Allied Community and Co-operative Shared Services (ACCESS) is “a shared service nonprofit co-operative specifically formed to provide professional administrative back-office support for social purpose organizations”. The newly started nonprofit co-operative provides professional administrative back-office support for social purpose organizations, like co-ops and non-profits. ACCESS currently offers services for:
- Managed office IT services
- Website development
- Website hosting (including our hosting company https://cantrusthosting.coop/)
- Human Resources
If you’re interested in finding out more about ACCESS and its service offerings check out their website https://sharedservices.coop/
ACCESS was born of the collective efforts the Alberta Community Co-operative Association (ACCA), British Columbia Co-operative Association (BCCA), Volunteer Alberta (VA), Econocoop. Their goal is to provide member organizations with the variety of services they need to be successful. There are no additional fees except to pay for the services used. This is an easy way to find all the experts for your co-op or non-profit needs and saves you the time of not having to search and vet your own experts. They truly are living the 6th co-operative principle of Co-operation among Co-operatives.
Each For All’s Robin Puga sat down with Danielle Hastings, Operations and Members Services manager, and Corinne Remple, Director of Shared Services, to find out more about this innovative new co-op; have a listen.
Transcript (starts at 00:28)
Corinne Remple: We keep practicing Principle Six, right? It’s almost like something that we say almost every day. I mean, that’s what we’re doing, right? We’re building community through collaboration. And I think that’s kind of that tagline that we we’re really hanging on to. And I’m sure if we all decided to get matching tattoos, that that’s probably what it would say.
Robin Puga: That was Corinne Remple, Director of Shared Services at Access Shared Services Co-op. She was speaking about the drive behind why they formed this innovative new third tier co-op. Allied Community and Cooperative Shared Services, that’s ACCESS, is a shared services nonprofit cooperative specifically formed to provide professional administrative back office support for social purpose organizations. Access was born of the collective efforts of the Alberta Community Cooperative Association, the ACCA, the British Columbia Co-operative Association, Volunteer Alberta, and Éconocoop.
Their goal is to provide members of these organizations with a variety of services, including accounting, legal, and managed office I.T. services, website development, website hosting, and human resources. And there will be more services offered into the future. There are no additional fees except to pay for the services used. I think their website sums it up best. It allows social purpose organizations to focus on what they do best. I sat down with Danielle Hastings, Operations and Member Services Manager, and Corinne Remple, Director of Shared Services. We talked about this new cooperative and what it’s all about. Let’s have a listen.
Corinne Remple: So basically, ACCESS is a shared services platform and it provides a collective of professional services that are aligned with co-ops, nonprofits and other social purpose organizations. And we just have been working on this for the last year and a half. And the kind of the backstory to ACCESS — I was approached by the ED at ACCA, the Alberta Community Cooperative Association, and I was asked if I would be interested in writing a grant. And I think I was a month into the job there, and I wasn’t quite sure what I knew about co-ops and, you know, even writing a grant application at that level. But once I saw what the grant was for, I was like, “You know what? I actually really like the whole heart behind this.”
Having worked in a nonprofit setting for many years, I think capacity — stretching employees beyond their capacity, expecting them to do maybe a little bit more than what they were trained for, or where their passions lie — that was always a piece that I always kind of argued about at the leadership table, or advocated for, like, “why is our bookkeeper writing a newsletter? You know, that’s not what they’re excited about.” Or just because so-and-so is really good at computers, it doesn’t make them an IT provider, or a network specialist, or even a website builder. So trying to say, you know, kind of put some stops on there, but knowing that sometimes it’s just a hard job to to win. So this grant was through the Civil Society Fund in Alberta, and wrote the application, and ACCESS was born.
Robin Puga: And so you’ve kind of laid out a few of the services that that ACCESS is going to offer. Can you maybe kind of give us a bit more of the details about — this is for organizations to join ACCESS, and then get access to a whole myriad of different shared services.
Corinne Remple: Right. So believe it or not, we did struggle with the ACCESS accessing point. So we use obtaining services through ACCESS. That’s the phrase that we’ve landed on.
Danielle Hastings: I think I could jump—
Corinne Remple: There you go.
