Back to Bologna…

in June of 2009 I had an experience that would transform my career. I applied and was selected to join Vancity’s annual tour to the vibrant co-operative sector in Bologna, Italy. In the Emilia Romagna region of Italy, where Bologna is located, up to a third of the GDP is created directly by co-operatives. Consumer co-ops, worker co-ops, producer co-ops, social co-ops and others all contribute to a vibrant economy.

While in Bologna I blogged a lot and tried to make the most of my valuable time there. Since that time, I have become quite the self-progressed co-op geek. Although I had been a member of some co-ops in my life such as MEC and REI and I grew up visiting Vancity branches as a kid with my Mom, I didn’t know much. At the time I went to Bologna, I was living in a housing co-op where I was Treasurer, and I remember what I learned studying co-operative economics at the University of Bologna and visiting so many different co-ops on our tour made me realize how little I know about the model where I was elected as a governor.

If I hadn’t been to Bologna in 2009, I doubt I would have run for the board of Modo, where I have been a happy board member for over four years. I most certainly wouldn’t have been able to give the talks I have given on co-ops over the years.

And now, nine years after that first visit, I’m hours from leaving to go back to Bologna, leading this year’s tour of Vancity colleagues and community partners. I feel very privileged to return, to take a dive with my more experienced eyes into the academic and hands-on aspects of one of the world’s great co-op success areas. I am even missing my beloved Credit Union Water Cooler conference, which I never want to do.

I’ll be blogging, as I did nine years ago. So follow along, ask questions and leave a comment, and let’s explore the world of co-ops together.

What’s your money doing right now?

I wrote a piece about Vancity’s business model and our support for Modo as an example of that.

Here in B.C., we think about how our actions affect our community. We watch how we consume and recycle, we shop locally, we compost, and we’re concerned about our effects on the planet.

I say “we” because we know from a recent poll that in B.C. 98% of us say we recycle all or some of the time; 89% of us read ingredients to make healthy food choices, and 52% of us commute in an environmentally responsible way. A third of us say that we research the ethics of companies we are considering purchasing from.

Check out the whole post

2015 Community Summit.

VC-RCWalk-001-DESATVancity has partnered with SFU Public Square’s Community Summit for four years now. We see our partnership as a good fit. SFU, through its Public Square, invites people to grapple with issues we face in society: inequity, local economy, the future of innovation. Their mission is “to be the go-to convener of serious and productive conversations about issues of public concern”.

At Vancity, we’re looking at ways to harness the collective power of our members’ assets to invest in areas that create healthy communities. That’s our role as this region’s values-bases banking institution. In order to do that, we need places where we can convene our members and the public to discuss and deliberate on steps we can take to create communities where we can all thrive. A good partnership is one that can bring more people into that conversation and include more voices and hear from people with diverse opinions, perspectives, and backgrounds. We can’t solve problems and create new opportunities for a more co-operative economy, a cleaner environment, or greater social inclusion unless we partner together.

This year, the focus of SFU Public Square is on city-building. The aim is to “invigorate the public conversation on how people can connect with their cities, find their voice, and enjoy increased participation in civic life.” Nothing could be more important. A disengaged citizenry means that key issues aren’t being addressed and is a recipe for complacency and cynicism.

In order to engage around these vital issues, SFU has focused on the role that the arts can play as a facilitator of dialogue, new thinking, and reflection. To get us outside our experience to build empathy for other points of view.

I look forward to being challenged and inspired to rethink my assumptions and grapple with some new ideas, and as a result, focus on how to make our region better for all.

Originally posted at the SFU Public Square Blog.

Knives and forks, a community investment co-op.

In my role at Vancity, I think a lot about an inclusive, sustainable and also vibrant local economy. And I am a hypocrite.

Oh, I’m not alone, all my colleagues and peers are hypocrites too.

We support local businesses. Especially businesses that create a local food economy, hire people with barriers to employment, support new Canadians as they settle so they can be productive and happy in their new country, help companies trying to reduce the carbon emissions they put into the environment and help people reduce the carbons they emit in their lives.

Why are we hypocrites? Our personal investments can’t be put into these kinds of companies. Instead, at best, our mutual funds can screen out companies whose ethics we disagree with. But you can’t screen out everything we disagree with or there’d be almost nothing left to invest in. Big banks? No thanks. Oil and gas? Uh-uh. Resource extraction? No way.

Assuming we’re all investing in socially responsible investments, we’re investing in national and multi-national companies that are moving along a spectrum towards greater sustainability. That’s better than putting our hard-earned money capitalizing companies that we don’t support, endorse or whose practices we actively disagree with. But the government says we can’t invest in the local food market down the street trying to bring local food to our community. (No one sums this up better than Michael H. Shuman.)

The government says we can go to the casino down the road and gamble away our life savings. Sure, that’s allowed. But putting some retirement savings into a local business we can touch and shop at and support? That’s verboten.

Until now.

12072555_1168714549823067_2646994795263451844_nSay hello to the Knives and Forks Community Investment Co-op – it’s the newest co-op that I’m a member of. It uses the co-operative structure to allow ordinary people (aka: unaccredited investors) to invest increments of $2,400 into local businesses after becoming a co-op member for a $100 membership share purchase. Knives and Forks focuses on local businesses involved in the local food economy. Restaurants, growers, producers, value-add suppliers, and so on.

It’s a needed addition to our options as local BC citizens trying to support the businesses that we believe in. A central tenet of investing is to invest in companies whose products you use and enjoy. As much as I love Apple and enjoy their products and am proud of their major leaps in environmental sustainability, I don’t know them in the same way that I know my local, organic grocer that I go to every week and can chat with and ask for products that are relevant to me and my family. Or a local butcher, fishery co-operative, raspberry farm, etc…

That’s the best kind of investment.

Originally published on the Co-op Water Cooler.

10 years and counting…

Before I started working at Vancity, the longest I worked anywhere was only two or three years. I job-hopped a lot. I didn’t jump around because I was disloyal. I did it because I either got bored and wanted new challenges, which that company couldn’t provide me with, or I had no particular affinity for the company and didn’t feel invested in its growth or success.

Ten years ago today I left a good job at our local telco and started at Vancity on a three-month contract. I was already a member and had a feeling this work experience would be very different from previous employers. I had no idea how different…

After ten years at Vancity, where I have grown from managing web projects on contract, to overseeing the digital team, to taking on community events and granting, to working in community investment, I am honoured to step up and become the new VP of Community Investment.

Vancity has allowed me to grow in ways I never could have imagined, and experience things that helped shape who I am. I recently looked back at all the experiences I’ve blogged about since starting at Vancity, from going to Bologna to study the co-operative sector, to being an early adopter of social media, to being the voice of Vancity in some pivotal ads, to visiting Copenhagen to brainstorm values-based banking with peers across the globe.

And then there’s the extraordinary people I’ve had the privilege of meeting over this time. Vancity staff, credit union people, co-operators from across the globe, people doing remarkable and inspiring things here in my community. That has been the greatest gift of all.

So here’s to ten great years. I embark on the next ten years with enthusiasm and commitment, and am completely excited about the road ahead…