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NatioNal Co-op week

Co-op Week celebrates province’s co-operative spirit by Ryan Hall

If you live in Saskatchewan then chances are you have first-hand experience with the many co-operatives sprinkled across the province. Drawn from the fabric of our past, the idea of working together has always been an essential part of living on the prairies. Whether building a barn, hunting bison, or banding together to develop communities, we’ve achieved more together than any of us could on our own. This October marks the celebration of the 35th annual National Co-op Week, a chance to reflect on past contributions and explore future opportunities. While the scope and size of cooperatives has changed over time, they remain a flexible organizational structure which can be used in any sector. To form a co-op, all that is required is for a group of people to have a need they wish to address, and for members to agree on how to meet that need co-operatively. Due to the high level of group collaboration required, this business model often ends up being well thought out, with several studies showing that co-op start-ups have twice the survival rate of other forms of enterprise. However, while the basic structure has remained unchanged over time, co-operatives themselves have adapted. A generation ago, people were more likely to go to an annual general meeting or to be part of community organizations. Since the co-op model depends on member involvement in decision making, this allowed small, local co-ops to flourish. Today, how we think of a local community is shifting and as a result several co-ops are now serving larger geographic areas. “Looking ahead,” says Victoria Morris, executive director of the Saskatchewan Co-operative Association (SCA), “I think that we’ll see co-ops shifting to more online voting, and embracing remote

There has been strong growth in Indigenous co-operatives in Saskatchewan. The Ohpahow Wawesecikiwak Arts Marketing Co-operative enables artisans of Big River First Nation to market authentic works of Cree art collectively. S CA

participation as a way to address these shifts.” However, that isn’t the only way co-ops are modernizing. Since the model works best when there is a strong need and a solid business plan, many of the challenges and opportunities of our modern world can be overcome with a co-operative approach. Some areas that are seeing growth is personal interest, hobby, and craft co-ops such as beer brewing. Additionally, activity co-ops are also gaining steam, as they focus on things that are increasingly difficult for a single person to afford on their own, such as car sharing, housing, and communal workspaces. With an aging population, discussions on ‘aging in place’ and elder care have become more passionate. The SCA has already worked with several communities within the province to develop co-ops that provide care and housing for seniors, providing a uniquely Saskatchewan way to meet these needs. First Nations and Indigenous communities are another sector where the co-op model is beginning to take hold, as it allows these groups to take ownership of a need and find their own solutions. “There

The co-operative business model can provide innovative solutions to the need for quality, affordable housing. Construction of a co-operative 12-unit seniors’ residence is underway in Mossbank. SCA

Victoria Morris, SCA executive director. S CA

are already strong connections between Indigenous and co-operative values and principles,” says Morris, “and in the future, I believe we will see more and more co-ops developed by these communities to help them meet their pressing needs for housing, clean water and employment.” Each new co-op demonstrates the strength and vitality of the model, and even though co-operatives are gaining attention globally, they retain a special resonance for the people of Saskatchewan. By creating thousands of jobs and providing access to goods and services that may not otherwise be available at an af-

fordable price, local communities benefit immensely from co-operatives and credit unions. Also, since co-ops aren’t driven by the need to maximize short-term profits for their shareholders, they can instead focus on creating long-term value for members, which allows them to approach business in a unique, community-oriented way. “Profits in co-operatives are reinvested back into the business, shared with members, and/or contributed to the community,” says Morris, “and with over 1,000 co-operatives and credit unions in Saskatchewan, those billions of dollars recirculated back into communities has a significant impact.” To help celebrate the importance of the province’s co-ops, several events are planned. On October 16, the SCA is hosting a Flag Raising

Ceremony at the Legislative Building in Regina, while later that day the Co-operative Council of Regina will host a luncheon. In the evening, the SCA will host the Saskatchewan Co-operative Merit Awards ceremony and banquet, sponsored in part by the Ministry of the Economy. Two days later, on October 18, the Co-operative Network of Saskatoon plans to host a luncheon. Everything culminates on October 19, International Credit Union Day, with events and activities planned at credit unions across Saskatchewan, and all over the world. “Your local co-op may be planning an activity too,” says Morris, “so be sure to swing by this week and take part in the festivities.” For more information on any of the SCA events planned for National Co-op Week, visit www.sask.coop

