One of Vanessa Hammond’s first co-op memories was growing up in Northern Ireland and being told that if she wanted pocket money she would need get the hens to lay more eggs that could be picked up by the co-op “lorry” when it came to take the milk from her father’s farm into town.

She credits the beginnings of her career as a co-op developer to her experience importing safety supplies (life jackets, flairs) to fishermen in Barbados.  Vanessa accompanied the shipping container of supplies. When the containers were opened, the fishermen competed with their neighbours to make sure that they got their share. Vanessa saw in this strife the opportunities for a discussion of what it means to be a co-op. She called for some rum and invited everyone to learn about consensus and co-operation as a way to ensure resources were shared fairly and that folk could support rather than work against each other.

Vanessa Hammond, Chair of the Health Care Co-operatives Federation of Canada

Vanessa Hammond, Chair of the Health Care Co-operatives Federation of Canada

Upon the conclusion of this teaching moment, the participants in their enthusiasm with this new understanding of what it meant to be a co-op suggested that Vanessa should go and talk to the fishermen on the other islands because they fought even worse!

Fast forward to 2016 and Vanessa is still inviting people to co-operate for the common good, now primarily in the area of wellness, health and social services.   She and her colleagues with the Health Care Co-operatives Federation of Canada are challenging the medical model of health focussed on treatment, doctors and hospitals, with a holistic emphasis on the prevention of illness and injury through attention to the social determinants of health.

The Canadian Government recognizes 12 social determinants of health including income and social status, social support networks, gender and culture among others. The Multicultural Health Brokers Co-operative in Edmonton, assisting people from different cultures navigate Canadian health care, is one example of a health care co-operative.

Another particularly successful program is Hans Kai.  Hans Kai© was developed in Japan to help people focus on enhancing their health knowledge, their ability to monitor their own basic health indicators, and their wellness-focused behaviours.  By operating in a peer-supported environment Hans Kai© creates or builds on social connections which, according to the World Health Organization, are the primary factor in wellness.  Hans Kai© was brought to Canada by Nor’West Co-op in Winnipeg and Robert Cliche Co-op in Québec.

Hans Kai has been adapted for youth (with a particular emphasis on self acceptance), transgender and other vulnerable population groups. Training sessions are planned across Canada for 2016. For details contact or 250 415.9272.

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1 comment

  1. Sarah,

    You are a dynamo! Great hospitality when I was in Calgary, and now getting the word out about Health, Wellness and Social Service co-ops. It’s been a great week with your article, another in the Haida Gwaii Observer, discussion of a series in The Cooperator, 4 start-up enquiries across Canada and good discussions with government departments and agencies in Ottawa and BC. And all this while enjoying the beauty of Haida Gwaii!