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the Centre for Learning, Social Economy and Work at OISE, the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto

The Conversion to Cooperatives Project (CoopConvert)

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Project overview

The Conversion to Cooperatives Project (CoopConvert) aims to better understand business conversion to cooperatives (BCCs) as outlets for saving jobs, addressing business succession needs, and creating new cooperatives across Canada. It does so by creating knowledge, building capacity, and enhancing sustainable cross-sectoral networks that should be of interest to the cooperative movement, policy makers, retiring business owners, unions, local communities, and all working people in Canada and internationally. Ultimately, the CoopConvert Project aspires to grasp more fully the BCC model in Canada and to explore how BCCs could be more compelling for Canadian business owners, workers, policy makers, and communities.
The project brings together two of Canada’s leading research centres for cooperative and social economy research – the University of Toronto’s Centre for Learning, Social Economy, & Work (CLSEW) and the Université de Sherbrooke’s Institut de recherche et d’éducation pour les coopératives et les mutuelles (IRECUS) – with the cooperative development expertise of the national federation – Co-operatives and Mutuals Canada (CMC).
The CoopConvert Project is funded by the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada’s (SSHRC) Partnership Development Grants, and supports the objectives of SSHRC’s Insight and Connection programs.


A major challenge for Canada’s 1.17 million small- and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) is large-scale closures due to the growing number of retiring owners that lack a formal succession plan; it is estimated that only between 9% and 25% of the current 500,000 retirement-aged owners have a succession plan (Bruce & Wong, 2012; CBC, 2011; ISED, 2016; Israelson, 2017). Should this wave of SME closures occur, jobs and the socio-economic well being of communities will be threatened (Blackwell, 2015); indeed, estimates suggest that over one third of the private sector workforce will be affected (Parkinson et al., 2015). Retiring owners usually seek private-sector purchasers, but another option is business conversions to cooperatives (BCCs), which include worker cooperatives (with employees as the members), multi-stakeholder cooperatives (with employees, investors, and consumers as members), or other employee ownership models (Jensen, 2011; Lingane & Rieger, 2015; Quarter & Brown, 1992; Vieta, 2016a). The research on BCCs shows that they save jobs and preserve the productive capacities of communities (Sanchez Bajo & Roelants, 2011; Vieta et al., 2017; Vieta, 2019; Zevi et al., 2011), but BCCs generally fly under the radar in Canada. While Canada has had some successful experiences of BCCs through the leadership of local community developers and cooperative sector federations (Coté, 2007; CCA, 2009; CMC, 2017; CWCF, 2005; Quarter, 1995), the model’s potential is mostly untapped.


The CoopConvert project and partnership has been formed to conduct research, mobilize knowledge, create capacity, and influence policy in order to create awareness of the cooperative option for business succession or for SMEs that are otherwise closing. It particularly aspires to understand why BCCs are not more compelling for Canadian SME owners who are retiring, to explore and map the organizational and contextual dynamics of the few BCCs that have formed in Canada, and to better grasp why and how BCCs are beneficial for sustaining jobs and for the socio-economic well being of local economies and communities. Responding to SSHRC’s “Imagining Canada’s Future” challenge area “New ways of learning for an evolving society and labour market,” the project’s two key objectives are:
  • Objective 1: to identify the necessary enabling environments for BCCs in Canada (SSHRC Insight goals).
  • Objective 2: to build capacity for BCCs in partnership with Co-operatives and Mutuals Canada (SSHRC Connection goals).

This project is supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.

To learn more about this project:



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Contact Us

If you're interested in learning more about the project, please email Marcelo Vieta at marcelo.vieta@utoronto.ca.




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