What does it mean to work cooperatively….and how is that different from being part of a ‘Cooperative’? These terms are used in so many different ways and yet there is really a difference when we are talking about a legally incorporated entity which must operate under the Cooperative Act…and govern itself accordingly.
Generally Coops are a mission driven type of business model which, enables an egalitarian means of operating. At further effort towards social justice, shared responsibility/fairness, and higher level values related towards being consumers/purchasers, workers and producers. Actually so much of the backbone of Canadian history, particularly our agricultural background, has been interwoven in the history of the Coop movement. Now Cooperatives are created to serve various focuses from Housing Coops, Financial/Credit Unions, to International Development….and many types of manufacturing/buying/working frameworks as well.
At O.U.R. ECOVILLAGE we have worked for the past 6 years to create an optimum form of ownership which might speak to the many needs of multiple stakeholders who are involved in multiple activities. Given we have a housing project, a carshare project, a cowshare, a food production program, food purchasing in bulk, a Non-Profit Society (also incorporated) and a wide range of workers…..there could be 8+ Coops operating onsite. The challenge is we do not want to go to 8+ AGM’s, do the fiscal reporting or deal with such a level of challenge to communication, accountability, etc. With Federal funding support, we have had a legal team working to understand what types of solutions could be proposed which could deal with this challenge.
In 2006 OUR ECOVILLAGE and the F.O.G. (Finance, Ownership, and Governance) for Common share Projects was able to create an incorporated hybrid multi-stakeholder model which we have been piloting ever since. Inherent in any new research/pilot is trying to determine how not to make project design even more complex….and we certainly have been challenged with this. If you have been hanging out in the Coop movement you already know about the Governance issues which support/challenge decision making with community based organizations. In O.U.R. case, we decided to up the ante some what further and have also now been piloting Dynamic Governance
as a model that can be brought into multi-stakeholder Cooperatives.
Stay tuned we have had CDI funding this past 18 months and by next year we will be publishing a “Dynamic Governance Toolkit for Cooperatives”.
Lots of ‘on the ground’ work is being done to determine best practices for Coops/intentional communities/governance models and how we can fit this all together…..if you are interested in some of OUR legal work or being part of the research please let us know!