Growth – Learning from Australia

Published on April 18, 2017 by Lacey

20% Growth: What can Alberta Learn from Australia?

Five years-ago Australia’s co-operative sector was approximately 20% smaller than it is today. From 2014 to 2015, the 100 largest co-operatives saw an increase in their revenue by 4%, an increased in combined assets by 8% (to $143.7 billion), and an increase in median profitability by 15%. Today the sector turns over $30 Billion annually in revenue. To read the full report from Australia’s Business Council of Co-operatives and Mutuals (BCCM) go HERE.

As an organization that looks at the entire co-operative sector, ACCA must ask the question. What would that look like in Alberta? Based on our 2016 primer Alberta co-operatives generate approximately $5.5 billion in revenue annually. A 20% increase would equate an additional $1.1 billion annually. This would likely see an increase in the number of full time jobs by almost 3,000. The impact on the local economy, in procurement, income and corporate tax, not to mention community investing would have a lasting effect on the province’s economy.

The report from BCCM also saw opportunities for co-operatives to maintain this rate of growth by increasing education of co-ops; in particular business students. Access to capital and the use of co-operative to pool capital locally and to invest in the social economy, was also regarded as a key factor for growing the sector. Last, was recognition by government in the role of co-ops to strengthen the economy, in a way that is unique from corporate and other structures.

Alberta and Australia share a love for ranching, rodeo, and the Canadian Rockies. Here are five ways we could also share their love for co-ops.

  1. Identify and communicate mutual goals of co-operatives with the goals of government policy. Becoming familiar with the business plans of key ministries, such as Economic Development and Trade (read more HERE). Making elected officials and government staff aware of how Alberta co-ops achieve these goals is an important first step.
  2. New challenges call for new co-ops. Co-operatives have a strong track-record of addressing wicked problems, and pulling the levers that can make for a stronger Alberta economy. Supporting co-operative development for community owned renewable energy, affordable child-care, succession planning and capital retention will grow the sector.
  3. Develop strategy to address demutualization/succession planning. The loss of Co-op Atlantic in Eastern Canada, and several of Alberta’s REAs undermines the sector. Having access to capital, technical support, and education will ensure the sector does not shrink.
  4. Second Tier co-operatives. Federated models reduce costs and allow for smaller co-operatives to benefit from economies of scale. Owning other parts of the value chain also foster diversification and increase member value.
  5. Invest in co-operative education. Alberta’s post-secondary students are seeking job security and the opportunity to stay in their own community. These are the type of jobs that co-operatives can provide. Increasing presence on campuses: as guest speakers, in curriculum offering practicums, and at job fairs; will ensure the sector has the workforce necessary to compete and innovate.


To join the conversation on the opportunities for the co-op sector to grow, and build a strong economy, check out the Summit of Alberta Co-operatives, taking place on May 3rd in Red Deer.