The On Co-op Blog

(Apparently I’m all about pop–or un-pop–culture references in my titles now.)

The day is winding down, my list of tasks to frantically finish is dwindling, and after a quick clean-up my desk is looking fairly sparse. It’s the final two hours of my internship.

The last thing I want to say from this particular soapbox is thanks. Thanks to On Co-op for the opportunity and for the skills I’m walking away with. Thanks to co-ops for working to include ethics and sustainability in their business goals alongside profit. And thanks to the readership who has followed me through twenty-six weeks of blogging, fifty-eight posts, and a whole lot of rambling interspersed with inanity (and a few verbal hijinks, of course). It’s been fun, challenging, and educational in equal measure.

Good night, god bless, and may time bring us all our fondest hopes.

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It’s time for a little retrospect. I promise I won’t go all maudlin on you, but this being the last week of my internship it seems unavoidable to write about lessons learned, skills developed, co-operations co-operated.

In the early stages of my internship, I often had trouble saying what I did in a day, because it was all variations on a theme: I updated the website. (That entailed a huge variety of activities in itself, of course, but I hate to bog people down with details.) Now, though, I find that I have quite a list to walk away with. I oversaw the launch of a new website; I edited and created hundreds of pages of online content; I created a holiday guide (using graphic design skills I didn’t know I had); I developed a promotional video; I created newsletters, brochures, guidebooks, images, and the occasional tweet; and I blogged until my metaphorical fingers bled. (Also, there was a heck of a lot of data entry–but, for the sake of my sanity, I’m not going to dwell on that.) I got a good long look into what goes into corporate communications, and learned that I can do it.

Whether I will continue to do it is still up in the air. But I’m excited about where these skills can take me; I’ve begun exploring possibilities of starting up something independent with my creative work, and everything I’ve learned here can help me get that ball rolling. I have a great love and respect of the arts–which are, like co-ops, underfunded and under-respected in Canada at the moment–and am eager to see what my new copywriting and communicating prowess can do to help.

And that, I think, is high praise for this program: after my six months with On Co-op, I feel better able to do the work I want to do in the world. I don’t ask for any more than that.

I only have three posts left before I leave the On Co-op bloggership, and I’ve started to think about how I might best use my remaining time. I’ve certainly learned a lot here, and that will show up in my blogging next week, but this position is about me influencing the co-op sector as much as it’s about the co-op sector influencing me. I’d like to leave an interesting thought or two to bounce around co-operative heads once I’m gone.

The first thought, though, isn’t mine. It belongs to Tom Klein Beernink of the Guelph Campus Co-op who, in a meeting on marketing possibilities for IYC, pleaded, “Make it funny.” This plea has stuck with me, recurring to me in a variety of circumstances. I’ve seen a lot of sincere, thoughtful, concerned and even touching marketing from co-ops, but very little that tickles the ribcage. I think Tom was right–it’s time for co-op comedy.

I’d go further too: don’t just make it funny, make it downright silly. Whimsical, off-the-cuff, snappy, brilliant. A lot of co-ops seem to be very traditional in their public persona, striving for a professional image. But co-ops are an alternative to the prevalent business model, bucking trends and upsetting norms. You need a little irreverence to start a revolution. Besides, I’ve never subscribed to the notion that seriousness equals better work; most of the things that I’m genuinely passionate about in my life are also the things that make me laugh the most.

When not aiming for a shiny, polished image, co-ops often try to market themselves with reference to their ethical natures–and they should continue to do so, since that’s their best feature. But private businesses, ethical and otherwise, have been riding the wave of ethical concern for a while now, and that doesn’t always make co-ops stand out. As more and more companies lie or spin stories about their morals, more and more people grow sceptical of these claims.

I say cracking a smile now and then wouldn’t hurt. It might make co-ops look ridiculous from time to time–but let’s face it, we actually are ridiculous a great deal of the time. I say it’s time to celebrate that.

Make it funny. Ironically, it might make people take us more seriously as an alternative.

First off, I owe my readership an apology. On Friday I was into some big projects and, in trying to wrap everything up, the end of the day came and went before I’d had a chance to blog. I pride myself on the consistency (and sometimes the inanity) of this blog; today, I am not so proud.

In the near future, though, my contributions to this blog will come to a close; including today’s entry, I will be blogging four more times before my internship ends. That means that (hopefully), a new voice will be joining me here soon, and then continuing the good work of traveloguing the inner workings of On Co-op.

