We arrived in Cancun shortly after 12:30 this afternoon and we knew we were no longer in Canada as soon as we got off the plane. It was hot; the trees were lush and green and even the air smelled a bit different…we could tell the sea was not far off. Upon arrival at the Moon Palace –the resort where the ICA meetings are taking place — the lobby was full of activity…and full of co-operators. (The latest estimate is that more than 2,000 will have arrived here by the end of the week).
After dealing with check-in and baggage, I headed of to the ICA registration area. As I stood in line to get my credentials, someone handed me a glossy Spanish-language tabloid newspaper called MundoCoop (literally “co-op world”). The paper is published by co-operators in Peru, and page 3 was entirely devoted to the status of co-operatives in Mexico…a place where the co-op sector is (and here I translate from Spanish) “considered equal to the public and private economic sectors.” The headline (and again I translate) read “Co-operators meeting in Cancun feel like they are in their own home.” (…como in su propria casa).
I start with this story because it reflects the way I felt standing in that registration line, surrounded by co-operators from all over the world. This is my first ICA gathering, and I have never felt so proud of being part of the co-op movement, a movement that brings together people from so many different cultures, from so many different types of businesses, but who share the same values, principles and objectives. Just being here gives me a sense of belonging, a sense of co-operative identity…in short, a feeling as if I am in my own home.
After registration, I headed off to a meeting of the dotCoop board, who had invited other dotCoop supporters to attend. DotCoop sponsors the the .coop internet domain, and its mission is “to strengthen the global co-operative movement by providing tools for promoting co-operative identity on the Internet.” I guess I was invited to attend because CCA is a strong supporter of the use of .coop in its web URLs and email addresses. Unfortunately, many co-ops don’t use it — and that includes a number of major co-operatives in Canada. So we talked about how to use the International Year of Co-operatives to encourage more co-ops around the world to put their Internet addresses where their principles are, and thus increase the online visibility of the co-operative movement.
It was an excellent session that generated a lot of good ideas, and made me reflect once again on the sometimes amorphous nature of co-op identity. A website address does not an identity make, but it certainly goes a long way in telling the world that your organization is indeed a co-operative.
The meeting also gave me a chance to finally meet many people I had only only known via email before I arrived: Paul Hazen, the outgoing executive director of the National Co-operative Business Association, CCA’s counterpart in the United States; Charles Gould, the director general of ICA; Anthony Murray from The Co-op News in the United Kingdom and the editor of the global co-operative news hub, www.thenews.coop; and of course, Carolyn Hoover, the CEO of dotCoop and the person I run to (virtually, of course) any time I have an internet domain issue. There were also a few familiar faces in the group, including Lou Hammond Ketilson, a University of Saskatchewan professor who used to be the director of the Centre for the Study of Co-operatives.
On deck tomorrow: a session on the Global 300, ICA’s list of the top 300 co-ops ranked by annual revenue. And tomorrow evening, the opening ceremony of the General Assembly and the ICA launch of the International Year of Co-operatives.
– Donna Balkan