The London Olympics will not be the only event during 2012 which brings together and unites all corners of the globe. With the United Nations also designating 2012 as the International Year of Co-operatives (IYC) there is a great opportunity for our unique business model to be showcased across the world.
Against the backdrop of communities left picking up the pieces of a global recession, we must seize this opportunity to put forward the compelling case for co-operation. Of course it is important that we celebrate the year, but it is equally important that we use it to significantly raise our profile, increase our trading footprint and build in the process, a sustainable path for future generations of co-operators.
Within the UK we have a full and exciting programme of events in place to support the aims of the IYC. These will range from attendance at festivals, exhibitions and conferences by our national and regional membership teams, to a major three-day Expo event being held in the heart of Manchester in October, where we are targeting over 10,000 visitors to attend.
We also see the year as a further means of accelerating the co-operative renaissance, which the Co-operative Group has been at the forefront of in recent years within the UK. We intend, for example, to update our ethical plan, which is seen by leading commentators as the most challenging and radical plan of its kind, given the breadth and depth of the social and environmental targets we have set ourselves.
One part of the plan to have gained widespread attention has been our pioneering Enterprise Hub, which provides financial and practical support for start-up co-operatives. Over a three year period we will invest over £7.5 million in the Hub, creating on average a new co-operative enterprise every day, whilst bringing jobs and closer community cohesion into the local areas where we trade. This support isn’t restricted to the UK either. I was present in New York recently, when in connection with the United Nations launch of the International Year, the co-operative movement announced the creation of the Global Development Co-operative, a fund that will provide much needed finance to third world co-operatives for capital and infrastructure projects.
The concept, developed by the Co-operative Group and the International Co-operative Alliance, will help businesses grow by providing low cost loans to buy, for example, modern machinery, new transport to open up untapped markets, and create storage facilities to eliminate lost produce. It is this kind of progressive, socially-led thinking which sets the co-operative model apart, and something I hope the year ahead will stimulate much more of.
At a time when nations across the world are looking for solutions to existing problems, rather than a whole set of new problems, the co-operative model can be the answer. Whilst our business isn’t immune from the major social and economic challenges arising from the deepest and most prolonged of recessions, it is a model predicated on delivering benefits for our stakeholders in a sustainable and long-term manner. It is imperative, therefore, that we use the UN International Year of Co-operatives to increase our prominence and impact. By doing that, I genuinely believe that we can provide the social and economic impetus to create a more balanced, fairer and more sustainable world.