New Vancity Plan Aims to Enable Local Co-ops

Shift Urban Cargo Delivery pictured at a Vancity member event, summer 2013. Photo Credit: Vancity.

New Vancity Plan Aims to Enable Local Co-ops

Credit union three-year plan to build understanding of co-op business model

For the first time, Vancity credit union has made its strategic business plan available to the greater public. This gesture of publishing its 2014-16 plan — Accelerating Impact — marks a significant moment for expanding public knowledge and understanding of the co-operative model. Vancity ranks as the largest credit union in Canada.

“As a business model, co-ops are the little known gems that aren’t taught so much in business schools. Unless they are a member of a co-operative, people aren’t all that aware of it,” says community investment manager at Vancity, Kate Dunford.

The plan is part of a developing strategy for the Vancouver City Savings Credit Union, commonly referred to as Vancity, with the goal of creating a more enabling environment for co-operatives. This includes building partnerships within the co-op sector, working with organizations like the BC Co-op Association and maturing existing relationships to create new resources for current and potential co-ops.

“I think there’s much greater interest in this model than there’s been in the past,” explains Elvy Del Bianco, program manager for co-operative partnerships at Vancity.

“The number of co-ops always spike in response to economic challenges. I think we’re starting to see that here with the lingering effects of the economic crisis. People are not waiting for businesses to provide them with work; they’re creating their own work. The co-operative model is an excellent way of achieving that.”

This pattern is one of the insights that has come out of Vancity’s partnership with the University of Bologna’s Department of Economics. Since 2009, Vancity staff members have been participating in the Emilia-Romagna Co-operative Study Tour to learn about the booming co-op sector of the region.

“We have a lot of similar supports here, but we don’t have the same scale or resources that are available,” Del Bianco explains.

The ultimate goals include trying to ensure that the most enabling environment is available to current and potential co-ops in B.C. This includes infrastructural supports like legislation and a co-op development fund — “an enormous advantage the Italians have,” where all co-ops contribute three per cent of their net profit towards the fund. Other Canadian examples include a co-op development fund in Quebec and a refundable tax credit in Manitoba.

“Ultimately we’d like to see those kinds of things,” Del Bianco says.

The visible growth of the co-op model in B.C. has to do with more than just the economic crisis, Del Bianco explains. People are choosing the co-operative model because it enables them to achieve social value goals.

“I’ve seen a lot of young people coming out of business schools that are looking for another option to the traditional for-profit sole proprietor or corporation structure. They’re looking at where they live, where they want to raise their family and their community as a whole. They’re wanting to give back,” says Dunford.

With its new plan, the financial co-operative is working towards being understood as a partner in the co-op movement, not just an organization that can provide financing or grant dollars.

Visit the Vancity website for more information on the 2014-16 strategic plan.

A version of this article was originally written for the British Columbia Co-operative Association (BCCA) news service. This repost, for which we received permission, follows the style guidelines of the original post. To learn more about generative newsroom options for your organization or community, please contact peter(at)axiomnews.ca.

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