2017 in review: A year in conferences for the co-op movement

Co-operators came together at various events throughout the year, but what happened? Here’s a summary of the events attended by the Co-op News team ...

The Economy Conference

by the Co-operative Party, 28 January, London

The conference looked at how responsible businesses can create a fairer economy with TUC secretary general Frances O’Grady saying: “We need an economy that puts people and the planet before profit.” Additionally, it also looked at the future of work in the age of the robot.

Open:2017 Platform Co-operatives

by the Open Co-op, 16-17 February, London

Laura Hilliger, co-founder of the We Are Open Co-op, and Josef Davies-Coates, co-founder of The Open Co-op and founder of United Diversity, spoke about how the co-op movement and the open movement are both “forces to be reckoned with”. Claire McCarthy, general secretary of the Co-operative Party, said government at all levels should help platform co-ops to flourish.

Ways Forward 5

by Co-operative Business Consultants, 20 January, Manchester

The future of the world of work was a key topic at the conference, with delegates exploring how co-ops can help address the decline in wages and living standards and provide better employment. A secondary theme looked at how hierarchy can impact on co-operation.

Jack Thorp (centre) and the Fairmondo team celebrate their DigiDen victory at Open:2017

Co-operative Retail Conference

by Co-operatives UK, 3-5 March, Stratford

With competition from discounters, online retailers and potential trade tariffs post Brexit, co-op retailers explored how working together could enhance selling margins and enable affordable prices. Delegates looked at opportunities for collective buying within the UK and abroad.

Abcul Conference

by the Association of British Credit Unions, 10-11 March, Manchester

Online lending – a market worth £23bn in 2016 – is a key challenge for credit unions in the UK, as well as having to provide a seamless user experience, credit unions must compete against payday lenders, who set the benchmark on frictionless loan applications. But they can be limited by their common bond, which in an online, universal, world can act as a barrier when it comes to attracting new members.

Co-operative Education Conference

by Co-operative College, 5-6 April 2017, Manchester

With changes to the political, social, economic and technological landscape, the idea of public involvement in research is regaining interest. Along with this trend, a more co-operative and collaborative approach is also being re-explored. Professor Keri Facer of the University of Bristol calls the phenomenon the “return on the public”. Real participation can be used to challenge, reimagine and reinvigorate institutions, she said. With these changes under way, the education and learning sector is also exploring how to engage with the public to find solutions for new challenges.

Co-operative Group Annual Meeting

20 May, Manchester

Opening his first annual meeting as chief executive, Steve Murrells said the Co-op Group has “made membership meaningful again”. Motions passed ordered a review of the pay ratio and a strategy to narrow this; welcomed support for Fairtrade; asked for awareness to be raised around modern slavery and encouraged the Group to meet with the industry to maximise recycling.

Community Energy Conference

by Community Energy England and Co-operative Energy, 24 June, Manchester

Community Energy England’s first State of the Sector report showed how community energy projects, which include a number of co-ops, contribute to the nation’s energy supply. Presenting the findings, Emma Bridge, chief executive of Community Energy England, said there are 222 community energy organisations across England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Around 44% of these are community benefit societies and 22% are co-operatives.

Co-operative Congress

by Co-operatives UK, 1 July. Wakefield

The event focused on the future of work and the collaborative economy. John Park from trade union Community talked about fighting for the rights of the workers in the new economy. Sarah de Heusch, from freelance network SMart, looked at how 60,000 freelancers workers in Belgium are members of SMart, a co-op that takes away the pain of finance and accounts and allows them to focus on doing their work.

Kaitlin Cleary, owner and co-founder at Team 624 Communications, at the World Credit Union Conference

World Credit Union Conference

by World Council of Credit Unions, 23-26 July, Vienna

More than 1,800 representatives from 58 countries explored three key topics: millennials, cybersecurity and digital trends.Susan Etlinger, an industry analyst with Altimeter, gave some key tips on using big data to identify potential risks and understand customer experience. Simon Mainwaring, founder of brand consultancy, We First, said credit unions are uniquely positioned to be among the iconic brands of the future – but they need to get better at telling their stories.

Co-operative Councils Innovation Network annual meeting

5 September, Oldham

Councils looked at the potential for co-op models as solutions to some of the problems faced by their communities. Councillor Sharon Taylor, leader of Stevenage Borough Council, explained how many issues faced by local councils could be solved by using a co-operative approach.

Jeremy Corbyn addresses the Co-operative Party conference (Image: Co-operative Party / Krzysztof Kseba)

Co-operative Party annual conference

13-15 October, London

The Party celebrated its centenary at this year’s conference, which included a rally with the Party banner to Parliament Square. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn gave the keynote speech where he said the world needs co-operative values to solve its problems.

Global Co-operative Conference

by International Co-operative Alliance 14-17 November, Kuala Lumpur

More than 1,800 delegates from around the world to discuss the sector’s progress on meeting the UN Goals for Sustainable Development. Other sessions included youth, health, the future of work and gender equality. Ariel Guarco from Argentina was elected president of the Alliance at its General Assembly. Mr Guarco is president of Cooperar, the Co-operative Confederation of Argentina, and has been a board member of the Alliance since 2013.

• More from 2017 at 2017 In Review

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