Arctic Co-ops shines bright for remote communities

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In Grise Fiord, an Inuit community on the tip of Ellesmere Island, there is one store that provides the 129 or so residents with everything they need. The store gets its supplies through Winnipeg-based Arctic Co-operatives Limited, a service federation owned and controlled by 32 co-operative businesses in Nunavut, Northwest Territories and Yukon.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 15/03/2022 (206 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

In Grise Fiord, an Inuit community on the tip of Ellesmere Island, there is one store that provides the 129 or so residents with everything they need. The store gets its supplies through Winnipeg-based Arctic Co-operatives Limited, a service federation owned and controlled by 32 co-operative businesses in Nunavut, Northwest Territories and Yukon.

“When you think about getting fresh, perishable groceries when it’s 50 below zero, it’s really pretty cool,” says Barry McLeod, vice-president of merchandising and logistics. “Working here, I always think, ‘What would they do if we weren’t there? If we didn’t get our food there, how would they survive?’ ”

Arctic Co-operatives provides a number of different services to help support the economic and social well-being of its members. Those include help with accounting, IT, point of sale, project development, human resources and co-op development, among other things. “That’s what people here really relate to – that what they do makes a difference,” McLeod adds. “I think we’re pretty proud of how it all works out.”

Employees at Arctic Co-ops take part in the 'Stronger Together' campaign.

Being able to help support the isolated Arctic communities was what drew Lorey Appelle to Arctic Co-operatives nine years ago. And the company shone extra bright during the COVID-19 pandemic, she adds, when travelling north became impossible.

Early in the lockdown, Arctic Co-ops sent a laptop installed with Microsoft Teams and other software to each of its stores. “Now we get to have video calls with all the managers up there,” says Appelle, a human resources business partner. “We’ve really adapted to be able to communicate with and support the co-ops a bit better even than before. It’s definitely had a really positive impact.”

Despite the distance between the members and Arctic Co-ops, Appelle adds, there’s a real sense of community, not just in the Winnipeg office “knowing we’re all working together for the greater good,” but also between the home office and the remote communities.

And much of the Winnipeg office’s charitable work is geared toward the Arctic – a hunter’s program, food hampers, support for students and elders in the communities. “The Arctic always comes first,” she says.

But that shared focus does not detract from the strong culture at the home office. “We have what we call our RADDS, which stands for ‘relationships, accountability, development, diversity, and service and support,” explains McLeod. “We lean on those, whenever we make decisions, and for me that’s certainly resonated.”

The company supported its employees in various ways once the COVID-19 pandemic hit, with flexible hours, renovated workstations that provide more protection, upgraded ventilation, a new kitchen and cafeteria – “little things,” McLeod says, “that really made a difference for staff when they wanted to come back.”

It also provides many opportunities for employees to develop both personally and professionally, including a LEAD (leadership engagement and development) program that is open to everyone, a Women in Leadership group, a diversity committee, social activities and, since 2021, Toastmasters.

There is also lots of support for any employee who wants to further their education or take additional training. “People have a personal development plan that they create every year,” McLeod explains, “and management makes sure they’re hitting that and that there’s financial support for courses that will support them.”

The sense of purpose in what they do as well as the support they get doing it probably explains why there are so many long-term employees – one has been in the 50-year-old company for over 30 years.

“It’s a testament to how we treat our people,” McLeod adds. “We’re fair and they’re fair to us.”

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