Watch the Kardashians. Or watch and join the action at a local co-operative’s annual general meeting (AGM). Given those two choices, Paul Cabaj says he’d opt for the latter. “It’s better than reality TV,” he says of some of the co-op AGMs he’s attended.
It’s an important time of year for a vibrant part of Alberta’s economy — the co-operative sector.
Many co-ops, including Calgary Co-op, Mountain Equipment Co-op and Servus Credit Union, have either just completed or are holding elections for their respective boards of directors. Some also allow members to vote on certain resolutions during the same time period.
The majority of these co-ops are slated to hold AGMs in March and April, when top candidates are announced and resolutions debated.
While Alberta faces the possibility of a snap spring election, the more than 65 per cent of Albertans who are a member of at least one co-op have the added privilege of shaping the direction of a different kind of democracy — a democratic business.
“A co-operative is not just a democracy and it’s not just a business. It brings those two together in a free form,” says Paul, director of co-op development with the Alberta Community and Co-operatives Association.
“It’s a privilege to be able to (be part of that),” he adds.
“You can shop at the business, but you can also have direct influence on the future and the processes of that co-op in whatever way you want, from the minimum of being aware to voting to running for board of directors, putting forward resolutions at the AGMs and engaging in that way.”
Most co-ops take the debate around resolutions very seriously, and though there are certainly those interested primarily in stirring the pot, this kind of member engagement is a vital piece of the co-operative democratic process, Paul says.
Even before Alberta’s formation as a province in 1895, co-operatives existed, mostly in farming communities where discontented farmers turned to the model as a way to both sell their crops and buy products. A 2007 report identified approximately 800 non-financial co-ops and 61 individual credit unions in the province.
While there is much buzz about social innovation and social enterprise today, co-operatives as business organizations owned and operated by a group of individuals for their mutual benefit could be considered a form of both. With roots in England in the mid-1800s, they have a proven track record and have something to offer in the development of the social innovation and social enterprise ecosystem.