How co-operatives define the real economy

What is the real economy? A group of panellists came together at the International Summit of Cooperatives to look at the tangible and intangible elements of our economy...

What is the real economy? A group of panellists came together at the International Summit of Cooperatives to look at the tangible and intangible elements of our economy and how co-ops sit in this space.

Seven co-operators shared their experiences and different interpretations with delegates:

Anna Manca, National Coordinator Women Commission, Confcooperative, Italy

We inspire ourselves to be in a circular society. Through the production of goods and services, both tangible and intangible, we see that the people who are involved in the production cycle ultimately have a good job.

Human resources are involved with no waste; we don’t like to leave anybody behind. We believe strongly in authenticity. We have a long term vision and a democratic governance. These are the main characteristics that have allowed us to have success.

Co-operatives are entrepreneurial and social. Since we cannot maximise profit as our ultimate aim, we manage through entrepreneurs that belong to communities and can work towards those community aims.

Choe Okuno, President, Central Union of Agricultural Co-operatives JA-Zenchu, Japan

Japanese agricultural co-operatives are involved in various activities that help people to live. We cover credit, financing, mutual aid, mutual insurance, consumer co-ops and various economic activities that you need for farming. We are also engaged in the health and welfare of our members through our hospitals. We are involved in all areas that enable people to live a good life.

Jack Bouin, First Deputy Chairman, Fédération nationale du Crédit Agricole (FNCA), France

Co-operative banks have always had a long term strategy as opposed to others who aim for profits in short-term. This is a modern way of thinking, suitable for the period we’re living in. The co-op model was quite resilient in the 2008 financial crisis we were living through.

There is an importance on the local level too. We have a federal relationship that starts from the grassroots. This is one of the conditions for success and provides assistance in the real economy. We have a particular form of governance. When we look at groups of entrepreneurs for finance, we examine different files from two folds. First we look at them from a banker’s perspective, but we also have a much broader approach where we look at helping people from our members’ perspective.

Liu Ting, Deputy Director, All China Federation of Supply and Marketing Co-operatives (ACFSMC), China

As an organisation, we need to fulfil our needs through co-operation. We have 360,000 co-ops in our chain and produce a huge variety of products. Last year our co-ops reached a business volume of 430 billion items. We help to support our co-operatives too. We have recently invested $20bn in our co-operatives in order to distribute 40,000 different kinds of agricultural products. The concept of being in a non-profit organisation is also being passed on from one generation to another.

Melina Morrison, CEO, Business Council of Co-operatives and Mutuals, Australia

The co-operative difference is shown in markets with a distributive economy which can be more vulnerable when they don’t have co-ops as an active participant. It is a very dramatic and revolutionising effect that a group of co-ops can have on a market. If you want people to be enabled economically then this can be achieved through shared ownership. We need be talking about shared value rather than shareholder value.

A distributive model allows you to collaborate by bringing lots of smaller players together. Many people now are, by choice or circumstance, acting as sub contractors through models such as Uber. There is a huge opportunity for co-ops to use this organising model.

Philippe Mangin, Chair, InVivo, France

The real economy is that of the real life, one of real production costs. An economy that is tangible and accessible for real citizens. But we must remember that behind the real economy is the local, circular economy.

Robert Engel, Chief Executive Officer, CoBank, United States

Co-ops have an expanded role in serving as a stabilising force in periods of volatility and change. Co-ops are uniquely positioned because of that alignment with members. When I take look at the landscape today, these forces of globalisation and technology impacting businesses are irreversible. So co-operatives need to be competitive and generate profits. The best thing co-ops can do is to run a great business, deliver value as both a customer and an owner. CoBank last year paid $144m in patronage, over the past 10 years $3.5bn in patronage to customers.

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