Danielle Hastings: I can jump in here and talk about how you join. So currently we have four executive members, BCCA, ACCA, Volunteer Alberta, and Éconocoop. And we are actively working to grow our executive members, hopefully to ten by March 2023. And any social service organization that is a member of one of our executive members is able to obtain services through ACCESS. In addition to that, the members of those members are also able to obtain services. So it’s a bit of a tongue twister, but members of our executive member groups — and then also the members of those members — are able to obtain services through ACCESS.
Robin Puga: And so it’s kind of like a — almost it’s not even second tier, it’s like third tier membership or something. That’s great. And then do you pay for membership or are you kind of able to get access to the services through your relationship with the other entities?
Danielle Hastings: There is no additional fees to the members of our executive member group. Once an executive member joins us, their members, and the members of their members, are able to obtain services. They pay for the services they use, but there’s no additional dues.
Robin Puga: Cool. Well, I’m sure a lot of people will be happy to hear that. I mean, we are in the early days here for ACCESS shared services. How has the how has the start gone? Who’s getting involved? What’s this looking like for you right now?
Corinne Remple: Yeah, I think that’s been a real journey for us. Just trying to wrestle through what each service looks like and how it’s launched and how we’re supporting our clients. It’s different for every service. So it’s almost like launching another business. And I believe we are seven services in. So, you know, it’s just been a bit of a trial and error. I would say that we are definitely in a groove now. Our first couple client onboarding/piloting opportunities were a bit rough, but through that we were really able to — I think, I feel build some really good supports and processes that have really helped streamline and make people feel that, you know, we’re able to support them efficiently and effectively and just kind of leave no inquiry behind.
Robin Puga: Awesome. You mentioned there’s quite a few services: seven in the works. I’d be curious to know what those services are that are going to be offered right now.
Danielle Hastings: Sure. So we currently have our Phase One services fully operating, and that includes accounting, legal, and managed IT. Our Phase two services, which are just being launched as we speak, are website development, website hosting and also HR. And we have a few other things that are percolating but not quite finalized.
Robin Puga: When thinking about ACCESS Shared Services, I am reminded of federations, for example the Co-operative Housing Federation. They do that similar model for all the housing co-ops in B.C. — say for the Co-op Housing Federation of B.C. — they do have access to some shared services, and bulk buying, and other things like that. Do you kind of envision, or did you model ACCESS off of that federated model, or how do you see that related?
Corinne Remple: Yeah, so that’s a great question. So ACCESS is a— I’m going to say it’s a shared services— but it’s a nonprofit co-op. So we specifically set it up in that way. And we are also federally registered as of this past June. And I think we felt that this was the best way for us to leave room for our board to give back and build capacity for the organizations, the co-ops, the nonprofits that we’re trying to support.
Also, we feel like we keep we keep practicing Principle Six, right? And it’s almost like something that we say almost every day. I mean, that’s what we’re doing, right? We’re building community through collaboration. And I think that’s kind of that tagline that we were really hanging on to. And I’m sure if we all decided to get matching tattoos, that that’s probably what it would say.
Robin Puga: And so through ACCESS and the different services, are you able to then through I guess, just the economy of scale, is the intention to be able to offer sort of discounted services?
Corinne Remple: Yeah, so for us I think the important thing that we were kind of focusing on is— you know, originally when we did the research about “what’s a shared services,” you know and— truth be told, there was four of us sitting around the table, a virtual table, mind you, and saying, “You know what? We’re not really sure.” So we needed to do a little bit of research about what is a shared services model. And we started asking, and doing research online.
And it didn’t actually seem very promising at the get-go. It seemed like a lot of the shared services models just didn’t have success. And I think the important thing for us was, you know— I think originally we were talking about it maybe being a way to save money cost effective, right? A year in to service delivery, what we’re seeing now is it’s because we don’t have the numbers to say, “Oh yeah, you’re going to save 30% through ACCESS.”
What we can say is because we are using aligned service providers who understand those needs of your organization, plus we’re providing a fractional staff member who can step in and lean some expertise, and probably get the task done quicker and more efficiently. There’s kind of those cost savings that are maybe not necessarily easy to quantify, right? I’d love to say in two years time we’ll have some stats behind us to say, “Yeah, we can save you X amount of money,” so—
Robin Puga: Well, I would imagine out of the gate, it’s really nice to just know there is a kind of one stop shop for the type of stuff you’re looking for. If you are indeed an organization that can’t, or doesn’t necessarily know all the things that they might need, and doesn’t have to do all their own independent research and all of that.
