Interview: Monique Leroux

Here, we speak to Monique Leroux, Chief Executive of the Quebec-based and multi-billion financial co-operative Desjardins, who will present a keynote speech during the Co-operative Congress.

Co-operatives United will explore how co-operatives can build a better world through finance with a series of key speakers who will look at how to grow the co-operative economy on Thursday morning.

Here, we speak to Monique Leroux, Chief Executive of the Quebec-based and multi-billion financial co-operative Desjardins, who will present a keynote speech during the Co-operative Congress.

Do you believe the International Year of Co-operatives can mark a historical turn in the co-operative sector?

By proclaiming 2012 the International Year of Cooperatives, the United Nations has given us a golden opportunity to promote this business model that we believe in so wholeheartedly. By virtue of this declaration, the UN has underlined the relevance of cooperatives in the world today.

This exceptional year provides us with unique opportunities to network within the co-operative movement, between co-operative leaders and partner organizations, through many national and international meetings. For instance, the IYC facilitates a more in-depth understanding of the co-op model by business schools and universities, as well as by regulatory bodies and rating agencies.

Have financial co-operatives proven to be more sustainable enterprises, if one is to look at how they have coped with the crisis? How did Desjardins face the recession?

Based on what has been compiled worldwide on how banks and financial co-operatives managed through the 2008 crisis, most recovered better and faster than many commercial banks. The reason is that while co-ops are driven by long-term objectives, a lot of banks were involved in speculative investments with short-term gains.

Are there misconceptions people tend to have when it comes to financial co-operatives and co-operatives in general? How can these be addressed?

Even though co-operatives may not be well understood by the general public, they play a huge role in today’s economy. For example the largest 300 co-operatives in the world — in all areas of activity — generate over 1,600 billion CAN dollars’ worth of business each year. This is the same amount as Canada’s GDP, which is the tenth largest economy in the world.

If co-operatives are not well known, it might also be that many of them hide behind familiar brand names. Everyone in North America knows Sunkist oranges, but most people don’t realize that Sunkist is actually the biggest fruit and vegetable marketing co-op in the world. It has been around since 1893 and its members are fruit growers in California and Arizona. Another example: 35% of the world’s maple syrup is brought to market by Quebec co-operatives. And 60% of milk produced in Quebec comes from members of the Agropur cooperative.

Co-operatives are resilient organizations. The first insurance companies in North America were mutual companies or co-operatives. The oldest of these date back to the 18th century. Benjamin Franklin helped create the first mutual insurance company in Philadelphia in the 1730s. At the time, the community wanted to protect itself against the devastation caused by fire. Today, the Philadelphia Contributionship is still in business.

You said that a new economic order is emerging. What role do you believe co-operatives will play in the global economy in the future, particularly in developing countries?

Over the past few years I have come to know the great power of cooperatives, both personally and professionally, and what they have to offer. This has become especially clear given our current economic and financial climate. Now, individuals and communities are looking for new models and new ways of working together to build society.

At Desjardins, we are also very proud to be a part of the global co-operative movement. Co-operatives all over the world share a common vision for society and an economy that serves human development.

This is why we believe in the amazing power of co-operatives to help us build a better world together. For example, for the last 40 years Desjardins Group, through its unit Développement international Desjardins (DID), has been helping several developing countries to set up or consolidate financial co-operative systems. Today DID supports co-operatives that reach some 8 million individuals, particularly in Africa, Latin America and Haïti. I truly believe that the co-operative model is one that best meets the needs of developing countries, as it is a model that is based on democracy, equality and solidarity.

In this article

Join the Conversation