ICA’s Global Research Conference convened in Mikkeli, Finland this past week, with one of the largest attendances in years—200 participants from around the world and over 100 research papers. This Conference was especially timely because of the urgent priority that research is assuming at the ICA. As we enter the International Year of Co-operatives, we are preparing to launch a campaign to tell the co-operative story. To tell the co-operative story, we need co-operative research. We need to know what works—and to understand what doesn’t work. We need to be able to spot trends in the sector, to analyze our performance relative to other sectors, and to make the case for public policy that supports co-operative growth. We need co-operative research for this.
Our Governance Committee is working to bring together the leadership of each of our thematic committees, in part so that those committees have a forum for explaining their priorities and their research needs. We would like to believe that there can be agreed co-operative research priorities, into which ICA’s constituencies have input.
In acknowledgement of the importance of research to our future, ICA’s Research Committee is becoming more integrated into our planning and activities. We are currently finalizing the latest edition of the Global 300 Report, which we intend to produce annually in the future. Following this edition, we would like to relaunch this Report in the International Year, and to improve our methodology for collecting data. We have assembled a scientific committee of researchers to guide and direct the future collection of data for the Global 300 Report. It is important to the story we have to tell that we gather not only data on turnover of the largest co-operatives, but also other indicia of the impact and importance of co-operatives in their economies.
As further evidence of the rising importance of research to the ICA agenda, we have committed to resuming publication of the ICA Review, which has been regrettably dormant these past few years. It is important to ICA that the important work on co-operative research that is presented in conferences such as in Mikkeli be available beyond those who have the opportunity to attend in person.
Mikkeli was a fitting location for the conference because of the phenomenal “co-operativeness” of Finland, often called “the most co-operative country in the world” because the majority of its population are co-operative members. In fact, Finnish co-operatives collectively count over 6 million members, more than the roughly 5 million Finnish population.
I was privileged while in Finland to be able to attend, along with our President, Pauline Green, a gathering of board members from the regional co-operatives of one of the largest co-operatives in the world, the S-Group and its central organisation SOK, which features on ICA’s Global 300 list. You cannot travel Finland without seeing the reach of the S-Group—in consumer retail stores; car dealerships; department stores; highway rest, food, and petrol shops; and other services. Their next venture is a significant investment in wind power. It is a well-led, well-governed example of Finnish co-operation, which is itself an example for the world. If we could bottle and export Finnish co-operation, like the great, clean Finnish water, the world would be a better place.