Imagine 2012: Opening session sets agenda of co-operative economics

A conference that brings together economic leaders of co-operative businesses around the world has opened in Quebec.

A conference that brings together economic leaders of co-operative businesses around the world has opened in Quebec.

Imagine 2012 is focusing on the co-operative economy with a number of academics and economists from around the world.

Monique Leroux, President and CEO of Desjardins, opened the conference as co-host alongside Dame Pauline Green, President of the International Co-operative Alliance.

Imagine is the pre-conference to the 2012 International Summit of Cooperatives, which is organised by Desjardins.

Ms Leroux told delegates: “We live in difficult times, difficult for government, difficult for business and difficult for people. We need to get back on track, more jobs, more innovation and more businesses need to invest, expand and think long term for people and society.

“Co-operatives are efficient and customer focused business, what makes them distinctive is that they are based on the associations of people. They put people first. They are not just there to make money, but to bring essential services to people.

“I believe that a strong and expanding co-op sector is a little part of a balanced economy. Co-operatives have a solid track record of success and many advantages.”

In summing up her speech, Ms Leroux asked a series of questions and said these issues will be discussed during the Imagine and International Summit conferences: “Why isn’t the co-operative sector a bigger part of our economies? Why aren’t there more larger co-operative businesses? Why is co-operation more likely to be studied on sociology programmes rather than business management programmes?”

Following Monique Leroux, Dame Pauline addressed the conference with a thought about the popularity of co-operatives: “When you think we employ 100 million people around the world, who is it that doesn’t know the co-op movement is a key part of the global economy.

“We want a diversification of the global economy; and we want our people-owned businesses to be a part of this. We are serving the needs of ordinary folk and businesses around the world, when so many financial institutions have let them down.

“We have to move public opinion, and decision makers’ opinions, that we are not fluffy little businesses and get the recognition we deserve.”

Dame Pauline told delegates that the messages coming out of the conference need to be heard by the United Nations at its International Year closing ceremony in November. The outcome of the conference will also play its part in the ICA’s Blueprint for a Co-operative Decade, which will be discussed at the General Assembly on October 31 during Co-operatives United in Manchester.

Dr Colin Dodds, President of St Mary’s University, organiser of the conference, welcomed delegates to the Quebec City Convention Centre. He said: “Our values are key to our future. We have great opportunities for the future. The co-op model offers that alternative; the focus on people, the focus on democracy, and also offers the focus on respect.

Putting these together, then this is our movement. We have a powerful force for the future, a powerful business model. We have a model for a sustainable, global economy, built on people.

“We are here to look at ideas for the future, in the end it is our future and certainly owe it to our future and those of our children’s and grandchildren.”

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