Given that the CWCF has begun its JEDI Business Conversion project with the goal of engaging more equity-denied groups (EDGs*) in business conversions, below are a few examples of different kinds of worker cooperatives led by, or serving EDGs.
The first two examples detail groups that did not begin as worker co-operatives, but underwent successful conversions to this model.
*EDGs: women, BIPOC and other racialized groups, people with disabilities, members of the LGBTQ2S+ community, and youth.
EDG: LGBTQ2S+ individuals
GlitterBean Café Co-operative is a terrific example of a previously sole-proprietorship organization that underwent a business conversion to become a worker-owned co-operative. For the LGBTQ2S+ community in Halifax, Nova Scotia the potential closure of this café was terrible news. As one of only two Queer spaces in the city, its closure would signify a huge loss to the community; especially since the only other Queer establishment was a bar where of course, those underaged are not welcome. If not for the baristas’ efforts in uniting to own the cafe through the co-operative model, a valuable space that contributed to the legacy of the Queer community in Halifax would have been lost.
This worker co-op represents more than just the preservation of employees’ jobs, but also highlights the protection of a meaningful shared space for an oppressed community. GlitterBean Café is a strong example of a worker co-op with a social mission as it provides a safe space for members of the LGBTQ2S+ community and has provided an alternative to working in a company where employees previously faced a poor working environment and difficulty in attaining fair wages.
EDG: women, youth, LGBTQ2S+
The Makehouse is owned by 4 cis-identifying women and 1 gay male. Based in Victoria, BC, for residents of Victoria, it is a local sewing paradise where amateurs and experts alike come together and bond over one of the world’s most ancient and popular hobbies. Offering various types of fabric, notions, embroidery, sewing patterns, and felting and cross stitch kits, The Makehouse is a one-stop shop for the community’s sewing needs. The Co-operative also offers private lessons, workshops, parties for special bookings, and booked “Open Studio” time for those who wish to come in and sew with others.
This company caters to all age groups within the community by offering after-school lessons to children, workshops aimed at ‘tweens’ and teens (12+), and workshops for adults (16+). As a largely woman-owned organization that underwent a business conversion to a worker co-operative and serves everyone including youth, people with disabilities, and queer individuals, this is a great example of a socially impactful worker co-operative.
EDG: Black women
The Black Women Professional Worker (BWPW) Co-operative is a federally regulated worker co-operative based in Richmond Hill Ontario, Canada. The BWPW co-op is a Black-women owned network of entrepreneurs and professionals that focuses on the economic liberation of women, “socio-cultural agency, and intergenerational legacy”. Through emphasis on women in the agro-chain and food sector, the organization continues to build a relational bridge between women in the Global North and South, within the co-operative space.
The organization provides resources such as: marketplace solutions, peer-to-peer lending, funding solutions, financial literacy education, training and coaching, etc. which better equips women to not only begin but improve their business operations. One of their main services is the Rotating Savings and Credit Association (ROSCA+), which has been growing in Canada for the past 70 years as a means of combating business exclusion commonly faced by African and Afro-Caribbean immigrants. This model is based on the idea that in order to adequately reflect societal dynamics, theories that guide the sector must focus on cultural awareness.
The BWPW Co-op has helped several Black women revive their businesses through exposure to much-needed audiences and tools. As a co-operative led by and serving Black women, this organization is a strong example of a worker co-op that improves the economic stability of marginalized groups.
EDG: immigrants, refugees
Lightwork Co-operative is focused on creating inclusivity and belonging in workplaces; especially for recent immigrants and refugees. They work with organizations to design work environments where differences are valued and respected rather than negatively highlighted. After the 2020 murder of George Floyd, the team noticed a growing desire for organizations to evaluate how systematic racism and all types of discrimination manifest in their workplaces. Through guiding values of: a culture of care, consensual emotional labour, meeting people where they are etc., the organization seeks to promote justice, diversity, equity, and religious inclusivity in all work environments, so that individuals are free to work to the best of their ability. They chose the worker co-operative model because it allowed them to operate by the very values they seek to establish. Co-operative guiding principles such as democracy, human dignity, and the resourcing of individuals beyond economic gain also help ensure that Lightwork Co-operative’s process is aligned with their purpose.
Conversion**: View more details on their business conversion process
Harrop-Procter Community Co-operative (HPCC) is a great example of a non-profit organization that underwent a business conversion to a community co-operative (another form of a Social Purpose Organization) in order to increase collective autonomy over the resources in their community. The Harrop-Procter Community Forest Co-operative manages 11,300 hectares of Crown Land and runs a sawmill in Harrop, from which they sustainably produce lumber items such as: fence boards, timber, wood decking, paneling etc.
This organization’s practices are eco-system based, with a mandate to practice environmentally progressive forestry which protects watersheds and provides sustainable jobs for community members. Ecosystem-based planning helps ensure a fully functioning forest remains after logging occurs. As a co-operative with a clear environmental mission, HCPP is a true example of a SPO. It has benefited the community by:
- Giving residents more control of the surrounding forests such that they can manage it with a more long term view
- Providing local jobs by and for the community (via sawmill work)
- Providing organized stewardship of the land via sustainable forestry and watershed management
- Improving local knowledge and organizing capacity for the community’s economic and environmental goals
The worker co-operative space in Canada continues to grow and diversify every year. For more examples of worker co-operatives in Canada that serve or are led by EDGs, please consult the following websites:
- The Multicultural Health Brokers Co-op: cultural minorities, BIPOC, other racialized groups
- The International Women’s Catering Co-op: women, immigrants, refugees, and racialized groups
- The Anak Publishing Worker Co-op: Filipino Canadians
- Co-operative Cleaners of Ontario: women, Black individuals
- Eadha Bread: women, LGBTQ2S+
- Afghan Women’s Sewing and Crafts Co-operative: women of Afghan descent
If you’re interested in converting your business to a worker co-op, please view our webpages on business conversions: