ICA’s European General Assembly met in Moscow over this past weekend, confounding the Icelandic volcanoes that forced a cancellation of the conference in May of last year and that, for a fleeting moment, threatened to do so again. From a personal standpoint, last year’s cancellation was a particular disappointment, as I was scheduled to interview with the ICA board for the Director-General position I now hold. My interview, and that of the other candidates, had to be delayed. Consequently, there was a sense of putting things right to be able to visit Moscow for the Assembly this year.
More than that, it was fascinating to learn about the history of the Russian co-operative movement, which has its roots in Siberia 180 years ago and which joined the ICA in 1903, shortly after its founding. By the time of the Russian Revolution in 1917, Russian co-operatives were a substantial economic and social force. They were transformed, of course, during the Soviet years, and transformed again with the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Today, the apex organisation for Russian co-operatives – Centrosojuz – counts more than 3000 co-operatives with 4 million members, which employ 300,000 individuals. In addition, there is an active network of co-operatives that were part of the former Soviet Union, co-ordinated through the League of National Unions of Co-operatives of CIS.
Besides the economic spheres of co-operative activity, there is an impressive system of co-operative education, with 53 technical schools, 4 colleges, 91 branches of secondary professional schools, primary schools, and a research institute of consumer co-operatives. The jewel in the crown is the Russian University of Co-operatives, one of the largest economics universities in Russia, and with a pedigree dating from 1912. Collectively, this system is educating over 100,000 students in co-operative knowledge, ensuring that Russian co-operatives are will increasingly contribute to the global co-operative movement in the coming years.