Sarah Firby (photo submitted)
Sarah Firby (photo submitted)

Inaugural recipient of the Leo and Bruce Thordarson Social Economy and Co-operatives Award exhibits lifelong passion and commitment to the co-operative sector

Like the Thordarsons, Sarah Firby has shared a lifelong passion and commitment to the co-operative sector that began in her early youth.

The Canadian Centre for the Study of Co-operatives is pleased to announce Sarah Firby as the inaugural recipient of the Leo and Bruce Thordarson Social Economy and Co-operatives Award.  

Established by Dorothy and Conrad Thordarson in 2021, the Leo and Bruce Thordarson Social Economy and Co-operatives Award is offered annually to a student who is enrolled in the Graduate Certificate in the Social Economy and Co-operatives program through the Johnson Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy 

The award honours father and son, Leo and Bruce Thordarson, who held deep roots with the University of Saskatchewan (USask) and the co-operative sector. Leo was the first in the family to attend university at USask, where he received three degrees which led to a lifelong career in education.  

Like his father, Bruce was also an USask alumni and devoted his life to serving the co-operative sector. This included him taking up leadership roles in the Co-operative Union of Canada, the Director General for the International Co-operative Alliance, and numerous other national and international co-operatives.  

“Upon receipt of our share of the estate of my cousin, Bruce Thordarson, we began the process of deciding how this money could be effectively used to make a lasting legacy.” said Conrad Thordarson. “Supporting students at the University of Saskatchewan who are interested in becoming the next generation of leaders in the co-operative and social economy sector became an obvious choice.” 

Like the Thordarsons, Firby has shared a lifelong passion and commitment to the co-operative sector.  

My interest in co-operatives started with my involvement as a youth participant then camp counsellor in Camp Kindling: Co-operative Youth Retreat (formerly the Saskatchewan Co-operative Youth Program),” said Firby.  

“There, I was introduced the values and principles of the co-operative movement, as well as a network of connections with employees from different strands of the co-operative sector. This program was a key reason for my initial interest in a career with co-operatives.” 

Upon completing her Bachelor of Commerce, Firby discovered the Graduate Certificate in the Social Economy and Co-operatives, which is designed for professionals and graduate students looking to deepen and refine their understanding of the vital roles played by co-operatives, non-profits, and social enterprises in today’s economy.  

The program’s length and flexibility proved to be a perfect fit for Firby’s career aspirations and schedule.  

 "I knew I wanted to pursue a career in co-operatives but wasn’t sure what the ‘next step’ of my career would be,” said Firby. “The shorter length of the certificate program was enticing and the requirements to complete my studies were challenging enough to be engaging, but manageable enough to handle while working full-time.” 

For over eight years, Firby has and continues to work for the Co-operative Retailing System in Saskatchewan. After recently completing the GSEC, she is currently pursuing the Master of Public Administration (MPA) program at the Johnson Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy.  

“Like the GSEC, I know the content and skills offered in the MPA, such as policy brief writing, policy analysis, and working with diverse groups, will continue to be relevant towards my professional life in the co-operative sector.” 

For Firby, being the inaugural recipient of the Leo and Bruce Thordarson Award is a meaningful honour.   

Considering the legacy of Leo and Bruce in the co-operative sector and the communities they lived and worked in, this award shows the relevance of the co-operative movement and the important role that Canadians have in maintaining it,” said Firby.  

“I am proud to be connected to the Thordarson family through this award and I am grateful for their generous support as I continue my studies.