Formed in 2013, The Co-operative Life is a registered NDIS provider and the first employee-owned co-operative to operate in the NDIS and aged care in Australia. Its two co-founders worked in agencies providing aged care and disability support. As contractors, they had become disenchanted with their working conditions and what they perceived as sub-standard care. Their wages were low, the hours were long, and they were isolated with little or no training. They knew of the UK Mutuals program and its focus on employee ownership and how the quality of services improved with employee ownership.
Significantly for thin markets, The Co-operative Life is being approached by other employees in the disability and aged care sectors about how to form employee owned co-operatives. Many of these employees are in rural and regional centres where smaller providers are closing down due to challenges adapting to consumer directed funding in aged care and the NDIS.
A strategic direction for The Co-operative Life is to establish an enterprise co-operative with a member-owned co-operative platform, linking workers with NDIS Participants and other service users. The Co-operative Life has collaborated with BCCM and the University of Technology Sydney along with other enterprises and BCCM members in the Barossa Gawler Light and Adelaide Plains region to demonstrate and evaluate this new delivery model through the NDIS Jobs and Market Fund.