Jacques Attali is one of the world’s great thinkers. He’s an economist, a writer, an advisor to French presidents and the first president of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. More recently, he founded the organization PlaNet Finance, whose mission is to combat poverty by improving access to financial services and microfinance.
He was the final speaker after a long day of panels and round-tables on a wide range of co-op issues, and many people had already left the hall to change their clothes for tonight’s gala dinner. But he gave one of the most provocative speeches of the Summit and put forward a particularly radical idea: internationalizing co-operatives. In a globalized economy, he suggested, co-ops should be globalized as well.
His idea is radical because we in the co-operative movement pride ourselves in the local nature of our co-operative enterprises. The vast majority of co-ops are rooted in local economies, serve local communities and perhaps most importantly, keep wealth within the communities they serve. For many co-ops, being local is at the heart of their identity.
Right now, there are a variety of international organizations that represent co-operatives: the International Co-operative Alliance, the World Council of Credit Unions and various sectoral organizations with acronyms like ICMIF and CICOPA. But that’s not what Attali was talking about — while he didn’t go into a lot of detail, he seemed to be actually referring to international co-ops, or as he put it “democracy beyond borders”. Is this the co-op version of the old International Workers of the World, a labour union that used the slogan “Workers of the World Unite?”
Attali no doubt recognizes that his vision would present legal obstacles – early in his talk, he commented that the world economy is global, while laws are national. But leaving that aside, is it really possible to be true to a co-op’s local roots and serve local communities in a globalized structure? Can a co-op be both local and global?
More food for thought….
– Donna Balkan