Over 13 years ago, I left a permanent job to take a 3-month contract doing digital project management and marketing at Vancity. It probably wasn’t the “responsible” thing to do, especially seeing that my wife and I had an eleven-month old at home. Yet, it was the totally responsible thing to do – responsible to a higher purpose.
I had realized some time earlier that I needed to live a life that reflected my values. My work had been a major disconnect from my values. I had spent several years working in digital marketing in Seattle, Los Angeles and Vancouver, and I was feeling more and more weary of helping to sell more shoes, motorcycles or movie tickets to truly terrible movies (and a couple of really truly amazing ones too). This wasn’t how I wanted to spend my life.
I feel incredibly grateful to Vancity for giving me a job where purpose and productivity are so easily married. I have received many opportunities within the organization – I mean where else could a digital marketing manager be promoted and shift roles and shimmy around and end up in charge of business banking and community investment? Amazing!
But all good things must come to an end.
In mid-June I will start a new adventure as CEO of Brightside Community Homes Foundation, one of the province’s largest not-for-profit affordable housing providers. Brightside is dedicated to making housing accessible for those who struggle to meet the demands of market housing in Vancouver, one of the most unaffordable cities on the planet
After many years of working in community investment, I am extremely excited to move from an important enabling role, providing financial support to local businesses and organizations, to delivering services and helping tackle the affordable housing crisis in my home city.
The people at Vancity I want to thank and recognize are just too numerous to mention. Leaving the people is always the hardest part, and the people at Vancity – as well as those I’ve met in the wider Credit Union movement over the last decade – are magnificent. I wouldn’t be who I am or where I am without them.
I am thrilled to join the team at Brightside to help play a larger and direct role in ensuring our neighbours and community members have safe, stable and appropriate housing. I am excited about the work ahead and to help create meaningful impact in our community.
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.