A World of Possibilities: Youthful and Useful Co-operative Information on the Internet

The Internet is like a vast library where keystrokes can scan shelves of books in moments and mouse clicks will propel you through seemingly infinite floors of information. But it is also a confusing maze with masses of information organized in disparate fashion. Embarking on what seems like a quick search can result in hours of frustrated flipping between this page and that, search engines and endless lists of links. Finding information on the Internet can be akin to searching for lost money in the sand.

Yet, the Internet is a potent resource, and over the past few weeks I have found tomes of information about co-operatives from around the world. I have been searching for co-operative information that is relevant to youth in order to help put together a useful nexus or entry point for youth seeking co-operative information on the Internet. Soon, this information will be available in the Cooperative Learning Centre website: www.learningcentre.coop.

As I careen through cyberspace I am learning about the enigmatic place of the Internet in our lives. It provides a space for so many different types of engagement. In order to effectively glean information from this resource, we will need to explore and understand the different roles and uses that the Internet is home to.

In the following paragraphs I have reflected upon my own Internet journey, with the hopes of providing a starting place for others, particularly young people, searching for co-operative information.

If we understand our computers as portals, or doorways, we may understand the complexity of what is possible in virtual media. Just as I can walk through the door of my local library, I can open an online book search. By the same token, I may also use the computer portal to enter into a specific subculture, such as that of the UBC Bike Co-op, an experience that is the virtual equivalent of walking through the door into a bustling bike repair shop.

Unlike libraries, computers provide leisure opportunities alongside work, research and information gathering. During my searches for information on youth in co-operatives, I was continually compelled to embark on more playful experiences of interaction with my Internet exploration. Compelled to seek out photographs of far away places, or read reviews of recently released movies, I was beckoned towards taking a step in differing directions. Sometimes I did follow these whims, and more often than not found myself suddenly immersed in a totally different experience from which I had considerable difficultly disengaging, let alone finding my way back to the co-op website which I had left. Such diversions are a great risk – or a great pleasure – of research on the Internet…even for the most die-hard co-operative enthusiast.

The usefulness of the Internet, and the path with you should walk down to get what you need, varies based on the type and location of the information that you seek.

For instance, if you were hoping to find information on Student Housing Co-operatives in Canada, you could begin at the Co-operative Housing Federation of Canada (www.chfc.ca). Or, equally you could search for the university you are planning to attend and then search their site for references to co-op housing. But sometimes it is more exciting and more fruitful to cast a wider net.

Recently, I did a Google.ca search for “co-operative housing” and found an amazing site about an equally amazing housing co-operative at the University of California, Berkeley Campus. Seeing evidence of the community that the Berkeley Co-op had created reminded me of the importance of the relationships that we build with our neighbours. I was so struck by the Berkeley example (it is a testament to the quality of their website that they were able to communicate something as ephemeral as a sense of community) that I am now considering attending that University: at least, I am now looking into Housing Co-operatives more seriously, and they comprise a much greater factor in my evaluation of prospective universities.

Other sites that turned up were the Guelph Campus COOP and the Neill-Wycik Co-op Residence. And, through the lists of links on these sites, I found many additional housing co-operatives throughout North America.

Finding co-operative information on a less well-developed subject, or in a country without as extensive Internet networks as Canada and the U.S., can be challenging. An important hint is to find main hub pages in the country, be they government websites, or even travel websites, and to search those sites. Generally, governments and large companies who are in the business of providing information have extensive databases of companies and organizations and their contact information. This is a great way to get a phone number or email address: the first big lead in your search. Other ways include checking out the International Co-operative Association Website at www.ica.coop, and soon, the Co-op Learning Centre, www.learningcentre.coop.

In general, it is important to stop and think about the information which you are seeking before you set out on your Internet journey. Blindly plunging into the Internet portal is a sure-fire way to end up engrossed in something totally unrelated to your current search, or aimlessly flipping through page after page of visually stimulating, but mostly unrelated information.

You must ask yourself: What am I looking for? Where would this information be hosted? How can I best get to that source? These questions will lead you to where you need to go. Here is an example:

    1. What am I looking for? A farming co-operative in Africa.
    1.  Where Should I begin? The co-operative probably does not have its own website, but a quick search on Google.ca (type in “Africa and co-operative and farming”) will make sure.
    1. Where will this information be hosted? It is likely that international organisations may have been involved with this co-operative through funding or support. Go to the ICA website (www.ica.coop), and also search the International Labour Organisation (www.ilo.org), and the United Nations (www.un.org). Through these searches you may find a report with the name and country of an African farming cooperative.
    1. How can I best get to the source? Just in case, always search for the name of the co-operative – you never know, it may come up. If this fails, search the country and you will find either a government website or another large website. Begin searching these websites for the name of the group that you have found, or the words cooperative and/or farming. Most times, after a few tries at each of these stages, you will be able to find a co-operative that fits the parameters of your original goal.

Contacting the co-operative you have found will often lead to important information that can be useful in finding more co-operatives. Again the important thing is to prepare beforehand and ask the right questions. If you were to contact an African farming co-operative you may want to ask them who they work with, if they know of any similar co-operatives, how they got started – did any organizations help them? How can those organizations be reached? And so on.

Finding co-operatives on the Internet can be as easy as asking the right questions, or as hard as spending hours of aimless wandering.

Erik HaenselErik Haensel is a researcher with the British Columbia Institute for Co-operative Studies and is registered in a History and Environmental Studies programme at the University of Victoria.


Creator - Author(s) Name and Title(s): 
Erik Haensel
Publication Information: 
Youth Reinventing Co-operatives: Young Perspectives on the International Co-operative Movement – (Eds.) Robin Puga, Julia Smith, and Ian MacPherson
Thursday, January 1, 2009
Publisher Information: 
New Rochdale Press, British Columbia Institute for Co-operative Studies