It has been a year since my trip to Bologna when a group of 15 Vancity staff studied co-operatives in this region of the world where co-ops are modern, big, profitable and also progressive and responsible. A new group of Vancity employees just wrapped up their adventure in Italy and from those I’ve spoken to, it sounds like they’ve had an equally amazing and inspiring time. Bringing back this knowledge and experience to strengthen our own financial co-operative is incredibly important as Vancity gets more in touch with its roots and focuses on our new vision of Redefining Wealth.
A couple of weeks back, Corporate Knights released a list of responsible companies in Canada and the top three are all co-ops. Vancity ranked third behind Mountain Equipment Co-op (Canada’s equivalent of REI) and The Co-operators, a large national insurance company (whom Vancity sold its Insurance division to last year).
In thinking about co-ops in a 21st Century context, it seems to me focusing on the seven co-operative principles and our system of governance is a bit of a non-starter. It is my opinion that as co-operatives, we should be adjusting our message to fit with the times. The co-operative message will still resonate with some, but I think that to many it seems outdated and esoteric. People don’t get excited about governance, or voting for a bunch of people for a Board when they don’t really understand the role of a Board or the impact of their vote.
But there is an increased consumer focus on the behavior of the companies they deal with. Social connection equals social responsibility and people can learn more about the behind-the-scenes actions of companies than ever before. Through social media, people are used to participating, and co-ops can offer ways to participate and engage that perhaps other companies cannot.
In Vancouver, where the term 100 mile diet originated, I think we have something in common with the locavore movement. Eat local, shop local, keep your money local. When Vancity talks about Redefining Wealth, to me that’s what it means. Profits can go to shareholders in another part of the country or world, or the profits from your bank accounts, mortgage, investments and credit card can stay local and be invested back into your neighbours and community.
Vancity has become a slang word for Vancouver and the idea of “keep your money in Vancity” seems like a strong value proposition.
In the art of acting there is a practice of memorizing your script and stage directions and character attributes perfectly so you can forget it all and improvise knowing you have that base to work from. I would say the same is true here. Internalize the co-operative principles, live by them, socialize them within your co-op, and then forget them and start improvising so you can increase the relevance of this movement to fit into today’s modern, connected world.