Corinne Remple: Right. And I think that’s the important part, is let us be your expert. So one of the things that we’re really leaning on is bringing a department lead in who we would say is an expert, or very qualified in their field. And they’re helping us develop that service so they know what the potential needs are, and being able to adopt it, and kind of fit it into what we’re trying to provide here.
So, exactly right. Not having to search, and dig, and try and, you know, vet your own expert, that definitely saves a bit of time and energy as well.
Robin Puga: So, I mentioned earlier I’d been at the Canadian Worker Co-op Federation Conference — and I saw lots of brochures around for ACCESS — and I was curious, have you had a lot of inquiries since you got off the ground, and now the website’s up and— yeah, how is the progress going?
Danielle Hastings: We are busy. We are continuously getting inquiries not only for clients, but for service providers as well. So we’re continuously looking to grow our offerings and onboarding more clients. And as even existing businesses are converting to co-operative models, or current cooperatives or non-profits are losing staff to retirement, they are reaching out to us to utilize our shared services platform.
Robin Puga: And so where you offer services for those emerging co-ops, are you seeing a connection with co-op developers as well?
Corinne Remple: Seems like a natural fit, right, Danny?
Danielle Hastings: It does. Absolutely.
Corinne Remple: We know some people.
Robin Puga: Yes, I bet.
Corinne Remple: Because we work closely with ACCA, the Alberta Community Co-operative Association and the B.C. Co-operative Association, I would say yes, we do know some people and definitely those connections are happening, and introductions. In fact, Elvie from BCCA is probably one of our biggest— well, I would say Elvie and Paul are probably two of our biggest connectors, introducing us to people who potentially use our services.
Robin Puga: Nice. And you had mentioned that you are connected with other social economy organizations — I think Volunteer Alberta is one of the organizations you’re connected with — do people need different offerings, or are they generally pretty much the same needs for cooperatives and other non-profits?
Corinne Remple: Yeah, I would say yes. Danny, would you agree?
Danielle Hastings: I would say that, yes, they need the same services. The specialization or the uniqueness of that organization is different between the two. But we are vetting professionals that have specialized in the corporate field, as well as in the nonprofit area. So we’re looking to take care of everyone.
Robin Puga: And is that a hard thing, to find experts in the cooperative field these days?
Corinne Remple: I would say it’s a bit easier within the co-op field/space right now than the nonprofit.
Robin Puga: Interesting.
Corinne Remple: It just seems like— well, I think it’s those co-op principles that are keeping us all entwined and working collaboratively, because it seems like if we don’t know somebody, then somebody knows somebody and is able to put us there really quickly. And yet the nonprofit sector just seems a little bit more— maybe less communicative. I don’t know if that’s— Yeah, like there’s less maybe conversations happening, or maybe we just haven’t found the right people yet. So we’re hoping to dig in that as well. But it just seems like the co-op principles are definitely helping us.
Robin Puga: Yeah, for sure. And then, I am curious to hear where do you see this going? I don’t know if you wrote that into your your grant application originally, but yeah, where do you see yourself in two, in five, in ten years here, with ACCESS?
Corinne Remple: Yeah. That actually now almost takes my breath away, when we think two years, five years, ten years. So, yeah. So maybe while I catch my breath. Danny, do you want to lean into the answer?
Danielle Hastings: Yes, absolutely. I would like to see, obviously, us having more services available. Growing our team to be able to help other organizations. Be able to offer sponsorship, or maybe giving back to some organizations that have that need and aren’t able to obtain those services on their own. I think there’s a lot of room for us to grow, and I’m just really excited to be part of the team.
Corinne Remple: Yeah. And I would echo what Danny says. And I also think the capacity building is really important to me. And so, for example, you know, for a co-op that’s starting out to maybe be able to have some sort of package support that says, you know, here’s here’s some services that we’ve grouped together that are going to help you put your co-op business in on its best foot. So that’s one thing that’s on my back burner for sure.
