Global co-op leaders gather for Summit opening

Two thousand eight hundred co-operative business leaders watched the opening of the International Summit of Cooperatives in Quebec on Monday.

Two thousand eight hundred co-operative business leaders from 92 countries watched the opening of the International Summit of Cooperatives in Quebec on Monday.

The event was opened by Monique Leroux, President and Chief Executive of Desjardins, organiser of the conference, and co-hosts Dame Pauline Green, President of the International Co-operative Alliance; and Dr Colin Dodds, President and Vice-Chancellor of St Mary’s University.

Quebec’s Prime Minister, Pauline Marois, welcomed the movement to Quebec. She said: “We have always believed in the social economy; our day care centres are an example. By letting parents come together to look after our young we are giving them the greatest responsibility.”

Ms Marois added that for communities to create quality jobs they must be involved in their own development, and organisations such as Desjardins promote this. She said: “These values are fundamental, solidarity is the ultimate end that has brought your members here to build a fairer and stronger society. By choosing to hold this Summit in our capital you are inspiring us for the future.

“Given the difficult economic times, most developed countries have to make difficult decisions. But we must not lose sight of solidarity and mutual assistance. We must present values of solidarity and helping each other. Justice, solidarity, thoroughness; these are the values of the co-operative movement.”

In opening the evening, Ms Leroux challenged co-operators to strengthen the co-operative model around the world, while Dame Pauline said "we must walk, the talk” and Dr Dodds added “we have to get the co-operative message out there”.

Ms Leroux said two years ago Desjardins imagined a conference that "made it possible to have co-operative leaders of the world and high calibre speakers” come together. She added: “We are very proud to be hosting you here. The declaration of our Summit will be presented to the United Nations and will serve to enrich the final declaration of the International Year of Co-operatives.”

But Ms Leroux told delegates: “Let’s look beyond this meeting. What if this first Summit moved to a second, to a third? If Davos have a forum, why not have a world co-operative forum? With one million organisations, 100 million employees and one billion members we already have a global voice, now we need to make it resonate across the world.

“The world is changing. In these times of profound change the co-op movement must act as a pillar of a pluralistic economy, in which the co-operative and mutual sectors contribute wholly for people and societies. We want governments to recognise the full value and unique aspects of the co-op model and to adopt rules and laws recognising the co-op difference.

“The co-operative and mutual movement carries within it a great hope that we can build a better world. So let's dare, let's persevere, unite our strengths and work together. Let's offer the world our strengths and, most of all, show the world the amazing power of co-operatives.”

During the opening ceremony, guest speaker, economist and political scientist Riccardo Petrella, set the stage for a lively debate over the following three days. After recalling the failure of the dominant economic model with its one billion people living in poverty, he challenged the co-operative movement to imagine a "realistic utopia"; and to even set up its own Award for Utopia.

He said: "The role of co-operatives should not be to heal the wounds of capitalism or to save the free market economy. These are collectively owned enterprises. We can not get out of the repeated crises by strengthening the system that created them. Co-operatives should not be a 'business model' and large co-operatives should not act as a large multinationals and seek to grow at all costs."

Dame Pauline, who has travelled the world extensively throughout the International Year of Co-operatives, told delegates: “This year has given a huge boost, to the cohesion and confidence to co-ops around the world. We have seen our own strength of the size and impact we have around the world.”

Addressing the world’s co-operative business leaders, Dame Pauline said this is a “great opportunity”: “We must not waste this opportunity of this event. We have our largest and most iconic businesses meeting together when the world is in need of urgent support.

“We have an unprecedented opportunity to make a positive step change in our profile and global economy. Our argument has been that co-op businesses want to see a diversified global economy, put people at the heart of decision making and not just the hot blooded pursuit for profit at any cost.

“We have a challenge, for the co-ops here, the most successful in the world are together for the first time. Today we have to decide if at the end of this year are we going to pat ourselves on the back and go back to business as usual or are we going to build on momentum of a great international year? We must keep pursuing our agenda.

“If we are to change these things, then we, the world’s co-operatives will have to do it. We have to demonstrate that we'll walk the talk.”

In closing the welcome from the hosts, Dr Dodds underlined the importance of the conference: “Thank you for coming to share and learn, we need you. We are on the journey for seeking a better world and economy. We owe it to our youth and future generations. I'm very optimistic we have a great future, but we have to do it together, and we have to get out that message of the power of co-operatives.”

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