I’m back at home and making sense of all I’ve learned and experienced over the last two weeks studying the co-operative sector in Bologna, Italy.
Nine years ago, I attended this same program, and it opened my eyes to the role co-ops can play in our economy and started me down my path of greater involvement with co-ops. This trip has given me greater depth and language to describe the way co-ops act as a counter balance to some of the harmful effects of the market.
I have gained quite a lot of experience over the last few years working with businesses and organizations in impact sectors. I am very concerned with a few societal issues, chief amongst them income inequality, climate change, housing and rental availability and affordability in this region and making reconciliation a priority so that gaps that exist between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people finally start to disappear.
Co-ops can be part of the solution to all of these issues.
In BC, most co-ops I deal with are consumer co-ops. I came back from Bologna with a strong sense that many more worker co-ops are needed to help deal with these societal and environmental issues. We have some worker co-ops in BC, but it is a solution for many more people who want to self-organize to solve an issue or address a market failure.
What’s needed? Teaching the co-op model in our business schools, introducing policies friendly to people organizing worker co-ops, aligning partners in our incubators and business networks and creating education materials introducing the model to people thinking of starting a company. The model requires greater patience and care to work properly and won’t be right for most entrepreneurs, but someone starting a company should know all the business structures, models and options open to them and not just the one prevalent corporate model in our economy.
In parallel to promoting worker co-ops, there should be a greater focus on worker co-op succession, or Worker Buy Outs as they call them in Bologna. This model is timely as so many aging entrepreneurs will be looking to retire from their businesses over the next 10-15 years. If some of these are sold to their workers as a co-operative, it will share benefits and accountabilities in a way that should address inequality and keep established businesses in our community from failing.
I feel very privileged I was able to attend this program again and deepen my understanding of co-ops, and walk away inspired to focus on worker co-op creation and succession as a key part of a more equitable and sustainable local economy.