by “non-bank financial service providers.” Continue reading

Co-ops and Universities: Seeking the Elusive Partnership

Part 2: Viable Partnerships

Brett Fairbairn, with Nora Russell

Clearly, there are important reasons for co-ops and universities to be interested in each other. But while they can be aligned, they can never be, or remain, perfectly aligned. The demands of co-operatives to demonstrate a value proposition — to justify the commitment of resources to an education initiative in competition with returning greater short-term benefits to members — are impossible to satisfy fully. There will always be a tension. The questions within the academy are equally unanswerable — whether the same resources contributed to another undertaking would create more peer-reviewed publications, more prestigious grants, more reputational impact, than contributing faculty, staff, and student time to work with and on co-operatives. Both co-ops and universities face competing claims on time and resources. Continue reading

Co-ops and Universities: Seeking the Elusive Partnership

Part 1: The Case for Partnership

Brett Fairbairn, with Nora Russell

Co-operatives are community-based associations and enterprises accountable to their members and typically competing in markets for goods and services. Based on self-help, autonomy, and ages-old ways of working together, they improve the well-being of their members, foster values such as equity and inclusion, and strengthen communities.

Universities are among the oldest institutions in society, operating under deeply entrenched norms of self-governance and autonomy. They create knowledge for society, foster critical thinking and citizenship, and reproduce leadership and professions from generation to generation.

If a good partnership is one where the partners bring different strengths and characteristics to a common project, then universities and co-operatives have the makings of a great partnership. But partners have to find the right ways of working with each other, and this is more complicated than it might appear. Continue reading

The State of Co-ops in Western Canada

Murray Fulton

Murray Fulton

An American colleague recently asked me and a number of other academics and co-op leaders if we could provide a quick snapshot of large-scale co-operative activity in our geographical regions — consolidations, mergers, the nature of supply chains, and whatever else we felt was important. Here is my response. Continue reading

Organizational Listening: A Framework for Revitalizing Co-operative Engagement?

Amanda Sampson

“Communication is a two-way street” is often touted as a guiding principle of success. Public and private organizations, including co-operatives, invest large sums in public engagement and rely on social media to allow stakeholders to “have their say.” Yet, do organizations actually embody this two-way street by responding to what their stakeholders are saying? As participation-based organizations, co-operatives should be aware of recent research that argues industry communication standards are perpetuating a “crisis of listening” that undermines key stakeholder relationships. Continue reading

#Twittercoop

Danielle Potter

“Twitter is under threat of being sold, and selling out its users,” reads the petition urging Twitter shareholders to say Yes to a co-op. What is the motivation for such a move? What might be the impact? Could this happen? Continue reading

Governance Changes at MEC: Should Other Co-ops Take Note?

Aasa Marshall

MEC — a large Canadian retail co-operative that specializes in outdoor activity equipment — implemented a number of controversial changes three years ago to strengthen the knowledge and skill sets at its board table and to ensure its governance structure could continue to guide the growing company.

Formerly known as Mountain Equipment Co-op, MEC was started by a small group of friends from the University of British Colombia who found they couldn’t buy good quality climbing gear in Canada. Since its inception in 1971, it has grown to twenty stores across the country, with 4.5 million members and $366 million in annual sales. With this growth and the expectation of further growth, the co-op felt it needed a more experienced board to navigate not only its scope, but also the increasingly competitive market for the goods it sells. Continue reading

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