Collaboration key to community co-operative’s success

Connecting with like-minded people to make things happen is a key foundation of community social services and the non-profit sector overall.

That principle has guided the work of the Kootenay Boundary Community Services Co-operative since it was founded almost 20 years ago.

The co-op emerged out of a decision among Kootenay area community social service agencies to begin working together more purposefully to allow them to bid as a region on larger contracts for delivering social services on behalf of government. “They knew they couldn’t do it alone, but could do it together,” said Janice Murphy, executive director, Kootenay Boundary Community Services Co-operative.

The co-op has grown to 18 member organizations with a unique governance model to ensure the work of the co-op is guided directly by its members. The council of members is made up of one volunteer and one paid staff from each agency, with a board of directors elected from among that group.

“The Kootenay Boundary Community Services Co-operative’s member organizations provide essential services and resources for their most vulnerable community members,” said Niki Sharma, Parliamentary Secretary for Community Development and Non-Profits. “The past year has been challenging for all British Columbians, and the collaborative work of the co-op is a great example of the role that non-profits have played in the pandemic response and in strengthening our communities.”

Forming a co-op has allowed member organizations to take on more regional work. Various members deliver social services in their communities while Murphy and the co-op office handle the administration.

In addition to the diverse social services each agency provides, co-op members lead two regional programs: Safe Kids & Youth (SKY) Coordinated Response Child and Youth Advocacy Centre is supported with one-time grant funding through the Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General’s Civil Forfeiture Crime Prevention and Remediation Grant Program and the Department of Justice; and a regional parenting program through Interior Health.

Co-op members have also taken part in a series of one-minute videos they can use to recruit new board members and volunteers in their communities. Membership goes well beyond the Kootenays, with member agencies now as far north as Valemount and east to Fernie.

“The pandemic has really shown the benefit of being in a co-op,” Murphy said. “We started a regular check in. We hired a consultant to help people figure out an opening plan. We were able to pivot to where the need was.”

The co-op’s funding primarily comes from the Columbia Basin Trust, a community-guided trust established in 1995 that now distributes over $50 million a year to support social, environmental and economic initiatives in the B.C. communities most adversely affected by the international Columbia River Treaty. Community well-being is one of six key focuses for the trust.

“The trust funds the co-op office and the projects that our members need but that no one else funds for our sector – human resources, IT, training,” said Murphy. “We’ve got a shared finance automation project underway and are looking for opportunities where we can purchase bulk for members.

“We’re also working together to develop common quality performance measures. We all know we need more data for our sector, and the co-op is trying to satisfy that need in this region.”

Collaboration has increased among members in general, Murphy notes – to the benefit of all. For example, five co-op members share the same accountant, who is helping them streamline invoicing and expense claims and develop tighter financial controls.

Having more sophisticated financial procedures newly available to even the smallest of those agencies is drawing the interest of more funders, Murphy said.

Looking to the future, Murphy’s dream is the gift of more time for senior staff so they “have time to think” about other projects the co-op members could pursue together and other directions the work could take.

“Could we work together to improve the way we interact with Indigenous people? One of our member organizations, the Circle of Indigenous Nations Society, is doing some really interesting things,” said Murphy. “They’re developing a toolkit with the support of their Elders to share Indigenous cultural awareness training with our members and other agencies in the basin. Our co-op members are fully behind this opportunity and have committed funds and time.” 

The B.C. government has proclaimed March as Community Social Services Awareness Month in appreciation of the more than 42,000 people who work in the community social services sector. They provide help and assistance to those who need it most.

Learn More:

Kootenay Boundary Community Services Co-operative:

For the Community Social Services Awareness Month Proclamation, visit:

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