The two-day event at New Century House, Manchester, featured presentations from academics and practitioners from around the world.
The conference’s opening speaker was the man responsible for the 1995 revision of the Rochdale values and principles, Dr Ian MacPherson. He spoke of how co-operative values can embrace not just collectivism, but also individualism.
He said that while it could certainly be argued that co-operative enterprise is well suited to community-based enterprise, it should also be emphasised that the Co-operative Movement can respond to individualism.
He illustrated this by suggesting that co-operative values “empower ordinary people through participation in the democratic process.” They also reward involvement through dividends and have a particular capacity to help individuals in marginalised groups, such as the poor, immigrants and women.
Dr MacPherson suggested that each co-operative value could be placed on a continuum between individualism and communitarianism.
He said that the notion of co-operative individualism comes in many forms. Co-operative members accept responsibility for themselves and encourage others to do the same, they believe in self-help, trust in democracy, practice equality, seek equity, collaborate with like-minded people and strive for openness.
Self help comes from working with others for reciprocal benefit, self responsibility implies personal growth but within a group setting, democracy is a process that seeks harmony for individuals in a group setting and equality requires individual members to relate to each other.
He said that of the ethical values also practised by co-operators, honesty was not always as straightforward or obvious as we would like to think. “It is not a hollow or limited word,” he said.