Australia: It’s our time to shine

Writing a message for our Christmas newsletter recently, I made the remark that Christmas had come early for co-operatives everywhere. In declaring an International Year in celebration of...

Writing a message for our Christmas newsletter recently, I made the remark that Christmas had come early for co-operatives everywhere. In declaring an International Year in celebration of our unique and resilient business model, the United Nations has gifted our sector with a once in a lifetime opportunity.

We have an entire year to devote to highlighting the benefits of our business model. In Australia — just like our co-ops, the campaign for the International Year of Co-operatives is 100% industry owned with every dollar contributed by Australian co-operative members. In tough economic times it has not always been easy to make the case for additional expenditure but the exercise of defining what is the value proposition of an International Year to co-operative businesses and the members of those businesses has been central in defining what we should focus our efforts on in 2012.

I believe that we have this one opportunity to make the most of the focus an International Year brings at a time when the world is experiencing the negative impacts of transacting business in an “uncooperative” way. It is also worth noting that this is the first time the United Nations has conferred International Year status on a business structure — which brings to mind Ban Ki Moon’s comment: "Co-operatives are a reminder to the international community that it is possible to pursue both economic viability and social responsibility."

I’m immensely proud that we have successfully realised a couple of world ‘first’s’ for IYC 2012 – the first coin commemorating IYC 2012 was launched in Australia on 22 November. Only days before, the first coin off the minting presses, was presented to Dame Pauline in Cancun at the ICA General Assembly. Dame Pauline did us the great honour of taping a message for Australian co-operators.

We are very happy that Dame Pauline will be able to join Australian co-operators in February, for the launch of our Australia Post IYC 2012 stamps and a pre-paid envelope designed to increase the level of public awareness of co-operatives in the national and international economy.

While these commemorative activities are very important — the Australian Secretariat has focussed on developing a program that provides the bedrock for developing our national sector beyond the end of 2012. This is the fundamental importance of an International Year — to ensure that our business model grows in the economy and is front of mind as an alternative business structure to empower people and communities through sustainable commercial activity.

At our national launch at Parliament House in Australia’s capital — Canberra it was my pleasure to welcome representatives of the co-operative, mutual and credit union movements in Australia. These are member-owned businesses which have a rich history of providing valuable economic and social contribution to local communities and the broader market in Australia. They operate on a values based business model. It's part of their DNA and not just a marketing tool for a corporate strategy.

Australia has 1800 cooperatives, 113 mutual banking institutions and are owned by more than 7 million Australians. The top 100 coops, mutuals and credit unions in Australia turned over $20 billion in 2010. Australia has the third largest mutual banking sector after the US and Canada. These are statistics of which we can be rightly proud — however they have not had the recognition proportionate to their contribution. The celebration globally of the role that co-operatives and mutuals play within our communities is most welcome. In Australia we are saying: “It is our time to shine.”

We are planning a series of initiatives in 2012 aimed at highlighting the strength of the sector. We will launch a commemorative year book, a glossy hard cover celebration of co-operatives in Australia. We have wonderful Ambassadors for the year’s celebrations; actor Hugh Jackman and celebrity chef Maggie Beer (she buys most of her produce from a co-op) have both willingly lent their voice to the celebration of the mutual sector. Joyce Clague and our IYC Patron, Mr Bob Debus, bring a high profile awareness of the co-op model in their public endorsement of our campaign.

We are planning conferences and events across Australia in 2012 and we are also planning a national awards scheme and a youth summit to raise the profile of co-ops and credit unions amongst the young. The legacy outcomes that we are aiming for this year are a growth in awareness and participation in co-operatives, mutuals and credit unions and for the development of a Social Business Council which will have a significant voice and represent the strong and growing co-operative and mutual sectors of our community.  

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