On September 22nd, students graduating with either a Graduate Diploma or a Masters in Management: Co-operatives and Credit Unions (MMCCU) were greeted with boisterous whoops and feet stomping from the 12 faculty of the program who joined the Chancellor, Dean, and about another 10 faculty from Saint Mary’s University at Convocation. It was a relatively rare occurrence for the program and the special moment was created through a two day celebration of the program’s 20th anniversary and the first in-person faculty retreat since 2019.
The first day of the two-day event, kicked off quite appropriately at the Glitter Bean Café. This worker coop coffee house also has a collective bargaining agent through SEIU Local 2 and one of Glitter Bean’s members also works with the ICCM. Participants then joined a walking tour to learn about other co-ops in Halifax such as the Bus Stop Theater, a Circus co-op, and a mental health co-operative. Over the last decade, Halifax has seen a blossoming of new co-operatives, but has traditionally had relatively few co-ops given the presence of the ICCM and the Coady International Institute in its midst.
The International Centre for Co-operative Management offers management education in a multi-sectoral format that brings managers from producer, worker, and consumer co-ops and credit unions. The students learn together and share their models of co-operation. The result is a dynamic and engaging educational program that creates a unique management paradigm for the co-operative enterprise model.
The Co-operative Management Education Co-operative (CMEC) created the Master’s program which eventually grew to become the International Centre for Co-operative Management (ICCM), but it is part of a much larger legacy that reaches all the way back to pre-depression Maritime Canada and the work of two Jesuit priests, Moses Coady and Jimmy Tompkins. Their work focused on adult education of co-op centric business practices. They encouraged people to claim control of their economy. The community of co-operatives that they supported became known as the Antigonish Movement. Coady believed that it was vital for the men and women in the economically downtrodden communities of Newfoundland & Labrador, Nova Scotia, and elsewhere to gain control and become “Masters of their own destiny” through the co-operative model. They operated under the slogan Tu Puex Le Faire! (You Can Do It!) which is reminiscent of the more widely known people’s movement slogan “Si Se Puede!” There is a short documentary on the topic (You Can Do It!: The Story of the Antigonish Movement, produced by SeaBright Productions). For the purpose of this discussion, however, it is important that Coady came to understand that the work of educating co-op workers and the building of a co-op centric management model could only happen if the students could study in their home while continuing to work for their co-ops. (Matthews, 1999). Coady went on to work with Saint Francis Xavier University (St. FX) as Director of the Extension Department which eventually became known as The Coady Institute (which promoted co-operative education on a global scale at the time it was formed, and now continues as a department that supports social and economic inclusion via co-operative, community-led and inclusion education more broadly).
In the early 2000s, the incumbent director of the center created by Coady, Tom Webb was meeting with a colleague and legendary co-operator Sidney Pobihuschy to commiserate over the problem with the co-ops in the Maritime Provinces in Canada and how they just seemed to not understand the co-op difference. This conversation led to Tom’s solution to the dilemma that Coady faced so many decades ago. New technology allowing real time and asynchronous on-line education could allow a master’s program to reach co-op managers in their homes and allow them to immediately apply lessons in their co-ops.
Tom Webb researched the project, raised $1 million dollars, and prepared a proposal for St. FX. As he told the audience at the reunion, “after 16 months of review, we were told by the Dean that we could have 6 credits and no more. Well, 6 credits isn’t a master’s program.” Shortly after receiving the bad news, he was contacted by a professor of business at Saint Mary’s University (SMU), John Chamard. Chamard encouraged him to bring the program proposal to SMU. At their meeting, Tom noticed a poster of Che Guevera on Chamard’s wall and asked how he got away with that in a business school. Chamard reportedly said, “Most of them don’t know who he is and the ones who do, like him!” A partnership was born.
A Revolutionary Education Program
The Master of Management: Co-operatives and Credit Unions (MMCCU) program was revolutionary in its approach. CMEC would inform the curriculum and provide support to the program staff, who in turn hired the faculty to ensure that the educational focus remained squarely on managing co-operatives within the construct of co-operative values and principles. This meant that faculty might not be members of the SMU faculty, but they would be faculty who understood the co-operative difference and because of the online structure of the program, these experts could be engaged from locations around the world. Needless to say, this new idea faced a hurdle in gaining support from the faculty but with strong support from Chamard, and other SMU faculty such as Sonja Novkovic vigorously defending the program at the Faculty Council meetings, the program development proceeded. In addition, the SMU President J. Colin Dodds supported the program, having learned first-hand of the value of the co-operative model during his childhood in the UK, as part of a coal miner family recovering from the devastation of WWII.
The first year of instruction was launched in 2003. In time, the entity that housed the program was formally named the International Centre for Co-operative Management, which better captured the wider breadth of activities (degree programs, online certificates, executive education, research, publications, webinars and more). Today, CMEC has 81 members (both organizations and individuals) from 11 countries. Its role is to ensure that co-ops have a say in how the educational programs operate and CMEC members continue to engage their employees in the programs and also support the bursary fund that allows access to the programs to many deserving, yet perhaps under-resourced co-operative employees.
