Colonel Grey Eco-Smoothie Co-op expands its reach to Africa

Published on June 9, 2014

CHARLOTTETOWN – A student co-op operating at Colonel Grey High School in Charlottetown provides a delicious and educational program at the school. Now that program is becoming a cultural exchange as the Eco-Smoothie Co-op is partnering with a co-op in Uganda.

In 2012, the P.E.I. Co-operative Council (PEICC) was invited into a Grade 12 Economics class to show the students the variety of co-operative businesses and assist them with developing a business of their own within the school. The Eco-Smoothie Co-op was created and offers students a healthy and affordable option during lunch.

Besides teaching about co-operatives, the school co-op supports local communities, last year giving almost half a million dollars to community groups and initiatives.

A different class taking over management of the school enterprise every term. Every class appoints a board of directors and manager, who oversee all aspects of daily operations, including working with local Co-op food stores for products and supplies and Provincial Credit Union for financial advice and banking.

For the last few weeks, Catelyn Kennedy’s Grade 10 class has been managing the business, which has been booming.

“So many students walk by the smoothie booth and ask ‘What class is this? ... I want to take this class,’ so it’s not just my students who think it’s pretty awesome,” said Kennedy.

While running the business, the students also receive in-class instruction on business development and finances, the history of co-ops within the province and the impact that they make in the community.

“While the history of co-ops in P.E.I. stretches back 150 years to the Farmer’s Bank in Rustico, we also want to show the students what the co-operative sector does today in P.E.I. and across Canada with business that would interest them, from cafés and chocolate bars, to bookstores and music labels, to IT development and outdoor equipment. We tell the students that if there is a business idea out there, it can be done co-operatively just as well as any other model,” says Todd MacEwen, executive director of the PEICC.

The co-op council’s president, Siri Jackson-Wood, facilitates the classroom work at Colonel Grey and has been part of international programs, such as the development of a micro credit union in Uganda, and last year matched the two. The two groups communicate electronically, sharing information, comparing their business plans and mission statements.

“Our contact in Uganda typically travels three hours in the middle of the night to reach the city where he can access the Internet to participate in the Skype exchange,” says Jackson-Wood. “Once they get beyond the business discussion it turns into a cultural exchange and the students love hearing about the differences between their lives and daily life in parts of Uganda.”

The PEICC has been working with various partners, including the Department of Education, ACOA, and the Credit Unions and Co-op Food stores across P.E.I., to develop a strategy to introduce the program to other schools in the province and it may not stop there.

“We’ve heard recently from different co-operative groups in places like Nova Scotia and Manitoba who are interested in what we have achieved here and bringing it there own school systems,” says MacEwen.

“Not only is there the practical application of knowledge, but there is also all the other elements that come together through this program, the teamwork, accountability, communication and idea sharing that occur naturally as a result could be the real benefits to the students.”