There is much to do, isn’t there?

Paul Thompson

Marc-André Pigeon, Director, Centre for the Study of Co-operatives

There is much to do, isn’t there?

We live in a world challenged by geopolitical tensions, threatened by climate change, and riven by inequalities. If there ever was a time for the co-operative sector to assume a greater place in our lives and help all of us address these challenges, it is now. There are some signs that this is happening.

As Nathan Schneider told us at the 2018 MacPherson talk in November, young people are increasingly tuning into the idea of “platform co-operatives,” online co-operatives that bring people together virtually to build a service outside of the usual commercial offerings. Nathan is the first to admit that this trend is not without its challenges, but why would we expect anything different? No one said it was easy to start or run a co-operative. But as someone who helped get a local daycare co-operative off the ground and who sat on the board of a renewable energy co-operative, I know it can be done, and it can be enriching not just for members but also the broader community.

And that’s why I am excited to assume the director position at the Centre for the Study of Co-operatives. Under the leadership of people like Murray Fulton, Brett Fairbairn, and Lou Hammond Ketilson, the Centre has been a beacon for intellectual and practical knowledge about co-operatives, the kind of beacon we so badly need right now. I’m not kidding myself: the road ahead has its share of challenges. The sector has had trouble getting federal and provincial policymakers excited about the model. And even here in Saskatchewan, one of the heartlands of co-operatives, the sector is not as prominent or visible as it used to be.

But I want to seize on the energy – the hunger – that Nathan’s work tells is us out there and that we all sense is looking for a way to express itself. I want the Centre to be a hub for the kind of research – applied and academic – that helps people use the co-operative model to make a meaningful difference for themselves and their communities. To do that, I want to leverage the Centre’s home in the Johnson Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy. What does that mean in practice?

We are going to keep doing what the Centre is already doing right like offering our free online course on co-operative governance, which has drawn hundreds of participants.
We’re going to work with the Johnson Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy to take the Graduate Certificate in Social Economy and Co-operatives and put it online so that people can pursue it wherever they might be. We see the certificate as a real opportunity to share knowledge about the co-operative sector with policymakers all over the country.
We’re going to develop another online offering that will tell the story of how credit unions and co-operatives came to be in an engaging, easy-to-understand way for new or existing co-operative board members. As former Saskatchewan-born Prime Minister John Diefenbaker said, “there can be no devotion to country without a knowledge of its past.” The same is true of credit unions/co-operatives.

And of course, we’re going to keep writing and publishing the kind of high-quality research about credit unions and co-operatives that has earned the Centre its strong global reputation.

It is a tall order. There really is much that we must do. But we need to remind ourselves there is also much we can do. And now is the time to do it.


Marc-André Pigeon is the Director and a Strategic Research Fellow at the Centre for the Study of Co-operatives