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Iva Jankovich, 21, Buddy Up, Canada

As first-generation immigrants from former Yugoslavia, my family and I depended greatly on other families, relatives and friends from our home region to help us establish ourselves in a new country where we faced many barriers to economic opportunities. Thus I learned from a young age that co-operation was a form of survival and community building built on reciprocity, trust and mutual aid. These early experiences often led me to engage in organizing neighbourhood events, fundraisers, youth work parties and community activities as a volunteer throughout my life, and eventually to pursue an academic interest in Community Planning during my undergrad at the University of British Columbia (UBC). It was during my undergrad that I chose to do an applied learning program called the Semester in Dialogue at CityStudio out of Simon Fraser University, focused on community engagement and neighbourhood placemaking. At CityStudio I became very interested in the power of neighbour-to-neighbour community organizing to shape the urban environment and strengthen relationships for community resilience. It was also at CityStudio that my project group and I created the early beginnings of the BuddyUp! idea, which would follow me throughout the rest of my life and eventually lead me to my current role as a connector and community organizer working in the co-op sector.

The first time I heard about cooperation as a business model was after graduating from UBC. After several months spent in the desperate and degrading process of looking for a job while trying to support my newfound independence financially after having just “moved out”, co-operation once again saved my life. A group of friends, all recent graduates, who found themselves in a similar situation invited me to join them in forming a digital arts and technology worker co-operative called Eyemole Co-op. When I found out how a co-operative works and discovered businesses and organizations founded on the co-operative principles, I knew I was in the right place. This is what I had been looking for my whole life.

From experimental beginnings as a worker member at numerous Vancouver-based co-ops, I soon developed an interest in the co-operative identity itself. I wanted to explore how the cooperative values and principles can guide successful and resilient co-operative businesses that do good for their members and transform social, economic and political systems for the benefit of broader society. This interest led me to working with the BC Co-operative Association (BCCA) as the Co-operative Education Coordinator, where I have the fantastic job of “pitching” the co-operative difference to aspiring entrepreneurs and helping them ideate co-operative business models. As a provincial co-operative association, BCCA is the steward of co-operative identity for the BC region and plays a vital role in facilitating Education, Training and Information(P5) and Co-operation Among Co-operatives (P6). In 2020, I began a Masters of Management, Co-operatives and Credit Unions program at Saint Mary’s University, where I am developing a research interest in Co-operative Among Co-operatives (P6) as a strategic advantage for co-ops, as well as other interests around immigrant co-operatives, youth co-operatives, and co-operatives connecting diaspora communities of former Yugoslavia. 

My BuddyUp! project has followed me throughout this exciting journey into the world of co-operatives. In 2021, BuddyUp! incorporated as a worker co-operative: a team of designers, artists, developers, and community organizers that creates tools to connect and empower communities and their members. Based on the original BuddyUp! concept, our digital and in-person tools facilitate the relationships that are at the core of a co-operative society – collaborating across our differences, sharing in our resiliencies, and showing up for each other to meet our common needs and aspirations. We will be launching the first version of our BuddyUp! platform very soon in partnership with several Canadian co-operative associations, which will soon be extended globally to facilitate Cooperation Among Co-operatives (P6) and strengthen our global co-operative identity.