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Galleria and co-op case studies

Sector: Social (health, child care)

Co-ops in action

Co-ops in history

Sector description

The way social services are delivered and managed has been a primary concern of governments looking to increase efficiency and lower costs. In BC, as elsewhere, areas such as health care, child-care, education, and benefits for people living with disabilities are repeatedly being overhauled, often to the detriment of those using the services. Interested in moving beyond the simplistic dualism of government-run or private sector, many individuals and groups are considering social co-ops as another way to provide essential social services.

Italy is often credited with the development of social co-ops in the late 1970s. As Italy's welfare-program underwent extensive downsizing in the 1970s, the economically weaker layers of society were at greater risk. This risk was particularly apparent for patients released from mental-health facilities. Catholic groups and volunteers initially banded in "associations" to address the needs of those with mental health issues, and soon these associations became termed "social solidarity co-operatives." Legalizing social co-operatives was a long and involved process. The first law, drafted in 1981, was not passed until 1991. Central to this law was recognizing that co-operatives, while traditionally, provide mutual benefits to its members, can also have a role in the broader community. The structure of social co-ops can be seen as a mutation of the traditional co-op structure.

While the social co-op movement in British Columbia is not rampant, people have been forming "social co-ops" for the last fifty years. Ten years before the formation of the Parent Co-operative Preschools International (PCPI), a group of mothers from Honeymoon Bay on Vancouver Island formed a child-care co-op in 1951. This child-care co-op eventually morphed into the Lake Cowichan Co-operative Playschool in 1963.

Today in BC, social co-ops come in the form of housing, healthcare, childcare, education, and services for people with disabilities.

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