What I’ve Gained as a Young Professional Sitting on Co-op Boards

by Kristy vanBeek, Karma Co-op President

In December 2013, I moved into a housing co-op in the heart of downtown Toronto. At the time, I was a busy consultative business to business sales professional, and I was very grateful for the privilege of a coveted spot in a housing co-operative downtown Toronto. At the time, I knew very little about cooperatives, their history, or how they were organized. I heard that it was a duty of the members to attend each Annual General Meeting, and so I did. I loved being tapped into my community, and the opportunity to meet and greet with my neighbours and fellow co-opers. 

Early on I was encouraged to run for the board, and initially I couldn’t commit the time. I finally ran in 2016, and have been on an intensive learning curve ever since, having served in roles ranging from director at large, to staff liaison, to vice-president, and president. It’s incredible to reflect on what I have learned in the past four years, and to look ahead to see how this experience might shape my future, both personally and professionally. 

As with many not-for-profit organizations, co-operative organizations are run by a dedicated group of volunteers who govern the co-op, and are responsible for setting policy and developing a strategic plan. By devoting time to volunteer opportunities on boards, I have received valuable training and practice in governance and the role of boards, reviewing financial reports, budgeting and financial planning, understanding the various considerations to maintaining capital assets, understanding risk and legal liabilities, marketing and communications, and human resources. Although I had some experience in these areas coming into this experience, it can be rare to get the opportunity to have oversight of all areas of a business within a work environment, unless you are a director already or an entrepreneur. The beauty of working within a strong team of directors is that you don’t have to be an expert in all areas – we are a team and we work together to find the right path for the organization. 

By far the best thing about participating in the board at Karma is the people. I have met so many incredible individuals who dedicate time to this amazing gem of a co-op, and I am continually impressed and amazed by the community within Karma. 

I encourage any members wishing to expand their professional repertoire to get involved with Karma! We will welcome you with open arms, and look forward to having new ideas at our next onboarding happening Saturday, November 14th.