Federated Co-operatives Ltd. (FCL) announced a five-year, $5 million dollar commitment from the Co-operative Retailing System (CRS) on January 27 that will provide critical start-up funding for an organization that will facilitate a new wave of co-operative development in Western Canada.

The launch of Co-operatives First is one outcome of the Co-operative Innovation Project, a research project led by the University of Saskatchewan’s Centre for the Study of Co‑operatives. This new not-for-profit organization will promote local solutions and create a co-operative development network across provincial boundaries, sectors and business divisions in British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba.

The Co-operative Innovation Project found that rural and aboriginal communities in the west were underserved by existing co-operative development resources. Consequently, Co-operatives First will begin to work with small- to mid-size rural communities and municipalities, as well as with aboriginal communities, to identify innovative, community-led co-operative solutions.

The top needs reported in the study were: health care, housing, support services, and industry and business development.

The study also determined that rural and aboriginal communities are losing co-operative knowledge. Participants knew co-ops as various brands (e.g. grocery store, gas station, credit union) rather than as a solution applicable to their circumstances.

The findings published to date are available at coopinnovation.wordpress.com, with more data being added ongoing, including the results of 26 community meetings.

A portion of the announced $5 million in start-up funding will be used to offset some of the costs associated with starting a co-operative. Those funds will help new organizations attain the legal and professional services required to form a new co‑operative, as well as develop communications and business plans and conduct feasibility studies.

Scott Banda, CEO of FCL, made the funding announcement on behalf of the CRS, which is comprised of FCL and more than 200 independent retail co-operatives across Western Canada. “These sustainable solutions and community services often succeed in circumstances that challenge other businesses and organizations. By promoting the co-operative model of shared ownership and shared rewards, Co-operatives First will help people in those communities identify local solutions and leverage local opportunities that empower people and create meaningful change” said Mr. Banda.

Read the Co-operatives First backgrounder | Read the FCL news release

Watch the Press Conference