2012 is our time to tell the co-operative story

Nicola Kelly is working hard on plans to tell the world all about co-operatives.

Nicola Kelly is working hard on plans to tell the world all about co-operatives.

The former membership officer for the Co-operative Group in the South West was seconded early last year to the International Co-operative Alliance as the International Year of Co-operatives Co-ordinator and in September, she became employed by the global organisation as its Director of Communications.

As the voice of the global Movement, the ICA was established in 1895; has members in almost 100 countries, and represents one billion co-operative members worldwide.

For most of 2011, Nicola has been getting to grips with the daunting task of planning the ICA’s communications strategy for the International Year of Co-operatives. Birmingham-born Nicola joined the Co-operative Movement in June 2010 after working in top-level roles for destination management organisations in Birmingham, Nottingham and Devon.

In recent months, she has been travelling all over the world to promote 2012’s worldwide celebration of Co-op values, which is being supported by the United Nations. She was in New York for the official UN launch at the end of October and a few weeks later visited Cancun for the ICA’s biennial General Assembly, the largest ever, where more than 2,000 co-operators discussed their 2012 plans.

Taking on the job initially meant relocating to Geneva, the headquarters of the ICA, and leaving her partner Andrew and 18-year-old son behind at home in Devon. She said: “It was hard leaving them behind. I came home just three times in six months — once, it was for just 24 hours. But it was a fantastic experience and a challenge I was absolutely up for, even if it did mean working many hours a week.”

Now back at home — a 400-year-old cottage on the edge of Dartmoor — Nicola is excited that 2012 is now here. “The communications plan is about re-branding the global co-operative brand and raising public awareness across the world,” she said. “We all know that co-ops are successful and that their values resonate with millions, but the sheer size of the Movement is often underestimated. 

“For example, I went to Birmingham recently and was talking to a group of business people who are totally on-message in terms of what co-ops are. But they still didn’t quite understand the scale. Over 100 million people globally work for co-ops and they generate billions of dollars in revenue.”

She added: “Even in a very difficult economic climate, co-ops are extremely resilient as well as ethically sound. In the coming months we will be raising awareness, and engaging as many co-op members and supporters as we can with some amazing stories. That’s what 2012 is about and I feel so lucky to have got this role.”

Nicola is in charge of communications and has support of Alex Baker, a Co-operative Group membership officer for the South East who is on a secondment. Alex has brought the ICA up to speed with social networking platforms such as Twitter and Facebook. The results are already impressive as the ICA’s new website — www.2012.coop — has increased its hits threefold.

Key events in 2012 will include the European Research Institute of Co-operative Societies (EURICSE) meeting in Venice. The Plunkett Foundation is holding a meeting in Trim conference in September and Quebec City is the location for the International Summit of Co-operatives organised by Desjardins. The year will culminate in a World Co-operative Festival, ICA Extra-ordinary General Assembly and ICA Expo — October 31st to November 2nd — in Manchester.

During her time at the helm, Nicola has overseen other ICA projects such as the launch of a monthly eDigest and publication of the latest Global300 report, which passed on the impressive news that the top 300 of the world’s top co-operatives have annual revenues of over $1.6 trillion — comparable to the GDP of the world’s ninth largest economy.

Though a relative newcomer to the Movement, Nicola is committed to spreading the word about the significance of co-ops across the globe in the months ahead. “In some respects I am a bit of an outsider. It was a completely new world to me at first but I have loved engaging with the rank-and-file members and bringing co-op values and principles to life – on everything from climate change and sustainability to Fairtrade and ethics – and I am very grateful to be doing that.” 

Now back from Switzerland, she will be overseeing the year from an office at her home. “Our Movement has been there for 150 years,” she said. “But next year will be something that we will see and feel being celebrated in the world’s media. It is a real opportunity to get a foot in the door when it comes to raising awareness.”

She added: “There is so much goodwill out there and I want to use my skills and this wonderful opportunity to get things done. We don’t say enough about what we do and it is about telling our story and engaging as many as we can.”

• For more information about the ICA’s plans for the International Year of Co-operatives visit: www.2012.coop 

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