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NatioNal Co-op week

Credit unions maintain strong community presence by JonatHan Hamelin

When examining the continued success of Saskatchewan’s financial co-operatives, it’s clear that a lot of credit is due. In 2016, Saskatchewan’s credit unions grew system assets by 3.8 per cent to $21.6 billion. There was also a reaffirmation in 2017 that credit unions offer outstanding customer service. According to a Canada-wide Ipsos Reid poll, credit unions were rated as the top financial institutions for customer service excellence – the 13th year in a row they have achieved this recognition. “In Saskatchewan we have a long history of developing great relationships and maintaining a solid local presence,” said Keith Nixon, CEO of SaskCentral, which is owned by Saskatchewan’s 46 credit unions. “We’ve experienced a long history of positive growth thanks to a strong market. A lot of the growth credit unions have experienced can be attributed to

them continually working on building relationships with their members and being innovative in the products and services they offer. “We receive a lot of feedback from customers who say they appreciate the relationship they have with their credit unions. There’s recognition that credit unions here in Saskatchewan are focused on decisions made in Saskatchewan. The member experience is really front and centre given the nature of the relationship between members and their financial institutions.” Nixon explained that the financial co-operative model of credit unions is one of their major strengths. Unlike other financial institutions that are publicly traded corporations, credit unions are financial cooperatives that are owned by members who each have an equal vote at the table. The spirit of co-operation fueled the growth of credit unions. The first credit union in Saskatchewan formed in 1910, though the idea of credit unions didn’t become popu-

According to a recent Ipsos Reid poll conducted across Canada, credit unions were rated as the top financial institutions for customer service excellence. S AS kCe n trAl

lar until the 1930s during the Great Depression. At this time, farms in the province only yielded ten bushels per acre and prices were as low as 58 cents a bushel. These people saw credit unions as a way to pool resources and survive during difficult times and thrive in more favourable economic conditions. “From the beginning, credit unions have been focused on helping people,” said Nixon. “They began in a time when people were not able to access the kinds of financial services

they needed, so they formed their own organization. Because credit union members have the ability to elect directors or vote on fundamental change, credit unions by their nature are very consultative and engaging of members.” Through the financial co-operative model, the success of credit unions is felt by members and the community as a whole. In 2016, for example, credit unions in the province returned over $7.6 million to their members in the form of patronage equity,

contributions and dividends. “Dividends is a unique feature of the co-operative model and speaks to that relationship with our membership,” Nixon said. “Beyond dividends, the focus is on contributing to various activities that help the community, including donations, volunteer activities, contributing to schools, sports facilities, playgrounds, community activities. The amount that credit unions give back to the community would be comparably higher than most financial institutions on a per capita basis.” Nixon explained that another strength of credit unions is their commitment to innovation. With typical branch traffic declining, credit unions are continually developing new means of electronic banking. Some newer developments include remote deposit capture, which allows customers to cash cheques through their mobile devices, and mobile payments. “The future innovations will involve further use of technology to provide mem-

bers with access to financial services and information,” Nixon said. As credit unions in Saskatchewan look to build off their success, Nixon said SaskCentral will have an important role to play. SaskCentral helps credit unions meet their success targets by functioning as a liquidity manager and key service supplier. “The primary role of SaskCentral is to act as a conduit to help credit unions access clearing, settlement and payment systems so they can provide the same kinds of services that other financial institutions do,” Nixon said. “We provide a forum for credit unions to come together and discuss the future. “We also extend that relationship beyond the provincial level to other partners across Canada and through our national trade association, the Canadian Credit Union Association. These relationships give us a voice and forum through national, international and global communities.”