And I love the idea of being able to support organizations that perhaps can’t fully fund themselves, but desperately need that opportunity to scale up and have those professional supports. You know, like a thousand, $3,000 may not sound like a lot of money to some of us, but to some organizations, you know, you might as well be asking for $1,000,000. So how can we support others to access— to obtain services through ACCESS?
Robin Puga: I guess I kind of missed asking the question earlier, but how do you make money? How does ACCESS accumulate that wealth, that then you can offer people packages like that in the future?
Corinne Remple: So. Well, that’s a good question. We definitely have a plan to make money, and we now have a great revenue calculator that helps us determine the rates and how we can charge a fair market rate, but also save a little bit of money, you know, from the service providers fees to support our work. And our internal processes aren’t huge. Like we, you know, we have— there’s two of us, kind of thing, trying to put this together, that are directly paid through ACCESS, so that’s keeping our costs down. You know, we don’t have an office space. We are really working virtually, our team members are across Canada.
So, you know, we meet, we support, we drive the initiatives forward, and we do that all virtually. We’ve pretty much charted this, and built this thing virtually. So that’s pretty impressive. And yeah, I’m just— just yeah, just kind of reviewing, revising as we go along and going, okay, this isn’t going to work. So now we need to kind of square-one it.
Robin Puga: Well, it sounds like you do have a lot of work to do. So is it really the two of you that got this all off the ground and rolling?
Corinne Remple: Yeah. So we have a steering committee originally, and there was a number of members that were on the steering committee, some co-op members from ACCA, BCCA, as well as Volunteer Alberta. And then we had a couple of groups back east. The Consortium and the Éconocoop helped support the initial leadership. And at the very start there was myself and a staff member from Volunteer Alberta. That was kind of we were calling the boots on the ground, and we quickly grew to another kind of part time project manager. And then we brought Danny on in August. So I guess technically there’s four bodies, but maybe together we compile to two full time positions, maybe two and a half.
Robin Puga: Yeah, I think that’s how a lot of people make it happen. I think I’ve asked everything that I wanted to, except I’d be curious to tell people how they can get connected with ACCESS.
Danielle Hastings: Well, you can go to our website, sharedservices.coop. We’re also on Instagram, LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter. But if anyone is interested in obtaining services through ACCESS, go to our website. It’s quite easy to fill out a client or service provider intake form, and we are happy to start that process.
Robin Puga: And that’s it. Well, thank you so much for your time today and for sharing the story. Thanks so much.
Corinne Remple: Thank you.
Robin Puga: That was Danielle Hastings, Operations and Member Services Manager, and Corinne Remple, Director of Shared Services from Allied Community and Cooperative Shared Services cooperative or ACCESS. The newly formed shared services nonprofit Cooperative is providing professional administrative back end support for social purpose organizations like co-ops and nonprofits. If you’re interested in finding out more about ACCESS and its service offerings, you can check out their website at www.sharedservices.coop.
As mentioned in the interview, ACCESS is offering to connect you with service providers such as accounting, legal, managed office IT services, website development, website hosting, and human resources experts. In fact, under the website hosting services CanTrust Hosting Cooperative, my worker co-op, has just been listed as one of ACCESS’s service providers. We’re pretty excited about that.
They were federally incorporated in June 2022, and their goal is to give back to the co-op and nonprofit sectors by helping all of those people in that sector build capacity in their organizations. So whether you’re a large or small, mature or just starting out organization, access can help connect you with experts. This also means you don’t have to search and vet your own experts, and this will save you, likely, a lot of time. They truly are looking to live that sixth cooperative principle of cooperation among cooperatives. We really look forward to seeing where they take it from here.
And that’s it for us here on EachForAll, the Cooperative Connection. I’m your host, Robin Puga, and you’re listening to Vancouver Co-op Radio CFRO 100.5 FM in Vancouver, live online at coopradio.org, or you might be listening at Kootenai Co-op Radio, CJLY 93.5 FM in Nelson, B.C. Thank you for listening. Tune in next week for more updates and news from the co-ops and social economy sectors. We’ll leave you tonight with the Good Lovelies, with their song ‘Free,’ on Vancouver Co-op Radio.