The International Year of Cooperatives comes at a very exciting and interesting time. Political and economic changes are lining up to call attention to the need for co-ops, complementing the United Nation’s selection of co-ops as its theme for 2012. The UN probably didn’t envision the year leading up to the International Year of Cooperatives as one of continued financial turmoil and growing political unrest from the Arab Spring to Occupy Wall Street. But here we are.
The major advances in cooperatives have occurred when our nation has faced economic and social upheaval and governments respond with positive action that allow citizens to gain more control in the marketplace. That is the lesson history teaches us, and it my prediction for the future.
Over the past decade there has been a profound shift in the number of cooperatives and it is now more common for our movement’s leaders to raise their cooperative profile and focus on their difference from capitalist businesses. The response to the recent recession and the concentration of wealth in the top 1% will propel cooperatives to new levels.
Our colleagues in Italy and Canada have learned how to engage the existing cooperative movement in substantive cooperative development to make real change occur in their domestic economies. I hope that the US movement will find the way to forge a partnership with public institutions to do the same. The International Year of Cooperatives is an opportunity to rebrand cooperatives for the next decade, and it provides us with an opportunity to build such partnerships.