Work Together (Archive)

The challenges of replicating a replication strategy: from the US to Canada

1 August 2016

The Arizmendi Association of Cooperatives was developed in the San Francisco Bay area in California, USA in the 1990’s. Initially this grew out of a study group, as an opportunity to take lessons from the European cooperative networks and to determine what might work for the San Francisco Bay area. The Arizmendi Association included a Development and Support Cooperative which developed multiple worker-owned bakery-pizzeria cooperatives.

By Kaye Grant and Hazel Corcoran, CWCF

Over the past 20 years the Arizmendi Association has facilitated 5 bakery-pizzeria cooperatives in California. This model was focused on replicating The Cheese Board Collective in Berkeley, which had started in the late 1960’s and converted to a worker cooperative in 1971, as a cheese shop and artisanal bakery – pizza enterprise. This successful worker cooperative has developed a community space, and created living wage jobs. The Cheese Board Collective members offered their cooperative model, recipes, organizational structure, start-up funding, and name to become the base on which to build the replication model. This model is focused on assisting these new cooperatives with a number of the identified barriers of other worker cooperatives.

The support and development services provided in the Arizmendi model include site identification, capitalization loans, recruitment and training of new worker-owners, provision of a business plan that can be adapted to the new cooperative, a tested product line using the same recipes, similar name and co-advertising to nearby markets, proven governance structures and shared costs of support services with other members. Development funding for the Arizmendi Association comes from member workplaces who contribute a percentage of their net income as a membership fee. New members receive technical services even if they are not yet contributing profit but as they grow and mature the income to the Association increases, and with it the funds available for development.

Seeing the power in the replication strategy as developed by the Arizmendi Association, the Canadian Worker Cooperatives Federation (CWCF) was interested in bringing this model to Canada. Calgary, Alberta was identified as a good location for this to start. Calgary has traditionally had a strong economy to support the sales of high-end, artisanal baked goods and pizza. Yet food service workers are, as in many places, paid exploitive wages. This is an opportunity to create an approach to create living-wage jobs. Initially this was attempted in 2004 but was not successful at that time; however, the Arizmendi Association is in a better position to provide the support needed from a distance and CWCF has more board support at this time.

The key objectives to this approach by CWCF are to:
• Develop as many dignified, decently-paid (“living wage” or better) work opportunities as possible through the development of new cooperatives
• Create work environments that foster profound personal, as well as, professional growth
• Exhibit excellence in production and serving local communities
• Promote cooperative economic democracy as a sustainable and human option for our society

This second launch (on-going since January 2015) has been more successful, however, not without its challenges. The key members for the Calgary cooperative launch along with a Calgary based cooperative developers and the CWCF Executive Director traveled to visit the San Francisco Bay area to meet the Cheese Board Cooperative and Arizmendi Association Cooperatives.

The Grain Exchange Worker Cooperative is the Calgary version looking to replicate the Cheese Board via the Arizmendi Association’s supports and resources. The most significant challenges include assembling the required capital to date, the recruitment of members who are skilled in bakery arts, inhibited by the fact that the cooperative is still in capitalization mode, and the lack of availability of start-up services as provided by the Development and Support Cooperative in California.

The support of CWCF and the Arizmendi group has given the Grain Exchange a significant advantage for a similar start-up, however, this has not completely addressed the challenges, particularly those associated with obtaining the required start-up capital. Further the local economy in Calgary has experienced a downturn which also has an effect on the start-up for this new cooperative.

At this point it appears that the cooperative members are committed to pursuing their capital requirements and have the perseverance to continue on that path for a while longer. If this start-up can be successful it offers a key link to opportunities to grow the Worker Cooperative sector in Canada but there is still much work to be done before we get there. If the remaining capital is committed in the near future on favourable terms, this would push the Grain Exchange forward, enabling this cooperative to find more worker-owners, and to launch!