CWHC marks 25 years of caring for Canada’s creatures by andRew livingst one

Recent health scares, such as Zika, West Nile, and Avian Influenza, have reminded Canadians that human safety is dependent on the health of the animals around us. Throughout its 25-year history, the Canadian Wildlife Health Co-operative (CWHC) has remained all too aware of that relationship, monitoring and managing the wellbeing of wildlife in service to all of Canada’s creatures. The co-operative came together a quarter of a century ago when experts at veterinary schools across Canada realized that their goals were in alignment, but that their efforts were uncoordinated. “There were individuals working to try to figure out the status of wild animal health across the country, and they recognized that, if they shared their information and some of their capacities, that they would be more efficient and effective at getting a better national picture,” said Dr. Craig Stephen, DVM PhD and chief executive officer of the CWHC. Many of those who initiated the discussion were faculty at the Western College of Veterinary Medicine in Saskatoon, so the city became

the headquarters of the new co-operative. Structurally, the CWHC developed into a nationally dispersed community of practice that Stephen likens to an onion. “In our middle, we have the national office of the CWHC where I’m found, plus our six regional centres in each of the veterinary health schools, plus in the BC Animal Health Centre,” he said. “Those ones help ensure we’ve got the national representation, some core functions going on, and some consistency. “In the next layer of the onion, we work very closely with people in provincial wildlife agencies. I work very closely with the people on the ground in operations like public health agencies, and Environment Canada, and the parks agencies.” Finally, workers in other NGOs, industry partners, and even the Canadian public serve as occasional participants in the co-operative. “Ultimately, we’re there to ensure the wildlife are safe and sustainable for all of us in Canada, and that means that we do try to work with everybody in not only seeing what’s going on but also getting that information out,” said Stephen. In its first phase, the co-

The Canadian Wildlife Health Co-operative, headquartered in Saskatoon, promotes and protects the health of wildlife and Canadians. The co-operative, which was established 25 years ago, includes internationally renowned wildlife disease diagnosticians and researchers, policy advisors, experts in population health and educators. S u p p l i e d p h o to S

operative served as a coroner of sorts, examining and explaining wildlife mortality. “Someone would find a dead bear or a dead deer and want to know, ‘What’s going on? Why did this animal die?’” Stephen said. The result of those early years, “was to start to regularize and improve some of the states of knowledge and capacities in Canada. So, making sure there were diagnostic labs available, making sure there was a training program for diagnosticians – that was sort of our phase one major accomplishments.” The CWHC’s second phase saw the co-operative stretch its capabilities to tracking and treating wildlife health emergencies, such as West Nile fever and Avian Influenza. “It was a method of using animals to foreshadow potential risks to people,” said Stephen. “The CWHC is a network of universities and some provincial partners who provide this service outside of government in a much more efficient and cost-effective way. It saves the taxpayers lots of money through this collaborative model. I would say that the second major accomplishment was creating this internationallyrespected national model.” Now, as the CWHC marks its 25th year, it is developing ideas and procedures that would allow it to anticipate future concerns and address them before they become serious problems. “There’s a realization that, with things like climate change, and urbanization and loss of habitat, there’s going to be these ongoing surprising problems, and not just infectious diseases,” Stephen said. “So, we’re now at the phase of trying to have a better sense of vulnerability as opposed to describing why it happened in the past. “Historically, wildlife health is almost exclusively focused on disease,” said Stephen. “Now, our third major

accomplishment is that we have really helped to drive the approach to wildlife health towards health, which is different than disease.” To help foster that change in perspective, the co-operative is working with the provincial, territorial, and federal ministers in charge of conservation and the environment to create a national wildlife health policy. “Our next big success, hopefully, is in early 2018 when

the ministers will approve a plan where we modernize the wildlife health to that point where it has that full health spectrum,” Stephen said. “There’s this era of emerging diseases, and everybody’s worried about the next Zika, or Ebola or whatever, and that has made planning in a lot of sectors reactive,” said Stephen. “What we’re trying to do is create that philosophy and tactic of more proactive planning, so we’re not

always worried about just the issue that’s on our plate. “Like any medical or veterinary practice, there’s always the emergencies that come into the room, but we’re just trying to create the space, the procedures and the relationships so we can also have that time and capacity to sit down and think about what we could do in advance of these problems so we can be more preventative in our approach.”

Where you put your money says a lot about you. Choose Affinity and, with every dollar, you’ll help to build the things that matter to you — from local businesses to causes and communities. Check out affinitycu.ca to find out how we’re celebrating Co-op Week and Credit Union Day!

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Saskatchewan’s co-op sector is a leader in providing new services, developing new concepts and offering new products, all aimed at providing...