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Partner Spotlight on: Canadian Worker Co-op Federation – JEDDI Business Conversion Project

The Canadian Worker Co-op Federation (CWCF) is a national, bilingual grassroots membership organization of and for worker co-operatives, related types of co-operatives (multi-stakeholder co-ops and worker-shareholder co-ops), and organizations that support the growth and development of worker co-operatives.  Their objectives are to work for the development and expansion of businesses organized according to co-op principles and the principles of worker ownership and control, and to promote the ideals of democracy in the workplace.  With the support of the Government of Canada’s Investment Readiness Program, CWCF has launched the ‘Justice, Equity, Diversity, Decolonization and Inclusion (JEDDI) Business Conversion Project’

We invited Janielle Maxwell, JEDDI Business Conversion Project Coordinator for CWCF, to a conversation to tell us more about the JEDDI Business Conversion Project and what it’s meant for the sector, for investment readiness for co-operatives and what it’s meant for her to her to do this work.

About the JEDDI Business Conversion Project

The JEDDI* Business Conversion Project is mainly an outreach, awareness, and support-oriented initiative that aims to focus on members of Equity-Denied Groups (EDGs*) who are current business owners, thinking of purchasing a business, and/or simply interested in business conversions to Social Purpose Organizations (SPOs). Recognizing that there is a lack of engagement from EDGs within the co-operative/SPO sector, this project seeks to connect with these communities and the business owners therein, to help facilitate conversions from traditional businesses to SPOs, to improve access to and knowledge of conversion resources, and to develop a shared toolkit and ecosystem for SPO/co-op sustainability.

Many Equity-Denied Groups have practiced co-operative economics and mutual aid since time immemorial. However, over time these practices were often overlooked in favour of seemingly more sophisticated financial models that were imposed by colonialists. This project is empowering communities through the revitalization of such co-operative economic practices, that better connect individuals to a sense of purpose/mission, cultural alignment, and human dignity.

This project builds on our vision of ” supporting the development of healthy, just and sustainable local economies, based on co-operative values and principles”.

The creation of CWCF’s JEDDI Committee several years ago showed that if we wished to build economic justice, racial justice, and justice in general, there needed to be more of a focus on mutual collaboration – among EDG communities, existing (worker) co-ops, and the (worker) co-op movement / CWCF. When we learned that there was going to be a follow-up project to WISIR’s Legacy Leadership Lab with a focus on Equity-Denied Groups, CWCF decided to apply in order to deepen and expand our work in this area, with a focus on business conversions – which is a huge opportunity with the current and accelerating “silver tsunami” of retirements by business owners. 

What the IRP and “investment readiness” means for CWCF and the JEDDI Business Conversion Project

The IRP funding has been very important to CWCF.  In terms of meeting our goals around creating justice, equity, diversity, decolonization, and inclusion, it has enabled us to build bridges and to create strengthened relationships.  CWCF is collaborating with an increasing number of Equity-Denied Groups.

Since co-ops and other forms of Social Purpose Organizations often prove more socio-economically sustainable than traditional businesses, raising awareness of this model and its potential to yield collective power, has transformed my view of what “investment readiness” means. As a member of an Equity-Denied Group, to me it now signifies the ability to return to precolonial models that were once disregarded, to achieve economic progress. Investment readiness through co-op/Social Purpose economics, is a pathway to not only financial stability but socio-cultural empowerment. We are able to showcase value to investors, while maintaining a sense of cultural resonance in operational practice. For many members of EDGs, this is of utmost importance, as investors have historically been more hesitant to invest in projects led by visible minorities and other EDGs.

How being an IRP Ecosystem Builder Partner has impacted this work

Being relatively new to the co-op sector, I was surprised at the support and encouragement given by all of the IRP Partners as well as the collaborative initiatives. Members of the IRP have genuine interest in each other’s projects and are always looking for ways to amplify each other’s work. I’ve also noticed a conscious effort to disrupt working in silos, which isn’t as prominent in other sectors.

Our ecosystem of support includes many organizations. Some of our allied organizations in Canada include: Co-operatives and Mutuals Canada, BC Co-op Association, Alberta Community and Co-operative Association, Ontario Co-op Association, etc. We often work with fellow organizations in Social Finance including CCEDNet, SETSI, and the Women’s Economic Council.

The founding team includes: (prior) Executive Assistant Hannah Rackow, and collaborator Meg Ronson who co-wrote the grant application to the EcoSystem Builders grant proposal.  The CWCF Board and BIPOC Advisors have been critical allies.  Active partners have included members of CWCF’s JEDDI Committee, and Co-op Business Succession Committee.  

Where we started and how it’s going

The first phase of the project involved much research, and subsequently translating that information onto our website and other communication materials. This involved gaining background information on the scope of co-ops and other Social Purpose Organizations (SPOs) in Canada, as well as which were led by or serving members of Equity-Denied Groups (EDGs). This stage also involved exploring case studies of successful business conversions to SPOs and gathering insights on which type of co-ops and SPOs exist, and how they differ from one another. The history of racialized and Queer EDGs as it pertains to the co-operative model, was also explored and summarized. We also created a Communications and Marketing Plan and an Evaluation Framework to assess the efficacy of our sessions. The next step involved disseminating that information both through written materials and presentations; while placing emphasis on the knowledge members of EDGs already hold in this realm. Through showcasing this, we were able to gain perspectives from EDGs within the SPO sector and attract other members of EDGs outside this space who are interested in the solidarity economy. Currently, we are working on targeting more business owners and on organizing a session on detailed steps to convert a traditional business to a SPO.

Looking to learn more about entrepreneurship/leadership in the social impact community? Check these out:

In regard to courses and education, I’d recommend looking into courses at the International Centre for Co-operative Management at Saint Mary’s University based in Halifax as well as the Canadian Worker Co-op Federation’s Worker Co-op Academy, both of which are primarily online.

In terms of free resources, the following website links have proven both insightful and extremely interesting:

Overall, for those who are new to this sector-it would be a great idea to get familiar with how Social Impact/ Social Finance is being leveraged both in Canada and internationally to help solve big issues. See some links to useful Youtube videos below:

As well, find out about some local co-operatives near you! Whether you have interest in food and agriculture, housing, retail, or cycling- there is definitely a co-op out there for you. 

With thanks to our participants

It has been an honour to work with the EDG’s in this project.  CWCF staff and contractors working on this project have learned from the members of Equity-Denied Groups, all the while that we hope that they have learned from CWCF, too. 

We are very proud of the fact that for this project primarily, CWCF won in June 2023 Co-operatives and Mutuals Canada’s inaugural Co-operative JEDI Initiative of the Year.  See the 3-minute video about this Award, here.   

*JEDDI = Justice, Equity, Diversity, Decolonization, and Inclusion.


Get to know more Ecosystem Builder Partners and how they work to support Social Purpose Organizations by viewing our IRP Ecosystem.