Imagine 2012 Opens with “Thinking Thoughts, Big Ideas and those who believe in the Future”

After a wonderfully warm welcome from our hosts at Desjardins (Lynn, you know who you are and we were truly thankful for the time you spent to make...

After a wonderfully warm welcome from our hosts at Desjardins (Lynn, you know who you are and we were truly thankful for the time you spent to make us feel welcome) we found ourselves in the Opening Press Conference Room of Imagine 2012.

Questions came about how we could raise the profile of co-operatives within various fields, such as media, politics and education. There were challenges on how we might harness tools such as social media and to further the co-operative cause. It seemed clear to me sitting there that the co-operative movement is full of such passion and driven people, but the question was clearly how to translate that to the “man on the street?”

Conference Manager, Tom Webb of co-hosts Saint Mary’s University, felt the co-operative movement needed to “start thinking of the ideas that will drive the minds of young people in the future” – Perhaps our youth contigent, here for the “Future Cooperative Leaders” Programme will have something to add to that debate – whilst Dame Pauline Green reflected that the cooperative movement has been guilty of spending a lot of time “talking to ourselves”, when it’s those outside the movement we need to engage. “This is our moment”, she stressed.

I thought about the scale of the movement. One hundred million peope employed by co-operatives that work for the benefit of their one billion members. How could a movement this big be “under the radar”?

We moved to the main audotorium – an impressive space that will see the main addresses over the Imagine conference and forward through the International Summit.

We heard addresses from each of the Co-hosts, Saint Mary’s, Desjardins and the International Co-operative Alliance.

Colin Dodds, President of Saint Mary’s, whose North of England upbringing placed co-operatives “in his DNA”, explained he was now placing co-operatives in his MBA, so to speak, with Saint Mary’s taking the first steps to placing co-operatives in the lecture theatres of our business schools through their graduate level programs.

Desjardins leader, Monique Leroux, explained how co-operative movement is not an “alternative to business” but business in it’s own right. Based on associations of people rather than capital. A concept that felt apt when viewed against the backdrop of this gathering of people centric thinkers from across the globe.

The ICA’s President, Dame Pauline Green defended the movement against those that might label it “idealistic”. How could a movement of one billion be idealistic? A movement that puts food in childrens stomachs, brings power to peoples villages and provides one hundred million people across the world with jobs. She challenged the movement to provide strong messages such as these for the the ICA to take forward into the coming decade of co-operation.

Tom Webb questioned how mainstream economics could consider the fundementals of the economy to be sound in 2007/08 whilst 1.3million children starved to death. Surely there must be a better way?


Finally, it was up to Stefano Zamagni to take us back through the history of economic thought in order to make the point that co-operatives – considered the superior form of enterprise in the 19th Century – were making a comeback. Market and Government failures have left gap that co-operatives are starting to fill. A diversification that, he explained, could reduce wealth inequality, promote political democracy and give people their freedom to flourish.

Dr. Zamagni asked us to do some “thinking” thought. I think he meant the kind of thought that isn’t regurgitated from what we’ve learned, but more created from our interactions with each other. Let’s hope this “thinking thought” will be in the minds of everyone as they begin their interactions at Imagine 2012 and onwards into the international summit here in Quebec next week.

Dr. Zamagni put it best when he said this event could be “the best testimony to people who believe in the future”. We’ll all drink to that.

A guest post by Anthony Pullin, part of the ICA team in Quebec.

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