On International Women’s Day, we acknowledge the challenges facing women around the world, celebrate gains in women’s rights, and applaud the accomplishments of women and girls.  

At Co-operatives First, we celebrate the accomplishments of women entrepreneurs and women-led co-operatives on the regular. That’s because the majority of our clients are women-led co-ops seeking to make their communities better places to live and work. In 2023, 15 of the 29 co-ops we helped incorporate were led by women.   

And the success of women entrepreneurs isn’t exclusive to co-ops. A report by Women Entrepreneurs of Saskatchewan (WESK) shows that women entrepreneurs contributed $23.1 billion to the province’s economy. According to the Women’s Entrepreneurship Knowledge Hub, while only 15.6% of small and medium businesses are women-led, women are making up a larger percentage of new business start-ups. Even investment mogul and Shark Tank star Kevin O’Leary touts the success of women entrepreneurs, saying, “75% of my returns have come from companies run by women.”  

So, how exactly are women entrepreneurs using co-operatives to make an impact? Here are some trends we’re noticing in our work across western Canada.  

Meeting Community Needs  

Co-operatives have always been a solution for communities to access the services they need. Not surprisingly, many of these co-operatives are created by women-led teams.   

Take the all-woman team that started a food co-op in Squamish, BC, for example. Community members were frustrated by the lack of affordable produce in town, so they formed a co-op: Squamish Fresh. Each week the co-op receives a truck of healthy food staples and prepares a “Fresh Box” for each member.   

Another trend is the creation of childcare co-ops. We’ve gotten a lot of requests from communities across western Canada to help create additional childcare spaces that can access the government’s $10/day program. The majority of these new licensed facilities are led by passionate women who recognize the impact affordable, reliable childcare will have on local families. From Lisa at the Beansprouts Childcare Co-op in Saskatoon to Lauren at the Smoky Lake Community Daycare Co-op in Alberta, these women-led childcare centres have a big impact on their local economies.   

The women-led organization Heart Linked Community Service Co-operative has also made a big difference. The co-op was formed to support at-risk girls from northern communities through programs that build positive life skills, such as retreats, online resources, and virtual connections.  

 Co-operating to Scale-up 

 The Women’s Entrepreneurship Knowledge Hub notes that the businesses women are starting are smaller. Maybe that’s why many women-led businesses are forming co-operatives to scale up their operations by working together. This is especially true in the consulting and facilitation space, with co-ops like the Prairie Centre for Racial Justice Employment Cooperative, Great Parenting Simplified, and the Change Collective Consulting Co-op. These co-ops bring together independent consultants, coaches, and facilitators to create a shared brand and collaborative approach that better serves their clients.   

There are great examples of entrepreneurs adding value or creating new channels to their businesses by creating co-operatives. In Calgary, the Blooming Ladies Multistakeholder Co-operative provides an online marketplace and social events for women entrepreneurs. A little further north, in the Edmonton area, the Cooperative Flower Network provides wholesaling support and online marketing to flower growers in the region. And out on the West Coast, the women-led team at Oodenaw: Urban Indigenous Consulting Co-operative came together to offer education and curriculum development and community-based research.  

 Support is Here 

 If you’re interested in scaling up your business by collaborating with others, plugging a gap in your community, or just interested in learning more about co-operatives, get in touch with us. Our team of experts can help you through the process of creating a co-operative. And our online courses offer a great introduction to anyone seeking to learn more.