ontario.coop
5 min readMay 25, 2022

Supporting the growth of Canada’s co-op sector

Submitted by Wendy Carruthers, Associate Vice-President, Member & Key Client Relations, The Co-operators and OCA Board Director (left) and Shawna Peddle, Associate Vice-President, Citizenship, The Co-operators (right)

As we enter the third year of a global pandemic, we are reminded that we’re all in the same storm, but not necessarily in the same boat. Inequities that existed ‘before’ continue, and in many cases, have been exacerbated. However, one of the positives that emerged early on in the pandemic was a heightened awareness that in spite of living in a global society, our neighbours and our neighbourhoods play an essential role in our sense of community and well-being.

Underpinning so many of the trends that have emerged over the last three years is a sense of dissatisfaction with the current state of the world and a desire for a different model, one that addresses inequities and provides us with a sense of belonging and contributing a positive impact to our communities. At Co-operators we have never been more convinced that the co-operative model, for all its historic roots, is a key part of building the kind of future that addresses so many of the challenges that have been brought to the surface.

And we aren’t alone in this. A co-operative approach to work, to community building and to meeting our individual and collective needs is more relevant and more popular than ever. This is evidenced through increased requests for co-operative development support experienced at OCA, increased submissions for co-operative funding, and growing participation at co-operative events. We are so proud to be a part of Canada’s thriving co-operative movement and want to share some of the ways we are supporting its growth.

Co-operators is focused on three main opportunities to strengthen the co-op sector — creating value and deepening relationships with our member organizations, supporting emerging and expanding co-operatives, and developing the next generation of young co-operative leaders.

We exist to support our members in good times and bad. We are governed by 46 member organizations and work together to provide broad benefits to our members, their members, and local communities. In 2021, we delivered $28.7 million to our members through our Member Loyalty Program, based largely on member business conducted with our company, and reflective of the mutual benefits of our co-operative relationship. We were also able to support our member organizations in providing their own members with access to exclusive personal insurance coverage. In 2021, our Member Benefits Program provided benefits to 156,511 households across Canada. We also redoubled our efforts to connect with and support our members throughout the pandemic by working together to learn how to govern a co-operative organization through virtual platforms, for example, and via regular and transparent communications.

Co-operatives remain strong through this economic downturn, and we have seen rising interest in the co-op movement in Canada and the birth of new co-ops. Since 1992, Co-operators has administered over $3.1 million through our Co-operative Development Program (CDP) to 211 emerging and expanding co-operatives nationally. In 2020, we made the commitment to increase our contributions from $200,000 to $500,000 in response to the pressures of COVID-related economic shutdowns on young co-operatives, and have since made that annual commitment permanent moving forward. In 2021 alone, the CDP saw the highest levels of interest in its history, funding the viability and growth of 29 young co-ops responding to the collective needs of Canadians. In addition, our newly-launched Co-op Impact Program focuses on supporting the sector through making $1 million in capital available to small and medium-sized co-operatives working to adapt to the shifting economic landscape in COVID recovery.

Building the next generation of young co-operative leaders will ensure the model and the principles carry on. As part of the Pathways to Employability initiative of the Co-operators Community Funds, we recently launched the Co-operators Young Leaders Award, connecting 12 young leaders in the co-operative and credit union space nationally to each other through a 12-month virtual Leadership Academy. These future sector leaders are connecting to their purpose while championing the opportunities for young people in the sector. They will also be providing insights on the youth opportunity and how to better engage young people that will inform our future work. Through our support of co-operative youth leadership camps across the country, and by supporting co-operatives that hire and train young people in the model and principles, we are building the next generation of members, employees, volunteers, and Board Directors who will shape the future of the sector nationally.

We also continue to work with community organizations to best understand needs around our corporate giving. In 2021, we contributed 4.1% of our pre-tax profit (over $8.3 million) to Canadian co-operatives, non-profits and charities supporting the focus areas of our social impact framework: an inclusive economy, social wellness, environmental resilience, and a co-operative society. We actively work with our community partners to understand their needs and co-design opportunities that best support local communities. We also encourage our staff to give back to their communities in ways that connect to their purpose, with over 12,100 hours of staff time given to community organizations in 2021, a total salary equivalent of $486,234.

We can’t talk about a thriving sector without ensuring there is a thriving world in which to operate. Co-operators has a long history of leadership in the climate and sustainability space, achieving net carbon neutrality in 2020 and committing to net zero targets for our operations by 2040 and our investment portfolio by 2050. By 2030, we’ve committed to having 60% of our portfolio in impact investments that measurably address the world’s pressing environmental and social issues through cleaner energy systems, resilient infrastructure, affordable housing, mental health supports, and more. We pursue profit and social purpose while securing our long-term financial strength by supporting the transition to a resilient, sustainable future.

Our co-operative has changed and grown over 77 years, but we remain true to our roots of addressing unmet needs in our communities, to our mission of financial security for Canadians, and to the co-operative principles, particularly co-operation amongst co-operatives and concern for community. To learn more about how we give back, please visit our 2021 Integrated Annual Report.

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Our vision is an Ontario where co-operatives and credit unions contribute to the sustainable growth and development of our communities.