What is this “co-operative” career path?
What do I do? What is this world-changing mission I’m on?…
In short: I believe co-operative enterprises have the ability to change peoples lives in whichever way they need it to be uplifted socially, culturally or economically.
That all sounds fine and good and sort of ideal but here’s how…
A co-operative is a self-help organization formed through open and voluntary membership. It is democratically controled and designed to serve the needs of the people and the community.
That’s it, at it’s very essence! Whenever the office politics get to me or we’re having a hard time making a decision in the board room, I always bring it back to “what are we here for, who do we serve and what are our co-operative principles?”
The Co-operative Principles:
1. Voluntary and Open Membership
Anyone can (and should) join a co-operative and become a member-owner, regardless of race, religion, sex or economic status
2. Democratic Member Control
The members decide who is on their board of directors making the business decisions and members have a fair say in how the business is run
3. Member Economic Participation
When the business does well, so do the members. Because each member has purchased shares, they are part owners of the co-operative. When the co-op performs well, the members may share in the profits, receive reduced fees, free services and other awesome things that directly benefit their wallet
4. Autonomy and Independence
The co-operative is a self-help organization, even in partnership with other enterprises the control always remains in the hands of its stakeholders – the members.
5. Education, Training and Information
Co-ops are accountable to their members and provide them with the training and resources they need to make good decisions and improve their personal lives while using the services and products its co-op was established for. They also reach out to the community and opinion leaders to help demonstrate how the co-op can help more and more people
6. Co-operation among Co-operatives
Perhaps my favourite principle. Co-operatives work with other co-operatives to strengthen their business and improve service to members in an ethical way
7. Concern for Community
These enterprises put people ahead of profit and in addition to taking care of their local member-owners, they also look after the greater needs of the community – if this isn’t evident, you need to read more of my blog and twitter feed hahaha
My Career In Co-operatives
My co-op career began in 2009 when I joined Lakeland Credit Union as a Member Service Representative. In my first couple of months I found it to be a rewarding customer/member service job but then I took my first course through the Credit Union Institute of Canada and realized I was a part of something huge. From that day forward every other teller I trained, I tried to share with them this excitement of what a co-op was and how important our members were. I moved into opening accounts and selling investments to members and learned a lot more about how credit unions are much different from banks.
In 2011 I joined the marketing team as the Communications Coordinator and became the cheerleader and voice behind all of Lakeland Credit Union’s communications. It was the career of my dreams; matching my creative writing skills and passion for community outreach with my education in event planning in one perfect little package. I was responsible for managing our community investment and bursary program and creating and launching financial literacy initiatives and a staff volunteer program… in addition to a whole slough of other accomplishments you can find on my LinkedIn profile.
In 2012 I led the 5 co-operatives in my community in celebrating the United Nations International Year of Co-operatives through planning large scale events like a community Movie in the Park, and producing radio scripts and press releases that stressed the advantages of being a member-owner. I ended the International Year of Co-operatives with a volunteer story-telling mission to Uganda with the Canadian Co-operative Association (CCA). My two week mission to northern Uganda was intended to collect and retell the stories of people whose lives had directly been affected through their involvement in agricultural and financial service co-operatives.
It’s easy to see how your life and work, although awesome, can feel quite meaningless after returning from an emotional story telling trip to Africa. I continued to work hard at Lakeland Credit Union and some of my work became award winning but my focus and energy was really in writing articles about my mission and delivering presentations to high schools and student leadership groups on how co-operatives could be used as a tool for international development.
In 2013 I began looking for bigger and better opportunities and more volunteer experience in the co-op sector. I staffed my third summer at the Alberta Community and Co-operative Association’s (ACCA) Youth Leadership Program. I interviewed with other credit unions in BC, turned down a job with Servus, one of Alberta’s largest credit union’s, and applied for an overseas internship with the Canadian Co-operative Association.
So here I am. If you’ve managed to make it to the bottom of this page, you’re caught up on my career.
I am working now as an intern in Malawi with the Malawi Union of Savings and Credit Co-operatives (MUSCCO). MUSCCO is essentially the national apex that looks out for the interest and development of Savings and Credit Co-operatives (SACCOs) in Malawi. My role with them as a Marketing Officer will be similar to my role at Lakeland Credit Union; promote SACCOs, increase services and capacity, and help tell the stories of successful membership.
My commitment to CCA will be to continue discussing with anyone I can how co-operatives, particularly in partnership with CCA, have been uplifting people out of poverty in Africa, Asia and the Americas. I am delighted to be doing some freelance work with CUNewswire and Axiom News and to blog about my personal and professional experiences.
If you’re interested in hearing more about co-operative development I would love to hear from you!