Navigating Incorporation: Our Journey with Cooperatives First
A couple of years ago, I embarked on a quest to find the perfect business model for a consulting group run by and for Indigenous people who would also be able to contribute to the well-being of our communities. It was a mission fueled by a desire to create a business where our consultants could support each other while making a meaningful impact.
In the autumn of 2022, as our initial team first came together to brainstorm and formalize our vision, we were exploring the idea of a “social enterprise.” It was around this time that our path took an unexpected turn when we stumbled upon Co-operatives First's educational modules and were hooked.
Kyle White, the educator at Cooperatives First, presented the Cooperative Business Model as one that "brings people together to work toward a common goal" and “gives profits back.” His words resonated deeply with our teams’ shared values and ideas.
We are moved to express deep gratitude to Cooperatives First, for without their careful guidance, kindness, and knowledge, Oodenaw would not be the thriving and healthy team it is today. In particular, we want to acknowledge the invaluable contributions of Trista Pewapisconias and Kyle White, who patiently guided us through the intricate steps, including the crucial process of incorporation.
About the Cooperatives First Process
Cooperatives First is a non-profit organization that is funded by Federated Co-operatives Limited and the Co-operative Retailing System. They offer support to individuals and groups as they embark on their cooperative incorporation journeys, walking you through every step with kindness, encouragement, and knowledge. In addition to being a kind and accessible organization, Cooperatives First also offers Indigenous-specific support.
After reading through much of the materials on the Cooperatives First website and conferring as a team, we approached them to see what working with them would look like. We almost immediately received a response from Trista, Cooperatives First’s Director of Indigenous Relations. Very soon after, we found ourselves meeting together on Zoom and learning about how Trista, Kyle, and Cooperatives First would guide us carefully through the complex process of incorporation, should we choose to move forward together.
In our meetings with Cooperatives First, we learned a lot and were expertly guided. Some key questions we explored included:
- Whether registering to work federally as well as provincially is done through a different process from just registering to work provincially.
- What type of liability insurance we would need as a consulting co-op.
- What we would need to do in order to adhere to B.C.'s Cooperatives Act.
- The difference between something called "sweat equity" and membership dues.
- How we could modify board structure and policy to fit our cultural ethics and values.
The more we learned, the more that the vision we shared for Oodenaw began to materialize and feel tangible and good. It was in these first meetings with Cooperatives First that we truly came to understand the flexible spirit of the cooperative business model and how we could make it work for us.
Trista thoroughly supported our brainstorming, our business planning, and our understanding of incorporation. She provided space for us to share our vision and eventually have it come to life. After just a couple of meetings with Trista, we were able to meet with Kyle who supported us to file paperwork and finally incorporate. The two worked as an expert team to demystify to process of business planning and cooperative incorporation, explaining each document we would need to produce and share in order to become official.
Why Work with Cooperatives First?
The cooperative model is not a familiar one to most people living ion Turtle Island since it diverges so greatly from mainstream models. Cooperatives First offers support in at least five areas to help you get up and running. They will support you to learn, design, plan, incorporate, and operate your cooperative. Incorporation and planning to create a cooperative are complex processes, and having the support of a knowledgeable team, such as Trista and Kyle, made all the difference for Oodenaw.
In sum, we recommend exploring Cooperative Firsts’ educational modules and then getting in touch with Kyle or Trista if you are considering exploring this systems-changing business model and starting your own. We can't emphasize enough how helpful Cooperatives First is as an organization and how kind and patient Trista and Kyle are as individuals.
Thanks for recounting our journey with us! We hope that some of our insights can help you as well. If you ever have any questions about our experience with Cooperatives First or with Indigenous business model research, feel free to reach out to any of us with questions. Weweni