We’ve begun to see the world’s eyes drawn toward co-operatives. This past month, co-operatives have received world-class attention on three continents, a trifecta of sorts, garnering, in the immortal words of Aretha Franklin, that R-E-S-P-E-C-T that co-operatives deserve.
First, in the Americas, at Rio+20, the United Nations Conference on Sustainability, member-states acknowledged co-operatives as a solution to the world’s most intractable problems. Not once, but three times, they saw fit to include co-operatives in their agreed outcome document—for poverty reduction, for jobs, and for sustainable agriculture—a trifecta of its own. And a core building block in ICA’s long-term public policy strategy, a goal we set a year ago, and systematically worked to achieve since then.
Then, last week, in Asia, the Mumbai bureau of the influential Financial Times ‘discovered’ that behind the most famous advertising mascot in India—the cartoon character the Amul girl—is a co-operative, in fact 16,000 village co-operatives and over 3 million farmers. Amul is India’s largest dairy products company and it has featured the Amul girl for 50 years to comment on contemporary social and political issues. In so doing, it has become one of India’s most trusted brands.
Between the lines of the article, you can see the correspondent coming to grips with the puzzling fact that this economic powerhouse and trusted oracle of contemporary Indian society is not a multi-national corporation or a government enterprise, but in fact a co-operative. ICA’s President, Dame Pauline Green, who was interviewed for and is quoted in the article, makes the case that only a co-operative could actually fulfil this role. Read the entire article at http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/6f5d46cc-d189-11e1-bb82-00144feabdc0.htm.
And now, in Europe, the Financial Times again, on their home turf, where they are the indisputable powerhouse of British financial reporting, and often the apologist for the multi-national corporate view of the world, has written these satisfying words: ‘The sophisticated bankers from the City have been comprehensively outmanoeuvred by the innocent non-bankers at the Co-operative Group.’ In an assessment of the Co-operative Group’s acquisition of over 600 banking branches from Lloyds Banking, one of the major banking coups of our time, they tip their hat not only to the skills of the ‘Co-op kids’, as they say, but to the merits of the co-operative model. Their conclusion: ‘It’s hard to see the Co-op being invented today, but we’d be worse off without it. It’s now big enough to be a credible competitor to the four big, ugly and (sometimes) corrosive banks which dominate the industry.’ You can savour the words at http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/41875c2e-d16b-11e1-bbbc-00144feabdc0.html.
In preparing for the International Year of Co-operatives, the ICA identified raising public awareness as our highest priority. We have engaged Fenton and Sommerson Communications, both of whom were integral to the Amul article, to guide our media relations strategy and implementation this Year. Our greatest advantage is that we don’t have to create the story; it’s happening every day in communities around the world, as Amul and the Co-operative Group demonstrate. We just have to tell the story. If we do that well, the co-operative will be seen as the world’s premier example of sustainable enterprise, and will become the model preferred by the people. That is what could make it the fastest-growing form of enterprise by the end of this decade. And that, indeed, would build a better world.