Participant to panelist: the 360 degree journey

The Co-operators founded the IMPACT! program in 2009 and since then, has partnered with The Natural Step to jointly deliver sustainability training across Canada. Because the training’s focused on empowering youth to “walk the walk,” many of them go on to start sustainable businesses.

To fully support our youth entrepreneurs, we provide an introduction to the co-operative business model session, followed by a co-op panel with local representatives. It aims to introduce our young leaders to co-operatives and the role they play in contributing to society and sustainability.

The co-op panel is a key component of the training and has had major impact on many of our participants. For example, here’s a story of how one of our past participants was inspired by a local co-operative. Her story, in her own words, is below.

In February of 2015 I participated in the IMPACT! program during my last semester of my postgrad. I didn’t have a business idea or any plans to develop one in the future. I was looking to connect with other people who cared about sustainability in hopes of gaining a better understanding of where I wanted to be after graduation.

I’m not much of an entrepreneur but I am a strong believer that businesses can do good, by being good. I always pictured myself working in an organization that incorporated my values and operated in a sustainable way—sounded easy enough, right? It was at IMPACT! that I discovered the world of co-operatives and how they can be a driver for positive change.

One of the organizations represented on the co-op panel was Community CarShare. I learned about how they operated under a non-profit co-operative model and how the two complemented each other. I remember sitting and listening about the power of co-ops, their strong concern for the community and CarShare’s work with sustainable transportation. All of this deeply resonated with me and I immediately knew that I wanted to pursue a career in their co-op.  I worked hard to find an opportunity to join their team and two months later, I was hired as their Volunteer and Event Coordinator.

Over the past year I’ve had the opportunity to work at Community CarShare with the mission to help individuals make affordable and sustainable transportation choices. They are strong believers that by encouraging members to use CarShare alongside other green methods of transportation such as cycling, walking and using public transit we can build a healthier community!  Working as a co-operative gives us the opportunity to give back to the community while working to reduce private car ownership—and overall carbon emissions.  Even though I didn’t attend with a business plan in mind, I left IMPACT! knowing that I had found a niche in the co-op sector.

In February 2016 I was asked to attend IMPACT! as a panelist on the very co-op panel that sparked my interest one year ago! It was rewarding to speak about the co-op model and how it benefits CarShare as an organization.  I have now participated in the program on three separate occasions and look forward to continuing to support their youth sustainability training.

Thank you IMPACT! for providing critical co-operative education to young professionals.

And to all the other co-ops in Canada – get involved! Invest in Generation Y so that they can build resilient, values-based communities.

Jess Webster

Guelph 2015 IMPACT! participant
Regional Services Coordinator, Community CarShare