To mark the International Year of Cooperatives, Desjardins Group is launching a book containing some of the thoughts that fuelled its founder, Alphonse Desjardins. Entitled Alphonse Desjardins: le pouvoir d'agir, this book is the work of Monique F. Leroux (in photo), President and CEO of Desjardins Group, one of the three co-hosts of the 2012 Summit. Throughout the book's almost one hundred pages, structured around select quotes, Ms. Leroux takes readers through the thoughts of Alphonse Desjardins who, along with his wife Dorimène, founded the first caisse populaire in Lévis, Quebec, Canada, in 1900. Even though these thoughts may date back to another era, they are remarkably still applicable today. Ms. Leroux uses them to show how the cooperative model remains relevant and how it can prove invaluable in addressing the challenges we face in 2012. The thoughts of an altruistic visionary Early in the book, Ms. Leroux informs us that Alphonse Desjardins made his living as a writer. He never earned a cent from starting the caisses! Alphonse Desjardins was firmly committed to the development of his community and cared deeply about improving the particularly difficult living conditions of his fellow citizens. In 1897, while working as a French-language stenographer in Canada's House of Commons, Desjardins was profoundly moved by the story of a minister called to justify the adoption of a bill against usurious practices. This minister gave the example of a man who was ordered by the court to pay $5,000 in interest fees—a fortune at that time—on an initial loan of… $150! That was the moment Alphonse Desjardins realized that the credit system was severely lacking. Small borrowers had almost no access to ordinary banks. He felt the pressing need to prevent people who needed loans from having to turn to usurious lenders. It was then that he began designing the cooperative system that ultimately led to the creation of the numerous caisses populaires in Quebec. Cooperatives and the importance of international collaboration Prior to even dreaming about starting his first caisse, Alphonse Desjardins sought advice from authors around the world on how to design a cooperative financial system specifically suited to Quebec's needs at the time. After discovering the book People's Banks, A Record of Social and Economic Success by the Englishman Henry William Wolff, Desjardins began corresponding with several French, Belgian, Italian and Swiss heads of rural savings and credit cooperatives. Ms. Leroux reports that Desjardins spent months poring over the materials people sent him, evaluating the merits of the various credit cooperative models. Conscious of the economic, social, and cultural differences between Canada and Europe, he came up with a new model that combined the rules of European credit cooperatives with the experience of North American savings banks. In other words, at the dawn of the 20th century, Alphonse Desjardins was already well aware of the importance of international collaboration between cooperatives. In 1902, he saw fit to inform the International Cooperative Alliance (ICA) that he had founded a caisse populaire in Lévis two years earlier. In the report he sent to the ICA, he noted that the cooperative model was finding fertile ground in North America. This was the beginning of a valuable relationship that, this October, will be celebrated with the International Summit of Cooperatives. Electronic copy available for free The English version will be launched during the International Summit of Cooperatives. In the meantime, you can download a free electronic copy of the book in French.