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I had the great privilege of doing research around cooperatives that are run by immigrant professionals or catering to the immigrant submarkets in Canada. This is very interesting to me as a part of the advisory committee, as an independent consultant, an instructor and lifelong student of social entrepreneurship.
The best thing about the process of building a newcomer professional cooperatives for the whole country was our decision to start small, low, and slow. We need to learn from those that have been around 15 years ago up to those that just started during the height of the pandemic. How are they persisting, surviving, or what led to their early demise?
One by one factors became clear. The founding members of the cooperative can make and break the organization by simply pulling out commitment and engagement at an early stage where everything is just dependent on everyone putting in their share of the work. Another reason is the lack of process of arriving at decisions that are equitable and fair for all concerned. The definition of fairness, equity, and cooperation is something that could be based on values, mission, and vision of the organization and the practicalities of creating a team where needs are met and valued with respect and dignity.
The third factor surprisingly is about how they show up for income-generation to get them started. With the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) on high demand by organizations and companies, these cooperatives rode on the high but do not have the Plan B in case the hype on this subject wanes and hits its inevitable decline. The truth of the matter is that like any other hype-driven, externally-imposed change practices, research shows that it is more tokenistic and rarely brings about lasting change unless management and senior leadership provides support, buy-in, and commitment to the outcomes they are trying to seek. Buyers of this service would peter out for sure as organizations realize that this is not just about a purchase of coaching, a training session, and three-ring binder of the module or a video.
Lastly, most of these cooperatives are for-profit enterprises that have a clear goal at the outset towards a viable commercial success. But unlike the private competition, the issues of money, financial discipline and controls, and sustainability are not as rigorously thought or understood, or maybe have been evaded until the worse becomes a reality. Marketing has become an afterthought or a knee-jerk reaction. Most of them are subject matter experts and are not really marketing strategists and does not have the time or inclination or discipline to learn more in this department.
Running a business is not a hobby or a charity for which some incomes go to the staff who needs to send some back home to feed his family. Survival in the marketplace is always tough and cooperatives are not spared of this even though, they mean well.
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