You have a voice; and a powerful message to impart

We want to share with you how we at the ICA and in the international co-operative community want to use the opportunity that the IYC presents. This is...

We want to share with you how we at the ICA and in the international co-operative community want to use the opportunity that the IYC presents.

This is important, because there have been a number of international years—the year of aging, the year of forestry, the year of the potato, the year of rice —and they have not all been memorable.

If this year is not simply going to come and go, we need to be clear on what we intend to achieve. We know we can celebrate, we know we will be able to look back on 31 December 2012 and be satisfied with the events.

But if that is all we can say then we will have squandered this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. If we intend this Year to have lasting impact we must be clear on our goal. Our goal is not just to celebrate the International Year of Co -operatives, but to use this Year to launch a Co-operative Decade. By the end of this decade, we want the co-operative to be the fastest-growing model of enterprise in the world.

ICA was instrumental in having the IYC declared, and when it was secured, the ICA Board gave serious thought to how best to take advantage of it, how to leverage it, how to exploit it. The Board knew that, in order to be successful, we need to focus on doing one thing and doing it well.

From among the many competing strategies, the one that surfaced as essential, as foundational to our long-term vision, was to raise public awareness of the co-operative as a successful business model.

That decision has been reinforced by the events of this past year. The world is undergoing one of those rare and remarkable periods of a tectonic magnitude of change when people are disillusioned by leadership, in despair of the future and disconnected from the economic and political models that dominate their lives.

It is a time like the watershed period following the industrial revolution when co-operatives were spawned – and like the early decades of the last century when we saw some of our greatest growth.

This past year, we have seen Arab Spring, public unrest in Greece, student riots in the UK and the Occupy Wall Street, Occupy London, Occupy Everywhere movement.

People are hungry for a way of working that is Not Business as Usual and we have a solution for them. We don’t share their despair because we know the co-operative is a model made-to-order for just such a time as  this.

But we have to tell our story – and we’re not good at that – the good news is we have substance, we have a story to tell. When you look through the lens at co-operatives we have a scalable, successful, innovative, values-based model. We have integrity and we have substance.

We only have to tell our story. We have to raise public awareness of the co-operative and to position it as a solution. So this is all about how to tell the co-operative story and how to raise public awareness. We want to introduce you to tools to help you tell that story. Because we will only be successful in moving that needle—of public awareness if we all are on the same page, if we are saying the same thing and if we know the messages.

It is through the members of ICA using a common image— on your web sites, and newsletters, and annual reports, and posters, and shopping bags, and products. You cannot over-expose this image. It is through the members of ICA using the image that we will reach the most people. This is the way we will surprise people by the scale and diversity of co-operatives: in agriculture, and fisheries, and banking, and insurance, and health care, and housing, and tourism, and consumer co-operatives, and worker/service/industrial co-operatives.

ICA has created a number of tools to help shape the messages and the campaign. Central to the campaign is a common image: the logo for the IYC and its slogan: “Co-operative enterprises build a better world” For a global reach, we need an image-based campaign. By your using the logo, you will be associating yourself as part of the same successful model as all of the other co-operatives throughout the world who are also using this image during this Year.

But that just gets the attention and hopefully makes people curious.

We then need to tell them about co-operatives. We have four key messages we want to get across: The first is that the co-operative is a successful model of business. ICA has just published the latest edition of our Global 300 Report. It shows that the 300 largest co-operatives in the world have a combined annual turnover of USD 1.6 trillion. That is just 300 among thousands. And not only these largest co-operatives, but also the smaller co-operatives in communities around the world are successful self-help solutions to the challenges the world confronts today.

Our second message is that co-operatives are values-based. We are successful enterprises, but we are values-based. In fact, we are successful because we are values-based. Sustainability is at the core of the co-operative way of doing business; fair access to services is central to the co-operative model.

Our third message is that co-operatives are innovative. Because we are focused on solving members’ problems, meeting members’ needs, we are continually innovating to do just that. The very nature of our model of governance is innovative.

And that is our fourth message: That the members, who are aligned around the purpose of the co-operative, control it. You have a voice. At a time when people around the world are finding their voice, when they are expressing their frustration at the unresponsive systems that dominate their lives, we believe we have a powerful message.

*This is an abridged version of ICA Director-General Charles Gould’s speech to the ICA conference on Thursday, November 17.

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