2018 Gathering – Review!

Published on October 30, 2018 by Will McGlynn

“Right now is your time to decide at your co-operative if you have skin in the game ahead of Alberta’s parties setting their policy platforms ahead of 2019”

Silence. You could tangibly feel the co-operatives in the room asking themselves if they could collectively collaborate when it comes to influencing elected representatives. This was just one of the key messages to come out the 5th Gathering of Alberta Co-operatives conference which took place during National Co-op Week in October.

The annual event, organised by the Alberta Community and Co-operative Association saw 61 executives, directors and young leaders come together to explore how to Grow, Share and Lead in their day to day roles.
On day 1, Alberta was graced with the charming presence of all-round co-operative superhero Bill Oemichen who delivered a well-received keynote, which skirted everything from U.S. politics to NFL. His concept and experience of creating a “two state co-operative advantage” resonated as attendees learnt how Minnesota and Wisconsin became one co-operative trade association in the U.S. after “sharing the same strengths, challenges and opportunities”. Equally as fascinating was Bill’s story of a government survey of business leaders in both states; where it was clear in the responses that the Co-operative Networks’ lobbying and advocacy efforts were raising co-operative awareness – business leaders could not only able to name one co-op attribute, but two!

As the day advanced, conference sponsors took centre stage. Brian Kaliel from Miller Thomson informed the mix of 12 community organizations and 23 co-operatives on the new $3m Alberta Community Economic Development Corporation (CEDC) tax credit and shared examples of how housing co-operatives such as NACHA are passing byelaws to address the legalization of cannabis (we’ll not quote the quite brilliant jokes peppered throughout Brian’s talk!).

After celebrating Harvey Yoder as the recipient of ACCA’s Visionary Leadership Award, the endearing Bill Anderson of Servus Credit Union kicked off the afternoon’s proceedings with an enthusiastic session exploring how Government Relations can protect business value. In explaining competitiveness issues and the additional 10% taxation credit unions face vs. traditional banks, attendees realised that if this is an issue for a financial co-operative, how long before government decision makers replicate taxation for their co-operative too? The pressing issues for co-operatives who see value in lobbying efforts first hinges on having a “clear understanding of your organization policy issues”; and pulling no punches, Bill delivered a call to arms that “there is a level of cooperation we haven’t met in Alberta yet” leaving co-operators with 5 things that they can go away and do right now to start their journey.

Afternoon workshops started with the new $25m fund that addresses the “big challenge for medium sized co-ops to find financing”, with Christina Baker sharing insight into CCIF’s current investments in co-operative projects such as affordable housing, agriculture and food (to name a few!). Trista Pewapisconias of Co-operatives First helped focus attention on how “business development practices in First Nations are lagging behind, but continuously improving”, whilst Brian Scott outlined how 3 PACE Alberta volunteers are driving a renewable energy revolution through property assessed clean energy. For those intrigued by platform co-operative Stocksy United, Mike Cook treated his workshop to how they tipped the co-operative resolution process on its head by building a new in-house, online resolution process to better serve their global membership. His objective “not to use this process” is admittedly a weird one, however Mike explained that “if we do our job right and are transparent, our members should not feel the need to submit a resolution”.

After an exciting evening networking reception with ACE Energy, the final day of the conference centred upon Leadership. Ingrid Fischer drove the value and power of the co-op sector home by sharing experiences from her role at CDF Canada helping communities across the world organize co-operative enterprises. In quick pursuit of Ingrid came the inspirational Darci Lang. As a mother in a family of “massive Roughriders fans”, Darci took the conference on a journey of discovery starting with the message that “If you’re not happy 90% of the time, are you still doing something that’s important to you or your co-operative”. Covering ground from her own entrepreneurial experiences and explaining the accountability that we must share our knowledge with youth, attendees were treated to the 3-times complain rule of “if you can’t control it and can’t change it, leave it behind”.

Rounding off a couple of days filled with incredible learning experiences, a wealth of expertise sat on a leadership panel. From discussing how to remain relevant to a younger generation, the panel agreed that when it comes to leadership development at their co-operatives, you have to be prepared to let young co-operators “grow and go” to truly realize that you have done a good job. Mike Cook shared intimate advice from his family to “not worry about who gets the credit, as long as what you do is right by the organization” and before the conference wrapped up with one on one mentoring time with leaders across the sector, Pat Bourne from EQUS explained she has lived by the advice “you don’t need to raise your voice to be effective” as she has carved out a successful career based around values leadership.

Reflecting upon a eventful 2 days of learning, it is certain that the sector is in a great position to develop and work collaboratively as we head into 2019. Let’s hope Bill Oemichens message is a sign of things to come:

“The more successful you are, the more your members call on you for services”