Community Development Co-operatives

Falling commodity prices on the world market and Saskatchewan’s dependence on agricultural exports resulted in calls to diversify the province’s economy in the 1980s. The subsequent formation of Small Business Loans Associations (SBLAs) and Rural Development Corporations (RDCs) were attempts to address these rural development issues. SBLAs raise investment capital to establish new businesses in their communities. The number of these associations grew rapidly after the program’s inception in May 1989. Within a year there were eighty-nine of them, and by 1996 the number of co-operative SBLAs stood at 147. There was a massive rise in assets over the same period—from $107,000 to $3.2 million. Since that time there has been a gradual decline in numbers, assets, revenue, and member equity, although large numbers of these organizations continue to operate in Saskatchewan communities. Spin-off benefits of SBLA activity include the creation and maintenance of jobs in areas where employment opportunities are limited. At their peak in 1996, there were a total of 488 jobs created and maintained in smaller communities around the province.

Rural Development Corporations are the other type of co-operative found within the community development sector. Their role has been to assist member organizations with the identification, promotion, and implementation of development projects in rural areas. Although 65% of them were co-operatives in the mid-1990s, there has been since then a lack of growth in numbers, revenues, and assets that can be explained by their declining role in economic development as they are gradually replaced by Regional Economic Development Authorities. REDAs are voluntary, community-owned organizations designed to assist regional development. Although they generally function as co-operatives, maintaining the principle of one member, one vote, they do not have a formal co-operative structure. It can be expected that most, if not all, RDCs will eventually disappear as they give way to the REDA model.

Nora Russell