Co-operatives are shifting the way entrepreneurs think, not only about business, but about environmental sustainability and social justice, too. They are the product of the realization that it is possible to be profitable while addressing systemic environmental and social issues through purchasing habits and the way in which labour is organized. As this awareness spreads, co-ops are springing up in creative ways.
The diversity of Winnipeg’s co-op sector is exemplified through the Social Purchasing Portal (SPP), a project of LITE (Local Investment Toward Employment) that promotes businesses committed to community economic development (CED). The SPP connects suppliers, purchasers, and job seekers who face multiple barriers to employment into a formal network. The network is committed to the Neechi Community Economic Development Principles, developed by Winnipeg’s own Neechi Foods Co-op.
Since April 2011, SPP purchasers have helped keep $400,000 within the inner-city and produced 43 job opportunities. On the receiving end of transactions are SPP suppliers, many of which are co-operatives, including Assiniboine Credit Union, the first business registered as a purchaser when SPP started.
Paolo Riva, Urban Eatin’ member and employee believes the SPP is helping them expand their clientele and networks.
“SPP is a useful and concrete idea to get people linked up with ethically and socially minded businesses,” Riva says. “It’s a needed and important service.”
Pyramid of Angels is a similar success story as the only home health-care co-operative in Manitoba. Co-owners Heather Ostop and Lorraine Taillefer, both of whom are veterans of the health-care industry, decided to start their own business, with their top priority being respect for staff and clients.
“We wanted a fair and equal opportunity company,” explains Ostop. Their passion has garnered them high praise from clients, and combined with the exposure provided by the SPP, they are optimistic about finding new clients who value their emphasis on treating clients with dignity and respect. As Taillefer puts it, “People appreciate that our values are front and centre as our promise to ensure our clients are well taken care of.”
Tirelessly dedicated to their work, these are just two examples of how co-ops combine social justice values into their business model in a profitable way, and how they see the SPP working in supporting their business and the community at large.
Excerpt from asterisk print version, October 2012.