A positive approach to creating a coop

Creating a co-op can be a valuable way for Indigenous communities to meet their goals. But often the language around creating co-ops is from a western point-of-view, and this may not resonate in your community.  

A different way to plan and create a co-op is by taking an Asset-Based Community Development (ABCD) approach. 

Community members and leaders may focus on the services or infrastructure a community lacks. A community might have a long list of things they want and need — but forget to consider what they already have. Taking an ABCD approach flips this human tendency around and starts from a positive mindset, focusing on assets and gifts that already exist. In this way, it’s easier to see opportunities.  

For groups that want to start a co-op, this positive, opportunity-focused approach can help them identify their strengths and build businesses that are truly responsive to their communities. 

The ABCD model  

To use the ABCD model, you will create a community asset map that takes note of the community’s, well, assets. This approach divides these basic building blocks of community into five categories: individuals, associations, institutions, physical assets, and connections.  

Individuals are the centre of this process. These are the people who make up a community (or in this case, co-op steering committee), who each have skills, interests, and gifts. 

To use the ABCD model, consider these five dimensions of your community or group to map out its strengths.   

  1. Map your personal assets 

One of the traditional tools an individual can use to map their own assets is called the “Head, Heart, and Hands” tool. Each person writes down their individual gifts in these categories: 

  • Head: subjects you’re an expert in, things you know, critical thinking and problem-solving skills, etc. 
  • Hands: practical skills, like playing an instrument, fixing a car, carpentry, video editing, writing, etc. 
  • Heart: issues you care about (like education, health, justice, the environment), as well as emotional strength, conflict resolution, or connection to others. 

The Coady International Institute’s Indigenous Women in Leadership course includes a fourth asset in this tool: Spirit. This can include traditional knowledge, faith, ceremony, and healing practices.  

In many Indigenous tribes, one of the sacred teachings is humility; it is important to remain humble and not to be boastful. Because of this, people can be uncomfortable mapping their skills and strengths – but going through this exercise can be powerful and beneficial to yourself and your project. Acknowledging your gifts is important and should not be seen as bragging — everyone has gifts, and talking about them isn’t an insult to others.   

2. Share your asset maps among your group 

When taking on a big project, it’s essential to have the right committee members and collaborators.  

This is especially true for initiatives that require high amounts of time, energy, commitment, and capital, like starting a business. Once your group members have created personal asset maps, share them with each other, and take a look at all the gifts your team has collectively. This is a good way to know who has the knowledge, skills, and comfort level to take on the different tasks involved in creating your co-op, and you can start to delegate based on what you learn in this process. 

3. Map the institutions available to help you 

Next, think about the institutions that could help you move your business idea forward. There may be specific skills, abilities, or capital that your members don’t have, but that institutions could provide.  

Look into institutional support from government agencies, private businesses, business development organizations, and schools that may be readily available to support the group without being owners of the co-op. Seek out support from local business service organizations, such as Futurpreneur, Community Futures, or Indigenous Financial Institutions of business organizations. 

4. Map your connections 

Mapping community groups is an important part of this process. Informal community groups and associations can be supporters, partners, or customers of the initiative. Finding community experts can help with the marketing and knowledge-gathering to help the co-op form the strategy. Community groups or associations will help build connections and can help with member engagement or membership drives.  

5. Map your place-based assets 

Finally, map your community’s physical and natural assets. Depending on your initiative, you may need things like a water supply, internet access, electricity, roads, or proximity to tourist destinations. Brainstorm them all. 

 This process will also help you understand the community, neighbours, and the impact on the surrounding areas. Is there any land ownership, traditional or sacred lands that the operations may impact? Knowing this could help avoid issues that could keep the co-op from moving forward in a good way.  

Make it fun 

Like creating a co-op, community mapping is easier with the help of others. The process does not have to feel like homework or a burden. Make it a fun exercise; sit with Elders, listen to stories, eat, visit, and laugh. Remember to record the sessions, either by recording the audio, having a note-taker, or drawing pictures.  

Once the maps are completed, review them and see how many resources you already have to create a co-op! 

Want to start a co-operative? Download our guide to starting an Indigenous co-op, and reach out to tell us about your goals and find out how we can help. Click here to learn more about Co-operatives First.