How the Program Works and Adapts
In the early years of the MMCCU, students studied for 4 years; now they study for 3 years part-time. To begin, students arrive in Halifax, Nova Scotia for a week of orientation. They meet each other, engage in team building, learn the on-line education tools, and how to use the library. They also get the chance to socialize, meet some of the faculty, and hear from co-op leaders. The students then spend their semesters reading about co-op management and engaging with each other and the faculty on-line. About half-way through the program, the students in the master’s program meet in person again on a field study to either Mondragon, Spain or Emilia-Romagna, Italy to study the extensive co-op systems in those regions. After finishing course work in the third year, students then have roughly 6 months to complete a final research project on a topic of their choosing related to co-operative management.
Certificate Program: 10 months, 3 semesters Sep-Jun, 5 courses (7.5 credits)
- History of the Movement
- The Enterprise Model
- Strategic Advantage
- Governance and Participation
Graduate Diploma: 16 months (21 credits), includes Certificate Courses plus the following
- Global Economy and Society
- Accounting and Reporting
- Digital Transformation
- Organizational Behavior and Leadership
- Current Issues
And the ability to select from electives to complete their total credits with topics that best serve them
Master’s Program: 3 years (~35 weeks/year in session) (42 credits) includes Diploma and Certificate courses plus the following)
- Marketing the Co-operative Advantage
- Financial Management
- Field Research and Study Tour
- Co-operative Lifestyle
- Co-operative Business Strategy
- Research Methods for Co-operatives
- Final Research Project
While the course work is delivered on-line, efforts are made to keep the sense of community within the cohort through planned discussions and debates, live sessions, and live presentations from guest speakers. Further, many of the assignments are designed to assist students immediately in their work as co-op managers. This creates a value to the education that expands beyond the individual student to the participating co-operative. It is a democratization of the educational process that too often is transactional and individualistic in nature. Students in the ICCM programs do not just improve their knowledge and marketability as workers, they also improve their co-operative knowledge base and by extension its marketability of the co-operative difference.
The program has made 19 for-credit study tours: 10 to Mondragon and 9 to Emilia-Romagna. Today, the major difference between the Graduate Diploma and the Master’s degree is the study tour and the final research project, as well as additional courses in other business disciplines (within a co-op context). However, those who have the graduate diploma can complete the Master’s later should they choose.
The Master’s program started unconventionally. Sonja Novkovic, an original member of the faculty and the third academic director, said it “started like no other program, it looks like no other program, and it operates like no other program.” To date, the Masters, Diploma, and Certificate Programs have engaged over 330 students and graduates from over 160 organizations in 12 different countries including 6 continents.
Over the years, courses have been amended, retired, and added based on perceived changes in management practices and issues, as well as direct feedback from students, alumni and sector partners. The ICCM also shortened the time from 4 years to 3 years by continuing courses over the spring semester(and the field trip moved from October to the spring months). ICCM also added a certificate program which includes the courses taught in the first three semesters. Certificate holders can also return to complete the Masters should they choose and they are all encouraged to do so. ICCM staff strive to make the program accessible to all co-op managers and workers who are interested in participating.
In addition to the SMU course work, the ICCM has also expanded to include special educational events. The Centre has conducted 6 symposia on special topics forco-operative, a 2 day conference leading to the first International Cooperative Summit in 2012 for the UN International Year of the Co-operatives, and a number of non-degree study tours. Since 2018, ICCM has joined NCBA/CLUSA Impact Conferencewith a one-day pre-conference Executive Management course on special topics.
CanadaDE (Credit Union Development Education - leadership program) was created as a special program to assist credit union professionals. It has graduated 162 participants, created 20 mentors, and reached over 100 organizations in 18 countries. Non-degree international experiences included study tours to Cuba, study tour to Croatia, a special summer course on Co-operative Law in Croatia and in 2024 ICCM will lead a co-op study field trip to Costa Rica.
The Co-operative Difference
A through line for all of the courses and programs is the co-operative difference. The ICCM has constructed a paradigm called The Co-operative Enterprise Model (CEM) (Miner & Novkovic, 2020). In this model, a co-operative business is more than simply meeting the transactional needs of its members (good jobs, access to goods and service, or access to market). The CEM understands co-operatives as human-centric, purpose-driven, and democratically governed organizations that meet member needs but also connect in the spirit of the co-operative identity to build strong, healthy, and resilient economies and communities while also protecting the environmental resources that these communities and all life depend upon. Alumnus and faculty member Erbin Crowell notes: “In this economy, people are hungry for alternatives. The co-operative business model offers a different approach to business—one based in community, democracy, and sustainability. ICCM’s programs give co-op managers the tools they need to innovate and succeed. I can’t speak highly enough of these programs.” This requires a unique style of management that considers the many key stakeholders in every decision (members, workers, families, the general public, and the earth). Whether the course focuses on people management, accounting, technology, or supply chains, the goal will always be to consider how co-operative values and principles should guide management decisions to create the co-operative difference and a co-operative advantage in the marketplace.
