Why I Donate

Michael Barrett, COO, Gay Lea Foods & President, CDF

Although he had been involved in international development projects for many years, Michael Barrett didn’t know much about co-ops until he joined the Gay Lea Foods co-op in 1999. Some years before, he had volunteered 12 weeks to help build a medical clinic in the Dominican Republic. But on a CDF-organized trip to Nepal he was struck by the legacy that co-operative development creates:

“In Nepal I saw similar challenges related to poverty, the treatment of women and the hopelessness of youth that I had seen in the Dominican. But in Nepal I saw something else, too: I saw hope through the co-operative model.”

He elaborates: “During my visits to Nepal, I have seen co-operative communities rally to grow their resources and increase their capacity without additional outside funding – co-ops are effectively leveraging seed funds for long-term sustainability. The co-operative model works!”

Projects that Gay Lea has supported include the development of an education co-op and providing assistance to agricultural co-operatives in El Salvador, allowing them to grow their business in order to provide employment for youth.

Since 2006, Gay Lea Foods has sponsored employees to go on assignments as work teams with CDF/CCA. In 2009, Michael was inspired to initiate a wide-reaching employee engagement program at Gay Lea Foods through which employees donate annually to co-operative development at home and abroad. In 2011, the program, called Genuine Not Just Generous, set a record by raising $85,000!”

Michael explains the company’s motivation to contribute in these ways:

“As a co-op, it’s critically important to engage employees in the commonality of the co-operative model, whether it’s here in Canada or in Nepal or South America. We’re not that different from the person trying to set up a new credit union in Ghana.”

Fundraising is now woven into the fabric of work life at Gay Lea. The primary vehicle is a dollar-a-week payroll deduction. “A dollar is very little – it’s a coffee or a chocolate bar,” Michael points out. “People give more if they can.” Other fundraising events take place at Gay Lea Foods plants and offices and the company supports those initiatives with fun prizes for employees who contribute. “Corporately we spend about $4,000 per year on the program and the rest is raised through employee contributions.”

Michael believes strongly that the culture of giving plays a significant role in employee engagement at Gay Lea Foods. “We have been one of the top 100 employers in Canada two years in a row and our engagement scores are in the top 5% in Canada. Having 600 employees all focused on international co-operative development plays a huge role in that. By engaging and connecting our workforce to international co-op development, we can all live out values that are important to us.”

Learn more about Gay Lea Food’s Genuine Not Just Generous employee giving program at: www.genuinenotjustgenerous.com