The cooperative model: A world to discover

The cooperative sector is key to Canada's economic and social development. The sector's value-added GDP impact is $61.2 billion yearly and represents a growth of 12% since 2010*. The sector also makes up 3.4% of Canada's GDP. But beyond figures, how is the cooperative sector doing in Quebec?

Francis Duperron is the founder of the Productions 4 Éléments cooperative. He's also the director of the "Ensemble pour un monde coop" TV show, which presents his meetings with inspiring cooperatives from all over Quebec. He shares some insight with us.

You've travelled all over Quebec to meet with co-ops. What really stood out for you?

"The calm atmosphere of co-ops and the commitment of employees. Employees feel connected and want to get involved from their first day on the job. For example, in a co-op of architects, a student who just finished their studies would have more responsibilities than someone working in a large firm, even though the architectural industry is strictly regulated. It will be easier for the student to develop their skills through major projects--something they probably won't have a chance to work on in a traditional firm. Being a member of a cooperative is also a choice people make because they want to strengthen communities. There's also the notion of being transparent and having a democratic process; numbers are made public."

Is this business model facing some challenges?

"The main challenge is raising awareness about what it means to be a cooperative. A co-op isn't a non-profit organization; it's a private company that's collectively owned and has to remain competitive. There's a common misconception that co-ops sell cheaper or lower quality products or services. Co-ops are different because decisions are made based on the improvement of working conditions, employee well-being and safety and the willingness to redistribute profits to members. A co-op cannot be sold to foreign investors. In the long term, co-ops have a different vision than companies that are focused on profit at all costs."

Is there a promising future for co-ops in Quebec?

"People are rallying around this business model, and I think we're at the start of something new! In Quebec, government funding is available to allow private companies to become collective enterprises. The cooperative business model is now being taught in a number of university programs in Quebec. Employees want to get more and more involved, and they're choosing themselves over money. While most traditional companies are focused on profit, the cooperative model is focused on sustainability."

* According to the 2015 report by Co-operatives and Mutuals Canada.