Lessons on Co-op Leadership

  29 March 2022

"I hope they will find inspiration from these shared stories and experiences as I have, and make us all stronger for continued growth in the sector." —Tiffany Duzita
To mark International Women’s Day earlier this month, we turned the Scoop spotlight to three women who have blazed a groundbreaking trail in the community housing sector.

As leaders in the Co-operative Housing Federation of BC, Community Land Trust and COHO Management Services Society, these women are well-known innovators who have forged a path of success, raising the profile of the co-op housing movement and mentoring the next generation of co-op leaders.

In this edition of Scoop, we hear from Michelle Cooper-Iversen, Halina Kuras and Tiffany Duzita as they reflect on their careers and share their top leadership tips.

 

Michelle Cooper Iversen

Chief Operating Officer, CHF BC

 

 

Q: You’ve risen to success in the co-op housing sector – how have the co-operative principles shaped your career?

Great question. If you walk into my office, you will see a poster of the 7 co-operative principles (pdf); it keeps me focused and helps me navigate different situations. I believe they can be used to guide anyone to be a great leader: Open and Voluntary Membership – I see as making room for everyone, equally; Democratic Control – I see as getting feedback into decision-making in a fair and equitable manner; Autonomy and Independence – I am part of a team but I am also responsible for myself, my contributions to the team and putting my best self forward for the good of the team; and, Education and Training – well, you get the drift.

This year, I am celebrating my 15th year with CHF BC 🎉 and while this journey may have started as a great career opportunity, it quickly became so much more than that. I’ve used it as vehicle to become the best version of myself and a set of principles to live by. I believe that when we you find that magic, whatever you are doing, and whatever your role is in an organization, your work can become an extension of you as a person. I can’t say that every day I jump out of bed eager to get to work – but most days I do. The co-operative principles have shaped my career because my work has become an extension of the woman that I am.

 

Q: Who has supported your career path or inspired you along the way?

Someone much smarter than myself said that luck is when preparation meets opportunity and, in that sense, I’ve been lucky. I’ve always prioritized education. My grandmother did not have access to the education that I’ve been afforded but she worked as a domestic for many years so that her children and grandchildren could have a better set of circumstances – and getting an education was critical.

As a Black woman, I always understood that an education was something that no one could take away from you so I have her to thank first and foremost. Of course, working alongside our CEO, Thom Armstrong, was another stroke of luck, and I can’t begin to list the many lessons that I’ve learned along the way. It’s too much to count but what stands out is his strong belief that I can do anything I set my mind to, and his insisting that I believe it too. I’ll accomplish some amazing feat – like completing the 5-day Inca trail to getting accepting to the Master’s program and all he’ll say is, “Well of course you did!”

And my sister friend, Halina Kuras, who has taught me about female leadership and the importance of family. There are many others but these three stand out.

 

Q: What advice do you have for women who are new to the housing sector?

For women who are new to the housing sector, I would say that you have chosen a career where you can have a significant impact on society, in a pro-active way. As someone who works in this field, you are creating opportunities and setting the stage where people can take an active role in improving their lives. It is important to find your passion, your “why do I do this?,” find a mentor or two, and make your best efforts to build a circle of support from different lived experiences.

It isn’t only about receiving, but also about giving back and sharing your own lessons. We can be so focused on our own career that we miss opportunities to hold the door open for women coming behind us. I am learning so much from my daughter, Camille, who is at the beginning of her own career. We should be open to learning—and those lessons often come from the most unexpected places.

 

Halina Kuraś

Executive Director, COHO Management Services Society

 

Q: You’ve been keeping the non-profit and co-op housing sectors on track financially for nearly three decades! What continues to inspire you in your work?

What I do matters to others. Housing co-ops are not just no-profit housing, they also have social goals. Working for them makes me feel that I am part of something, more than just properties. I feel that COHO clients truly value our service and this always gives me a great satisfaction.

 

Q: What barriers did you have that you feel are no longer there due to the efforts of women like you breaking the glass ceiling?

Work culture favouring men, recognition of overseas qualifications, home/work balance.

 

Q: What do you think are the three most important qualities for a leader in our sector?

  1. Passion and sense of purpose to serve wider community and immediate teams
  2. Open mindset
  3. Effective communication

 

Tiffany Duzita

Executive Director, Community Land Trust

 

Q: You’ve overseen impressive growth in the role of community land trusts as a critical piece of the housing spectrum. What’s your vision for Community Land Trust’s future and the role it can or will play in affordable, accessible housing across BC?

We always want to continue our growth not only for new housing but also the preservation of existing affordable housing, but where I see a focus for our future is to enhance our role as a sector leader and advocate for co-op and affordable housing and community land trusts not only in BC but across Canada. The next phase of CLT will have a large focus in two areas:

  1. Our communications for reporting and storytelling, where we can celebrate our achievements and be better positioned to share our learning and experiences with others to be more impactful within the sector.
  2. Our commitment to removing barriers and expanding equitable access to new homes in the CLT portfolio through more purposeful education and outreach into the communities and neighbourhoods that we are part of.

 

Q: Who inspires you in the housing development sector and why?

When I get an opportunity to meet a resident or co-op member who shares their story about finding a safe and secure home in a CLT building, I get reminded why I am passionate about housing and the community housing sector.

I often find myself focused on the built environment, finances, and the hard data around number of homes and affordability levels. I can lose sight that we are providing places for people to call home. The shared experiences ground me and bring a higher-level understanding of the impact we have on the lives of many.

This inspires me to recognize that we need to celebrate these shared experiences more. I look forward to working on initiatives for the CLT, CHF BC and COHO for them to experience firsthand the difference they are making. I hope they will find inspiration from these shared stories and experiences as I have, and make us all stronger for continued growth in the sector.

 

Q: What are your top three tips for women seeking leadership positions in the housing sector?

  1. Build a community of support both professionally and personally. This is a community of mentors who will build your resilience and help you manage stressful experiences that you can grow from. Remember that the path is not always linear. You will always be faced with obstacles and choice. A strong support community will help to keep you headed in the right direction and remind you to take time for yourself mentally and physically.
  2. Don’t be afraid to have your voice heard. Learn to have confidence and take risks. Trust in yourself first and trust from others will follow.
  3. You need to have humility and empathy. These qualities will help broaden your leadership style and approach to actively listen and acknowledge both the achievements and struggles of people. Don’t lose sight of company goals and direction, but understand that you need a team that wants to work with you. When you have a higher level of common understanding, collaboration, clarity, and celebrations your team will become stronger.