Co-operative Enterprises provides students with a different view of business

With The University of Winnipeg’s Spring Convocation just around the corner, expect to see more students walking across the stage with a concentration in Co-operative Enterprises.

Dr. Simon Berge, Business Chair of Co-operative Enterprises. ©UWinnipeg

Established in 2013, the Business Chair in Co-operative Enterprises has an increased interest from students due to its unique way of looking at the role of business in society.

“Students are now finding co-op an interesting business model and graduating with the Co-operative Enterprises degree,” said Dr. Simon Berge, Business Chair of Co-operative Enterprises. “Courses provide a different view of business, as they step away from the conventional approach of maximization of profits and values for shareholders.”

More than ever, Berge believes students are intrigued with the co-op model because it fits the idea of what they think businesses should be doing for communities and society in general.

“For students, it’s an ability to express, in a practical manner, their disapproval of the capitalist model because it’s not working for them,” he explained.

One of this year’s graduates is Genevieve May with a four-year BBA. Originally, she started off in a general stream before eventually focusing on human resources. However, while taking an introduction class to co-operatives as an elective, she decided to also pursue it as a concentration, and is now graduating with a double major.

“I would definitely say co-operative is social leaning towards business, which is why I was attracted to it,” May explained. “It goes away from the stuffy suit and tie feeling, and is open and inclusive.”

Berge’s teaching style, wealth of knowledge, and experience working with the government, health care, and academia sectors were other factors that also helped her develop a passion for co-op. May has already entered the job field as she’s working at Assiniboine Credit Union and also starting a human resources initiative with UWinnipeg colleagues Thuy Do, Andre Saria, Andrew Collignon, and Danika Penner.

The UWinnipeg Human Resourcing Co-operative (UWHRC), which will be an organization run by students for students, alumni, and support members, is designed to help undergraduates enter into the workforce.

“The UWHRC is a student-led not-for-profit co-operative initiative meant to create an inclusive network of students and professionals alike, that emphasizes utilizing human resources expertise to support each student and members’ transition into the workforce,” May said.

Berge said May’s initiative is exactly what Co-operative Enterprises hopes to achieve with its students.

“Students utilizing their new found knowledge of the co-operative business model to start a business focused on helping their fellow students is what co-operatives are all about,” he said. “If this program in Co-operative Enterprises can encourage students and provide them with the skills to help each other, it is a successful program.”

Berge plans to build linkages to other schools, including the University of Saskatchewan’s Centre for the Study of Co-operatives, and develop new on-campus initiatives. He also made special note of the work they’re doing with UWinnipeg’s Masters in Development Practice in Indigenous Development program

“These outreach activities help build capacity to teach and research on co-operatives,” he explained. “Education and research provide only a part of picture on co-ops, engaging with our student population on initiatives such as a student lounge, grocery store, or credit union on campus will help build practical skills for students in running a co-operative business. All of these activities will help build awareness and understanding of co-operative enterprises.”


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