When co-operators meet people who are not familiar with co-operatives, someties people with a business background or MBA (Master’s of business administration), they are confused about how it is that dairy farmers and bankers see themselves as part of the same business comunity. Or how daycare works, beer brewers and insurance providers make efforts to meet in the same forums. It sometimes takes some dialogue to explain that it’s our values. It’s our principles. Self-help, triple bottom lines, transparent governance, economic democracy and challenging the status quo while innovating our current concepts of the economy and market are the webs that weave us together. To have a forum of principled business people of this size and strength is inspiring.
This conference is full of power and pride. There are three key benefits of this summit that have emerged thus far: accountability, celebration and inspiration.
An event of this magnitude is an opportunity for accountability. Participants are keeping themselves in the conversation – the conversation of doing business the way co-operators do. It’s about keeping everyone in the conversation of engaging in mindful business. Already there have been formal and informal conversations of challenging the movement and individual businesses about how they operationalize their principles, how they carry out their democratic functioning and if they look too much like their competitors in capitalist businesses.
In the International Year of Co-operatives, the momentum of the movement continues to grow. Like never before, co-operatives are putting the 6th principle of interco-operation together and expanding the social capital of the movement if you will. There is so much to be proud of. People are meeting their fundamental needs through co-operation such as housing, food, electricity, education and meaningful employment. People are also improving their quality of life through getting involved in value-added production, cultural and social activities and a plethora of services provided through co-ops. Although there are always reasons to be self-critical and challenge our institutions to improve our policies and practices, there is much to be celebrated.
The case studies presented have acquainted the summit participants with the resiliency and tenacity of people working together towards a common goal. Nearly all of the presenters have defined their challenges, their breakdowns and their moments of facing ‘do or die’ situations. Co-ops, at the end of the day, are businesses and face many internal and external challenges. However, the trend in these case studies has been innovation and rebirth in the face of breakdowns. It’s these stories that highlight the nimble nature of our enterprises and the leadership within the movement.
We have come together to learn from others, gain new language to frame our work, and find inspiration to meet the business challenges we face when we go home in a way that aligns with the wisdom of the movement. Without a doubt, participants will walk away from this summit with their horizons a little higher.