Conference 2021 Overview

By Kenzie Love

CWCF’s first-ever fully virtual conference began with a fun icebreaker activity organized by BC director Sandra Allen of Shift Delivery, in which she invited participants to imagine headlines from newspapers a decade into the future on what the worker co-op movement looked like. Sandra encouraged everyone to strike a hopeful tone, and people took her message to heart, envisioning a world in which worker co-ops dominated the global economy. Sandra also organized a short scavenger hunt, inviting people to find first something smaller than their fingernails and then something older than themselves. Creative finds abounded! 

Reba Plummer of Urbane Cyclist, CWCF’s board president and Ontario director, then officially opened the Conference by offering greetings and a land acknowledgement. As Reba repeated throughout the Conference, CWCF recognizes that land acknowledgements are not enough, which is why CWCF has recently approved an Action Plan to build racial ‘Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion’ (“JEDDI”) in the worker co-op movement, spearheaded by our JEDDI Committee.

Next up was the keynote panel, featuring a selection of speakers from Canada and abroad on the challenges and opportunities currently facing the worker co-op movement (see the separate article by Elias Crim in this newsletter). The speakers agreed that the time is ripe for the movement to seize the growing desire for a new economic model given the frailties in the capitalist system that the pandemic has exposed.

Conference-goers then had the chance to join three breakout groups for the peer-learning sessions, in which they explored benefits that worker co-ops can provide; attracting talent to our sector; and getting members engaged in co-op governance. One of the findings that emerged from the sessions was that belonging to a worker co-op doesn’t necessarily appeal to everyone, but that the rewards are worth it for those willing to commit. As Jaime Cuevas Mercado of REM Solar Worker Co-op in San Juan, Puerto Rico observed of the collaborative nature of worker co-ops: “alone you go faster, together you go farther.”

Day one concluded with an evening presentation co-hosted by the CoopZone developers’ network, exploring the topic of co-op conversions as well as public policy to support conversions and worker co-op development generally. With an increasing number of small-business owners across Canada at or approaching retirement age, the concept of employee buyouts is gaining momentum, and while CoopZone training program director Meg Ronson observed that this won’t work in some cases, if even a tiny proportion of small businesses were to go that route, it could have a transformational impact. 

Day two began with a presentation by CWCF’s JEDDI (Justice, Equity, Diversity, Decolonization, and Inclusion) Committee, facilitated by committee member Susanna Redekop of Local Food and Farms Co-op Network. The presentations by Susanna and other speakers highlighted the great contributions members of the BIPOC community have made to the worker co-op movement, the benefits the sector can reap from continuing to engage in the vital work of building racial justice, and what the worker co-op sector needs to do in order to meet the potential in BIPOC communities.  It was a powerful session; as one participant later wrote while asking to join the JEDDI Committee, that “session was off the chain amazing.”  As Reba Plummer announced in the session, CWCF is pleased to be seeking two BIPOC advisors to join the board as part of this initiative (see the separate article in this newsletter for more information on these positions).

Following this session, CWCF’s AGM took place (see the separate article by Kaye Grant). A highlight of the AGM was the presentation of the Worker Co-op Best Practices Award to London Brewing and the Mark Goldblatt  Merit Award to Eric Tusz-King, recognizing the outstanding contributions both have made to the movement (see the separate article in this newsletter). The meeting also saw the acclamation of four directors to CWCF’s board.

On the Conference’s final day, the worker co-op financing session provided an overview of both the tools available to worker co-ops and what financiers are looking for. Following this, the session on marketing explored the importance of this work to the operation of successful worker co-ops. As presenter Russ Christianson observed, marketing includes everything a worker co-op does from the moment of its conception, so it’s something all worker co-ops need to pay attention to.

As one participant stated in their evaluation form:  “I always enjoy CWCF conferences! Great sense of community; everyone is welcome.  Always a variety of interesting presentations and workshops. Always full of new insights. Very oriented to co-op community building across the movement.  Very accessible!” 

Next year’s Conference will take place in Vancouver, November 17-19 (we think and hope), with some sessions also presented online. Look for more details in the coming months.