Cooperatives and the social economy offer viable and credible options

Cooperatives and social economy enterprises are successful because they are attuned to the needs of the communities they serve, they work as a network and they use a...

Cooperatives and social economy enterprises are successful because they are attuned to the needs of the communities they serve, they work as a network and they use a different managerial model. These were the findings of a study conducted by the Economic Studies team at Desjardins Group, one of the 3 hosts of the 2012 International Summit of Cooperatives. The study examines the cooperative movement in the province of Quebec and the rest of Canada. According to Desjardins Group, cooperatives and social economy enterprises are a credible form of organization that has proven its effectiveness. The cooperative sector: A major player The study highlights the contribution that the cooperative and mutualist sector and the social economy make to the economy of Quebec, one of Canada’s ten provinces. Overall, there are more than 10,000 cooperative enterprises in Canada with over 15 million members. Together, they create close to 160,000 jobs. In Quebec, it’s estimated that the 3,300 cooperatives and mutual aid organizations active today have some 8 million members. This means that no less than 70% of Quebec’s population are members of a co-op! And these co-ops employ some 90,000 people. According to the authors of the study, the popularity of the cooperative formula stems from its strength. For instance: – Between 2004 and 2008, non-financial co-ops created more jobs than the Quebec economy overall. – Cooperatives generally have a much higher survival rate than private sector businesses, even after 10 years. “Although Quebec has the most non-financial co-ops in Canada, it does not have a monopoly on the cooperative formula. This form of entrepreneurship has been quite popular in western and eastern Canada for many years,” say the authors of the study. The International Labour Organization conducted a study on the resilience of co-ops during recessions and there too, co-ops came out ahead. If tough times are conducive to the formation of co-ops, they also allow them to demonstrate their soundness, as they did during the 2008─2009 downturn when they held up better than traditional businesses. Measuring the impact of cooperation and the social economy It is true that the contours of the social economy are hard to trace. It is also true that the associative sector makes a genuine contribution that is very hard to measure. That said, the latest research has shown that you can create wealth without necessarily creating jobs right away. What we need to figure out is how to measure this contribution to the overall economy. Meanwhile, some economists are trying to figure out how to quantify the social economy’s contribution to the GDP. Because the objectives are different, there is a wide divergence in the results. Concerning Quebec, we are still waiting for an official figure. “In the meantime, all kinds of numbers are being tossed around, ranging from close to 5% all the way to 10% of the GDP. The consensus is somewhere between 6% and 7% when the cooperative sector is included. However, this number is not official.” To view the entire study. (In Photo: Monique F. Leroux, Chair of the Board, President and CEO of Desjardins Group)

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