Thanks to your favourite online magazine team and their editors, I attended some really interesting workshops and networked with a broad range of people from around the world. This article offers my impressions from four of the many initiatives worth sharing in your networks of social entrepreneurs and thought leaders.
1. Financial innovations for the social and solidarity economy in Quebec
The workshop presented some innovative forms of funding for social and solidarity economy initiatives. Two of the guest speakers were Chantal Malo and Jacques Charest from CAP Finance – Investissement Québec. They presented a very interesting portrait of tools available for social entrepreneurs that answer needs of funding for development initiatives, or money for operations and administration phases. These funds, limited compare to the total investment made by Investissement Québec, have proven to be useful for project leaders in social economy looking to vary their financial structure. Various types of adapted financial services exist, like access to credit, investment, venture capital and other programs. Most of the information is available online at http://www.capfinance.ca/page_accueuil.php.
2. Nova Scotia Community Economic Development Investment Funds
Presented by the senior evaluator of public and private finance for the Nova Scotia government, MBA graduate Chris Payne detailed how a provincial program like the one operating in Nova Scotia creates incentive and monetary advantages that facilitate the collection of venture capital for communities and project leaders within their local networks.
The Community Economic Development Investment Fund has helped create and maintain communities’ social services because of its ability to bring together local people and resources for a common goal. The success of these initiatives has already enhanced the feeling of belonging among residents of small communities, has created green jobs, and proven to the youth the potential of living in peripheral areas. Mr. Payne listed as examples wind turbine projects, community fair trade coffee shops, and others. In this time of extreme economic variations related to the globalization of finances, this financial tool has proven to be efficient and safer for investors. After the presentation, I asked myself why there are not such programs in every Canadian province? For more information you can visit their website:www.gov.ns.ca/econ/cedif
3. Community-owned Green Energy Co-op in Belgium
The speakers in this session were two partners in a community-owned green energy cooperative in Belgium. The first speaker, Jean-Marie Coen, is a Masters student in community development and project manager at Enercoop, a community-owned wind turbine co-op in Belgium. He discussed the difficulties experienced by project leaders to earn the capital, the social acceptance, and obtaining the license to operate such an organization. “Without the license and good lobbying, the project is worth nothing,” he said. After years of hard work, Enercoop is the second biggest distributor of energy in Belgium and all its users are co-op members. The country’s legislation also allows communities to be members.
In the beginning, parents registered their kids as the first co-op members. The motivation came from wanting to create a good environment for future generations, said Jean-Francois Mistch, an administrator of the Emissions Zero windmill co-op.
With great talent and passion, he convinced the audience to act now to adjust our energy consumption and production. He also talked about the potential of the energy market and added, “Before my project, Belgium was as poor as Mali, the fifth poorest country in Africa, because the population did not control its natural resources.” At the moment, Enercoop gains popularity every day, attracting new users, and offering cleaner energy at cheaper rates to customers, all while reinvesting the profit locally.
This natural resource co-op is an inspiring model for a country like Canada.
4. Shareholder/workers’ co-op, a hybrid management model in Quebec
In the next 10 or 20 years, many business owners will look to sell or allow some body to take over their organization and its management. As it stands, not many individuals have enough funding to buy a company on their own, and business owners do not think of talking about their plan many years in advance. The process of securing a business takes time and good planning.
The speaker of my last conference session was the general director of le réseau des Coopératives de Développement Régional du Québec, (Regional Development Coop network). The solution he proposed to the audience on how to find interested people to buy a company was to sell it to their workers regrouped in a cooperative.
The model is that a regular workers’ co-op is created within the company and the new organization buys shares and invests in the business. The other part is kept in the hands of the owner or bought by local solidarity fund like Caisse Desjardins or the Solidarity Fund of FTQ (Federation of Workers in Québec).
This solution allows people to mobilize the necessary capital to buy the company, and it keeps the local knowledge of workers in the organization, often ending in a total worker cooperative. The model is described by specialists as a transition or hybrid model between the incorporation and the cooperative model.
Jean-Francois Lisé, a Quebec editor, recently proposed the creation of provincial legislation for business takeovers. He proposed that if no one in the network or in the business owner’s family is interested in buying a company, the CTA model should be automatically applied to keep jobs and the organization in place, and finance the owner for a new project or retirement. www.coopzone.coop/en/coop_types
In conclusion, I must say the forum was very inspiring. I was proud to realize I was part of a strong social movement in this country and internationally. We now hope social economy leaders and politicians will continue to build and create a better world that ensures social economic justice.
Pierre-Luc Vézina-Labelle is one of the founders of La Coop de Solidarité V.E.R.T.E., a co-op of sustainable tourism in Saguenay Lac Saint Jean. He’s studying for his Masters of Regional studies and intervention at Université of Québec in Chicoutimi.