“You can sign up for our program, but you will never want to leave.”
—Cathy Statz in a riff of Hotel California by The Eagles
Many of the organizers and leaders in the various programs include alumni. The relationship with the Centre does not end at convocation and some graduates have continued to join the faculty of the Masters, Graduate, and Certificate programs or speak during educational events and courses. In addition to special courses, symposia, and field trips, ICCM has also become a major research center for co-operatives producing new management tools such as the Co-op Index Tool (Hough, 2015), a number of working papers and case studies and books based on symposia proceedings. The ICCM relies on alumni to not only further the work of the Centre, but to promote and build connections through their regional co-operative communities.
As the ICCM enters its 3rd decade, the influence of earlier cohorts has started to develop. Two alumni, the author (4th cohort) and Erbin Crowell (3rd cohort) have joined the faculty of the program. Some larger organizations such as The Co-operators and Vancity Credit Union have generations of graduates spread throughout their departments and leadership. The reach of the ICCM alumni reaches beyond the individual co-ops as some graduates have moved deeper into the co-operative community in co-operative development centers, trade associations, and international work. Faculty and staff hold leadership positions in 17 national and international co-operative organizations.
We are Moses Coady’s Grandchildren
The International Centre for Co-operative Management was founded to meet a core need for our co-operatives: create a new way of managing co-operative enterprises that are in-line with the values, ethics, and principles of those organizations and the Co-operative Identity. Its programming through symposia, study tours, and for-credit courses have reached over 1,200 participants and 400 organizations in more than 50 countries.
A lot of co-op education focuses on the role of directors and members, but (with perhaps the exception of the worker co-op sector) tends to be quiet on management. However, without the focus of a co-op centric management style, co-ops are doomed to struggle as they find a way in an increasingly competitive environment to create a clear co-operative difference. The bigger danger is that co-ops “scale” without planning or attending to their principles and succumb to the memetic isomorphic effects of trying to play by their investor-owned competitors’ rules. That race to the bottom will undermine co-operatives.
In reflecting on the two day celebration of everything the Centre has become and the impact it has had, Tom Webb made the following comment, “Never has this program been so important. We are living in turbulent times. Income inequality is spawning a host of troubling problems–health care, housing, education, food security among others. Climate change is deepening and climate change deniers are resisting altering course. Our economy is producing enormous wealth and incomes for the 20% who own more than 75% of the wealth, while 50% share 1.4%. There is a mounting climate of fear and anger especially among young people. We can and must do all we can to build a better economy–a co-operative economy that serves people and communities rather than capital.”
For many in the program, Tom Webb is a mentor and we are his co-operative children. The program developed from the inspiration of the Antigonish Movement, Tom’s passion to help co-ops truly work according to their values and principles, and a dedicated team of like-minded academics, center staff, and members of the co-operative community to build a vibrant and dynamic program and a new management paradigm that aligns with the Co-operative Identity. Moses Coady encouraged the people in the Maritimes to be “Masters of their own destiny” with the slogan “Tu Peux Le Faire!” Today, Coady’s dream and message live on in the alumni and current students of the ICCM spreading well beyond the Maritimes to co-ops and communities on every continent.
Registration for the 2024 cohort is now open, with application deadline of May 31st. Contact the ICCM for more information at email@example.com or register for an information webinar here: https://www.smu.ca/iccm/newsandevents/
Hough, P. (2015). "Walking the Talk": Putting Co-operative Principles into Practice with the Help of the Co-op Index. In L. Brown, C. Carini, J. G. Nembhard, L. H. Ketilson, E. Hicks, J. McNamara, S. Novkovic, D. Rixon, & R. Simmons (Eds.), Co-operatives for Sustainable Communities: Tools to Measure Co-operative Impact and Performance (pp. 118-127). Co-operatives and Mutuals Canada. http://www.cooperativedifference.coop/tools/
Matthews, R. (1999). Jobs of Our Own: Building a Stakeholder Society-alternatives to the market and the state. Comerford and Miller; Pluto Press.
Miner, K., & Novkovic, S. (2020). Diversity in Governance: A Cooperative Model for Deeper, More Meaningful Impact. Cooperative Business Journal, 4-14. https://ncbaclusa.coop/journal/2020/fall-2020/diversity-in-governance/
Thanks to Erin Hancock for helpful feedback in the drafting of this piece.
John McNamara (2023). The Masters in Management: Co-operatives and Credit Unions Program Turns 20. Grassroots Economic Organizing (GEO). https://geo.coop/articles/masters-management-co-operatives-and-credit-unions-program-turns-20