The International Conference on Co-operative Studies gathered more than 1,000 researchers and practitioners in Lucerne, Switzerland, to look at co-operative identity and growth.
The three-day event, which drew 58 contributions from 96 researchers from 21 countries, was organised by the Community of Interests for Cooperative Enterprises in Switzerland, an association including the largest co-operatives in Switzerland, which together account for 16% of the country’s GDP.
In his opening speech, Swiss federal councillor Ueli Maurer, praised co-operatives.
“It is a perfect model for the economy and the state,” he said. “If the fundamental liberal values of co-operatives are to be lived in our society, and if we solve our own problems by sharing, we have a great future.”
Papers presented at the conference included a look at entrepreneurial producer co-ops in New Zealand by Dr Lisa Callagher and Dr Frank Siedlok from the university of Auckland, and Dr Vareska van de Vrande from the Erasmus University of Rotterdam in Holland.
Entrepreneurial co-operatives are characterised by “innovativeness, proactiveness and risk-taking”, said Dr Callagher, senior lecturer in management and international business.
“Two-way knowledge flows between the co-operative organisation and the members,” she said, adding that this was associated with different types of innovation and faster uptake of proven ideas.
“Goal alignment recognises how alignment between the co-op’s strategy and the strategies that members pursue for their individual businesses can help to meet, if not exceed, the ever increasing customer demands.”
Delegates were also interested to know whether conflict occurred as co-ops pursued riskier strategies and why goal alignment was not a linear process of planning and executing strategy.
The conference was a useful tool for delegates to learn about current co-operative trends in other countries.
Describing what she had was taking away from the event, Dr Callagher said: “Firstly, energy co-operatives are of particular interest in Europe as a way to pursue renewable energy.
“There is a lot of activity comparing the growth and performance of German energy co-ops with those in other countries. This is driven by over ten years of government incentives to encourage renewable energy in Germany.
“Also, what is interesting is how many German co-operatives operating in other sectors have invested in renewable energy co-ops.
“Secondly, I learned just how widespread is the growth of co-operatives in housing, healthcare and childcare provision.
“There appear to be more co-ops delivering these traditionally ‘public sector service provisions’ in Europe, UK and Canada on the back of governments being unable to sustain levels of service provision.
“It is interesting to note that New Zealand would seem to be different in this regard. Clearly there are many organisations delivering housing, healthcare and childcare services in this country. However, they appear to be using charities’ and incorporated societies’ legal arrangements for this.”