Researchers, educators gather in Montreal to celebrate International Year

More than 150 co-operative researchers, educators and practioners from Canada, the U.S. and around the world are meeting in Montreal this week to talk about research and education...

The participants  range from university professors to co-op developers; the topics from co-op governance and sustainability reporting to the integration of co-op education into the curriculum of business schools.  Although Canadians and Americans make up the bulk of the people who are gathering in Montreal this week to attend the Co-operating for Change in the International Year of Co-operatives conference, others come from as far away as Italy, the U.K., Israel, Korea and Thailand.  A special guest at the conference is ICA director-general Charles Gould, who will be part of a public policy panel on Wednesday and a speaker at the conference's closing reception at Montreal City Hall that evening. 

While the attendance list is diverse, the message is clear:  there needs to be more research and education about co-ops.  And what better time to talk about this than the International Year of Co-operatives.

The Montreal conference is the result of the coming together of a number of organizations dedicated to co-operative education and research:  the Canadian Association for Studies in Co-operative (CASC), the U.S.-based Association of Co-operative Educators (ACE) , the International Co-operative Alliance's research committee and several other co-op research networks.  While these organizations normally meet separately, the joint event was planned specifically to celebrate the International Year. 

The conference opened with a keynote presentation by Linda Shaw, vice-principal of the Manchester-based Co-operative College, who talked about both the challenges and opportunities facing co-operative researchers in the United Kingdom.  A lot of heads nodded as cited such challenges as uncertain funding,  the relative invisibility of co-ops within many academic disciplines and and a lack of concrete evidence to make the case for co-ops — issues that are common to the co-op research communities in many countries.  At the same time, Dr. Shaw cited such trends as a renewed interest in agriculture and food security and a recognition of co-operatives by such international financial institutions as the World Bank as providing new opportunities for the pursuit of co-op research.

The opening plenary was followed by a full day of panels, roundtables and workshops on a wide range of topics: co-op models, Fair Trade, education initiatives, and co-operative governance, to name only a few.  And the day ended up with a banquet and the presentation of awards: to l'Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM)– the conference venue and a major player in co-op and social economy research —  co-op educator Kerr Smith, who developed a co-op curriculum for high school students;  and UQAM professor Marie Bouchard, credited with her efforts to bring together the French- and English-speaking  research communities. An award also went to Desjardins Group, the co-operative financial group that will host the International Summit of Cooperatives in Quebec City in October. 

The conference will end on Wednesday with tours of local co-ops and the City Hall reception,which also marks the beginning of a second co-op gathering, the joint Congress of Canada's two national co-operative associations, the Canadian Co-operative Association (CCA) and the Conseil canadien de la coopération et de la mutualité (CCCM).  

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