On the eve of the International Credit Union Day and just a few days before the official launch of the International Year of Cooperatives, here is an interview with Dame Pauline Green (in photo), President of the International Co-operative Alliance (ICA).
What is the ICA and what are its main purposes?
Based in Geneva, Switzerland, the International Cooperative Alliance (ICA) is a body that represents, unites and serves cooperatives across the globe.
Essentially, the ICA has 3 main objectives. First, we seek to be a centre of excellence for information and knowledge about the global cooperative sector.
Second, we seek to represent the cooperative movement with international decision-makers, whether they are global (United Nations), regional (European Union), national governments, or media. Together, we discuss the need for changes to create a level regulatory playing field and to help the growth of the cooperative family. The ICA is a promoter of the global cooperative brand. Both decision-makers and the global market need an organization that represents the unique specificities of the cooperative business model.
Third, the ICA promotes best industry practices that include guidelines for innovation, best business practices, structure, accounting, and sustainability, which has been part of our DNA since our inception. We learn from each other and maximize our impact throughout the world, wherever cooperatives do business.
Globally, our mission is to grow the cooperative sector in the global economy.
How important is the International Year of Cooperatives for the ICA?
It is incredibly important and we have to make the most out of this gift from the United Nations. The ICA will do 1 thing and we will do it well: we will promote public awareness about the scope, size and reach of the cooperative movement.
Today, the movement doesn’t have a global brand, which is logical since inherently, it is a local phenomenon. In 2012, we have to look beyond local possibilities and try to make an impact on global decision-makers by showing our strength and our distinctiveness across the world. We want the public to see that the cooperative movement is present in every village, town, city, and corner of the globe. This campaign should increase our visibility and influence, and enable us to gain support to foster cooperative enterprise.
What are the main challenges the cooperative movement is facing today?
Internally, our challenge is to continue building both the movement and confidence, as well as making people understand that we have to work together to have a successful 2012.
Externally, we’ve been working in a very difficult economic context for 3 or 4 years. We need to build on the general public’s very strong sense of confidence and trust in our businesses that has been prevalent over the last 3 or 4 years. We continued to support not just individuals but also small businesses and businesses in general, in a way that the profit sector couldn’t do during the financial collapse.
Of course, there is no question that cooperatives, like all other businesses, will be affected by the recession. But over the last 4 years, the cooperative movement has grown. We can hold our heads up and take pride in our movement that has come through this period with success. The main reason for that is that we have a different concept of business. Our business is about people and cooperatives are owned and operated by nearly 1 billion people worldwide, which is very different from the corporate sector.
The cooperative business model is about meeting human needs, not human greed. Yes, we want to make a profit (or surplus), but we promote sustainable enterprise through community ownership. We believe in a more diversified economy, and at this time in the global economic context, this belief is in tune with the political and public climate.
Our main challenge is to demonstrate that the cooperative movement can offer sustainable alternatives and creative solutions not only in an economic sense, but also on a social, environmental and democratic level.
What does the ICA expect from the 2012 International Cooperative Summit?
This is a really important initiative. The movement needs to tap into our intellectual, financial, commercial and philosophical resources across the world to help determine how to grow and strengthen during the coming decades. The Summit will bring together many of the personalities who can do just that. Under Desjardins`s leadership, a thought-provoking agenda is already in place and some key research will give the Summit a sound basis for discussion. The Summit has generated interest all over the world.
The Summit will be a compelling event that will bring together a large group of successful cooperatives in a way that has never been done before. It’s just the sort of initiative that the International Year needs to give it, not just a celebratory flavour, but a serious intellectual basis for change for the future.
The ICA is proud and pleased to partner with Desjardins in supporting this event. I hope it will be the first of many. And, I hope that the Summit will bring a new sense of direction and leadership to the wider movement, and will support the ICA’s global strategy development beyond 2012.