Two-thirds of Albertans have at least one cooperative membership, yet many coop members will have difficulty explaining what a coop is. Defining a cooperative is complicated by one of the model’s strongest assets: its adaptability. The coop business model is applied, with appropriate variations, to financial institutions, housing, grocery stores, farm equipment dealerships, and natural gas and electricity distributers, just to name a few.

Differences notwithstanding, a cooperative is broadly defined as a business owned and run by its members, who use and benefit from its goods or services. Additionally, cooperative businesses are driven by values, not just profit, and have at their core seven internationally accepted principles.

Alberta’s cooperative sector traces its roots to rural and farming groups that created coops in response to needs in their communities, often filling niches where conventional businesses were absent or unsatisfactory. As with the formation of other institutions, the vision and commitment of the founders tended to fade with time. Successive generations, who do not have to work from ground zero on such projects as bringing natural gas or electricity into their homes, may turn their attention elsewhere.

Cooperation is a model that deserves continuing attention from Alberta entrepreneurs, job seekers, and prospective board members. Working together to build and maintain cooperative businesses today holds the same benefits for individuals and communities as in the past. For Albertans interested in cooperation there is professional help, advice, and resources that apply locally. Co-operatives First offers a service called the Co-op Creator, “an extensive collection of tools and resources for all stages of co-op business development”. The Alberta Community and Co-operative Association (ACCA) assists coops with education, advocacy and development services.

Battle River Power Coop is committed to increasing awareness of the cooperative business model through two annual sponsorships to the ACCA Youth Leadership Program. Here, youth between the ages of 11 and 18 learn about the cooperative business model while enjoying all the fun of a summer camp. See complete sponsorship information and access the application form at: