Case study: Cooperatives and mutuals

Pioneering Sydney-based aged care co-operative also flourishing as NDIS provider in rural NSW

When a Sydney co-operative specialising in aged care stepped in to save a struggling rural New South Wales disability service provider, it helped participants and employees, and made history.

The CEO and co-founder of the member-owned organisation The Co-operative Life (TCL) Robyn Kaczmarek said: “an organisation was going to close with 26 people losing their jobs and 40 participants losing their services – we realised the effects were going to be devastating, so we decided to help.”

TCL is now Australia’s first fully co-operative service provider in both aged care and disability, registered for the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) and an approved provider for My Aged Care Home Care Packages.

A good fit
“We were a good fit for this rural provider for two reasons. First, many non-specialist skills in aged care also apply to caring for people with disability. Also, as a co-operative we are very flexible in terms of finance and operations,” said Robyn. “We transferred our model to the provider’s region and ensured the highest standards of care – which is our main goal.”“As a co-operative, you are leaner and more flexible. When we were approached by this rural provider, our organisation and our finances were running efficiently and transparently. When you have such clarity across the business it’s easier to develop and implement strategies and changes, sometimes at short notice. So we were able to make that shift and help that community.” Robyn said one of the main reasons that service providers don’t succeed under the NDIS is their staffing models. This was partly the case with this rural provider.“Those still operating as if they are on the old block funding model are used to receiving lump sums of money so they have expenses such as offices and middle management,” she said. TCL began by asking the provider’s staff what they felt about being part of a fully co-operative organisation. This means the staff become co-owners and share the risks and rewards.
Most employees stayed and signed up with TCL and about 10 participants decided to leave but have since returned. Once TCL had inducted staff and appointed a Regional Director and Lead Support Worker, the new rural branch began delivering services to participants. TCL’s co-owners realised that the backbone to success is a good IT system, but this can be expensive. The co-operative partnered with the University of Technology Sydney (UTS), making use of the institution’s Linkages Grant. Together they are developing an IT system that suits TCL’s needs and that UTS can share with other organisations. Service providers can access the system without having to buy it, saving money and reducing the back-office functions they have to manage, giving their staff more time to deliver high-quality, person-centred care.

Making history
“We’re proud to be Australia’s first fully co-operative disability and aged care service provider – it’s a good model that works,” she said.
“We have learned from overseas models, especially in the UK and Europe. The rollout of the NDIS and what’s happening in aged care with the introduction of Consumer Directed Care gave us a wonderful opportunity to innovate. This has allowed us to implement ideas and models that worked overseas and combine those with local skills and experiences to make our own unique Australian product.”

Advantages for providers

  • Access to centralised back office functions, including robust IT
  • Access to already embedded and efficient business models and processes, including compliance with quality and safeguarding (Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission and the NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission)
  • Leadership and decisions still led by local workforce
  • Organisation maintains local personality and flavour.

Learn more
To find out more about how co-operatives and mutuals might work for you, contact a BLCW Regional Coordinator at