That new voice may potentially come from one of the two new interns in the office–Shoshannah, who will be working with Kerr, and Jeremy, Audrey’s new compatriot in the government-relations mines. It’s exciting to see new people enter the office–fresh ideas seemed to waft in the doorway in their wake–but it also means that we’re packed in here like sardines for the next couple of weeks. You can’t enter the hallway without tripping over one of us interns. I wonder what will come out of this pressure-cooker of co-operation.

(Speaking of sardines, I’m apparently in a metaphorical mood this morning–there are more similes and metaphors in that last paragraph than there are interns in the office.)

The end of the internship is starting to loom. I’ve been aware of it before, but now it’s starting to invade my personal space, peek over my shoulder at my computer screen (“Is answering that email really the best use of your remaining time?”) and breathe down the back of my neck. Altogether rude.

Before it really gets pushy, though, I’ve got a task that has me looking backwards a lot: I’m creating a user’s guide to On Co-op’s website, so that when I go I won’t be leaving them in an online shambles. Since my role here has been so tied into the new website, it feels a bit like writing the very, very long and detailed answer to “So, what exactly do you do here?” At the same time as the future is looming, I’m having to poke around in my memory from the past months, and I’m left with the odd feeling that past and future are both starting to crowd me.

But the task is actually quite a rewarding one for me. I’ve always enjoyed teaching, and this is a chance to share my hard-won knowledge of the website framework: its hidden features, areas where it tends to be stubborn or contrary, the kinds of choices it offers you. It’s a bit like writing an animal husbandry manual, now that I think about it. And it’s a good reminder that these have indeed been packed months, and I’ve learned a great deal.

And yes, End of Internship, I’m almost done blogging so I can return to other tasks. But this is important too.

Today I’m going to indulge in a little promotion. Not self-promotion, mind; that stuff makes my skin crawl.

As other blog posts have mentioned, I have some issues with advertising writing; but in communications, that’s a large part of what I do. Here’s the good side, though. There are some causes, organizations, and topics that I could ramble on about endlessly, vociferously, exuberantly, and never feel like I’m misusing language or people’s attention. (exempli gratia: I mentioned the Co-operating for Fair Trade campaign a while ago, but I wish I could mention it every day)

Today, I’d like to share my current favourite website:

I found out about 1% for the Planet through the last newsletter, where we had a story on MEC‘s involvement, which had them handing out community grants for environmental projects by the bucketload. To get the 1% for the Planet stamp, companies agree to donate 1% of sales to environmental organizations. It’s a completely simple, entirely brilliant idea. And the more I read about them, the more I’m convinced they’re doing it for all the right reasons. (And I quote, “It’s about businesses recognizing that industry and ecology are inherently connected.” Well said, sir and madams.)

Initiatives like this make me want to start up my own business, just so I can join.

Also, they have a Chief Canine Officer.

I’ve decided to start the day with a blog, rather than save it for the end–as I’ve mentioned before, that often ends up with rushed writing.

As of today, there are four weeks left in my internship. This means I’m well into the job-hunting process, trying to make it so that by the end of March the “what” in “What comes next” is a relative pronoun rather than an interrogative. I’m beginning to appreciate the aptness of the hunting metaphor as well; searching for employment in Ontario at the moment is something like scanning a vast unfriendly wilderness, looking for hidden signs of game to pursue. Except in this case, 7.8% of the population is out hunting full-time, which means that by the time you spot a tasty-looking hare, there are usually twelve other hunters trying to wrestle it to the ground.

And now I’m disturbing myself with my own hunting imagery (that poor little hare has a warren of leverets, after all), so I’ll move on.

I’ve been reading articles lately about the increasing length of the work week post-recession (without an increase in paid time, of course). As a new father, the division between work and personal time has become sacrosanct to me. I’m happy to say this hasn’t been a problem for On Co-op; they permitted, even encouraged, me to rush home at the end of the day to spend time with my family. But I’m beginning to understand that not all organizations have the same concept of boundaries that On Co-op does. For the moment, having a sense of life-balance may not help me get a job. (But, of course, it will help me stay sane in the long run.)

Things may be simultaneously bleak and crowded on the hunting grounds, but I’ve got another month and a good team here at On Co-op looking out for me; for now, “What comes next” still ends in a question mark.

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