Op-ed by Guy Cormier, President and CEO of Desjardins Group

Lévis (Qc), October 16, 2018 - October 14-20 marks Co-op Week 2018, when 8,000 Canadian cooperatives, including 3,000 in Quebec and 1,700 in Ontario, will celebrate their cooperative roots. As the leading cooperative financial group in the country, Desjardins is enthusiastic about such a strong showing by an inspiring cooperatives of all sizes, innovating to meet the needs of the 21st century.

Take the Guilde des développeurs de jeux vidéo indépendants du Québec, for example. They are the world's largest cooperative in the cutting-edge games industry, developing and harnessing artificial intelligence. The Guild's 155 studio members generate 2,000 direct and indirect jobs. The Guild was established in 2016 and strives to promote and support the growth of emerging studios by pooling resources, while maintaining each member's creative independence.

In agriculture, La Coop fédérée has made a bold move into the digital space with AgConnexion, an online farm management platform incorporating a series of digital tools. Farmers can use satellite imagery to monitor crop health and predict yields. The Fédération des chambres de commerce du Québec awarded La Coop fédérée with a prestigious Mercuriade award in the web and mobile development category this year.

Coop FA in Lévis was also recognized by the Mercuriades this year, receiving an award in the strategy and sustainable development category. Their forward-thinking Scol'ERE carbon exchange initiative is an educational program for kids that focuses on energy use, transportation and waste management. The program launched in 2010, and in the last 8 years 11,000 students between 9 and 12 have brought new eco-friendly habits home to their families, ultimately keeping 50,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions out of the atmosphere. That's the equivalent of 5,058 around-the-world road trips in a mid-sized car.

It's exciting to know that for the rest of their lives, these kids will act as ambassadors for the much-needed transition to a low-carbon economy.

In fact, cooperatives all around the province are focused on supporting our children. Multi-stakeholder cooperative william.coop has 600 childcare centres as members. Members have access to a website that bundles online purchases, so the centres can save on the supplies they need to provide for more than 65,000 children in their care. The site was developed at no charge to members and there are no update or hosting fees.

In the next 7-10 years, half of Quebec businesses will change hands. It's a significant statistic and a strategic challenge for many business owners. But the collective strength inherent in the cooperative model is right there for us to harness and use to meet that challenge. In 2015, the 15 employees at Central Café in Rimouski did just that, forming a multi-stakeholder cooperative, buying the cafe and maintaining a locally-owned business in one of the city's historic buildings. The Café has also adopted a "buy local" policy in support of sustainable development. In 2014, nearly two dozen employees at a Quebec City bookstore, Librairie Pantoute, opted for a similar path, forming a worker shareholder cooperative in which they own shares in the business and have a voice on the board of directors.

All of these cooperatives, like so many others in your towns and neighbourhoods, have chosen a model rooted in shared prosperity. Individually and collectively, they are making a difference. They are giving members more agency. Giving them more of a voice. Creating more jobs from coast to coast. Educating more youth. Encouraging more democratic participation. And paying more attention to the future of the planet.

For journalists only: Richard Lacasse
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