Starting a Co-op in our Sector

There are three common approaches to starting a wellness, social services or health co-op:

  • Create a new co-op or new function based on an existing co-op. In theory all involved should have a good understanding of the co-op definition, values and principles.  An unfamiliar aspect of existing co-op leaders to grapple with is that the services involving the greatest revenue (services under the provincial medial insurance plans) cannot be made available to members only.  This would contravene the Canada Health Act.
  • Create a co-op to implement some aspect of the work of an existing organization. In theory all involved will already be comfortable working together.  Introducing the co-op definition, values and principles to all at the same time can build the spirit of co-operation.
  • A group of people comes together to achieve a goal related to health, wellness or social services and decide that a co-op is the best form of incorporation to achieve their aims. Although this is probably the most labour-intensive of the three routes, it offers, in theory, a very good hope of creating and pursuing a common vision.  For more information please contact us.

All three can be enormously satisfying and bring extraordinary benefits to their communities.  When co-ops are established carefully, and operated diligently and thoughtfully, they are more sustainable than other forms of incorporation.

This study focuses on British Columbia but it reflects the durability of the co-op model in every part of Canada.

[title size “3”]Steps to Start[/title]

The time and care you spend in creating your co-op is a very worthwhile investment in its sustainability.

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Step One

Get together, as a Steering Group,  with others who are interested in addressing wellness and health concerns in your community. The best team will include people with a range of viewpoints, skills and resources, willing to share in the work and leadership.  While you will want to keep a record (words, photos) avoid making this a heavily bureaucratic process. Together, you will:

  • Become familiar with the Co-op Definition and Values, and the Seven Co-op Principles (the 7 ICPs) as compiled by the International Co-op Alliance.
  • Develop a vision of what your community will be like once the co-op is operating successfully;
  • Define the anticipated role or mandate of the co-op in moving the community towards that vision;
  •  Identify the resources (co-op expertise, wellness and health expertise, management and administrative skills, finance) you will need;
  • Draft a task list, encourage volunteers including those who may not have obvious aptitude, and draft a timeline;
  • Ensure that some in the group will study the Act under which the co-op will be incorporated and identify areas of the Rules of Association (Bylaws) about which members will need to make decisions;
  • Set clear and quantifiable objectives for each meeting;
  • include a short discussion of one of the 7 ICPs or an existing wellness or health co-op at each meeting.

Step Two

As a team, consult with your community.  Undertake a pre-feasibility study to learn if there is sufficient interest and community will to move ahead. You may choose to have a co-op developer help you define the questions to ask yourselves and your community.

Step Three

If your project shows promise, it’s time to define more clearly, as a formal feasibility study:

  • the resources you will need to establish your co-op and how you will acquire them
  • the resources you will need during the first six – twelve months of operation, a time of inevitably higher costs and lower revenue than anticipated, and how you will acquire them
  • your ongoing sources of revenue and how you will earn them.   Who will pay for your services and why?  Remember that co-ops must be autonomous and independent, ICP 4, and therefore cannot rely on only one source of revenue – a wise caution of any enterprise.
  • your costs and how you will cover them, remembering to allow for unforeseeable expenses.  Who will earn your revenue and how?
  • identify every possible risk that could be faced by your co-op and decide how each could be mitigated.

Step Four

If your feasibility study is promising:

  • apply to the Registrar of Co-operatives for a name that meets the provincial (or federal) co-op criteria;
  • identify your initial directors and ensure that they fully understand their responsibilities and rights, and realize that their term may end at the first General Meeting. Ensure that you have a probable Chair, Vice-Chair, and Secretary-Treasurer, or as stipulated in your provincial legislation.
  • continue to consult with your community;
  • continue to recruit and train new team members.

Step Five

Call a “pre-submission meeting” of your Steering Committee and community to review:

  • the draft by-laws, called Articles of Incorporation in some jurisdictions;
  • notice of Office;
  • List of First Directors;
  • list of incorporating members and other documents as required in your jurisdiction;
  • compliance with all sectoral regulations such as provincial and national standards for health care or serving food at meetings, and municipal requirements such as business licenses.

Ask for a show of hands for each item. This is not a formal meeting as the co-op is still not incorporated, but it is important to get the visible support of your community. Serve healthy food, have fun, and motivate prospective members, clients, and partners to help grow the co-op. Take photos, even a video.

Develop internal policies and procedures needed to ensure that your co-op works smoothly. These will all be “draft” until your first formal Board meeting.

Submit your incorporation documents understanding that your Registrar may require changes.

Step Six

When the incorporation is granted (sometimes after several revisions) hold a launch party. Use it to announce your first General Meeting at which you will elect your first full Board of Directors and describe the application and election process.  Like the Pre-Submission Meeting and subsequent General Meetings, it is useful to plan a good balance of education about co-ops in general, about your co-op and your sector whether home care, running a health centre, or whatever topic seems most relevant.

 Step Seven

Your provincial legislation will stipulate how soon after incorporation you must hold your first General Meeting. It will also stipulate various steps you must follow. Ensuring that you comply with these regulations is an appropriate task for your Secretary or a Vice-Chair (Vice-President). Your Treasurer will need to be available to collect those all-important membership payments and to present voting cards ONLY to members.  Always make it clear that you are looking for members, for comments whether positive or negative, and for resources.  Immediately before the General Meeting you may wish to have a Board Meeting with the one agenda item of approving these new members.  You might consider having a motivational speaker at your Launch party or announce the keynote speaker for your first General Meeting.

This is a summary of what is required to start and operate a co-operative.

Be sure to consult local legislation and the Health Care Co-op Start Guide for more information[/toggle]