Dame Pauline Green declares a new era for co-operatives

Dame Pauline Green delivered a keynote speech at the Closing Ceremony of the International Year of Co-operatives at the UN’s HQs in New York today. In her speech,...

Dame Pauline Green delivered a keynote speech at the Closing Ceremony of the International Year of Co-operatives at the UN’s HQs in New York today. In her speech, the International Co-operative Alliance President spoke of the co-operative enterprise model as key to tackling the economic crisis, food security and unemployment.

She mentioned her visits to 30 different countries throughout 2012 and thanked the UN for the International Year, which she said has strenghted the movement and raised its profile. "The movement has never been this cohesive," she said. She also thanked to the government of Mongolia, saying it has played a key role in drafting the Resolution for the International Year. Dame Pauline Green also said Rabobank, which co-organised the opening session, is one of the key strategic bodies around the world in promoting the co-operative enterprise model.

Dame Pauline made reference to the World Development Report of 2008, emphasising that three billion people, nearly half of humanity, currently live in rural areas. In the light of growing concerns over food supply by 2050, the ICA leader described how co-ops could sustain growth, help to alleviate poverty and tackle hunger.

"The question for all of us, co-operatives or not, is how do we best square that circle – a scarcity of food supply worldwide by 2050," she said. “The co-operative model of business could be a valuable tool in building sustainable, grass roots agricultural businesses in Africa."

Dame Pauline continued: “At this moment it is co-operative enterprises, that are so often the lynchpin of the real economy, keeping life going for so many at grass roots level in economies under stress. Co-operatives can bring transformational change to the way business is conducted."

The ICA President also addressed the issue of false co-operatives or “co-operatives without co-operators”, a phenomenon well known in Africa. Dame Pauline said that in the past some governments might have sought to control and own the co-operative sector of the economy. She added a growing concern is now that some public development donors have constructed a co-operative simply as a financial instrument to drive development funding down to the grassroots farmers.

She said: “Neither of these pseudo co-operative forms can succeed. Eventually, they collapse or fail and leave a bad taste in the mouths of both grassroots farmers, and those who created the so-called co-operatives.

"But the worst possible effect of such constructs is that the results that can be achieved by ‘real’ co-operatives, not just in the context of economic success, but also the range of wider community and individual benefits, are lost, and those engaged in these constructs are less likely to ever consider a co-operative again."

Dame Pauline further referred to a paper delivered by Professor Suleman Chambo, the Principal of Moshi University College of Co-operative and Business Studies in Tanzania. In this paper, Professor Chambo makes a case for co-operatives as key to empowering people from remote African areas.

The ICA leader said agricultural co-operatives maintain higher levels of income, enable people to get involved in the decision-making and promote democracy.

She said there are only two serious ways in which the international community can help build a stronger, more successful African rural economy. The first is to develop grassroots co-operatives and secondary co-operative supply chains. "The second way," said Dame Pauline, "is that we could just allow the crisis to develop". The ICA President said the first way is the viable alternative. She added this vision is not idealist and is based on the power of the one billion co-op members.

She gave examples of how in India two of the largest domestic agricultural food businesses are co-operatives. Dame Pauline also mentioned the great results achieved in Brazil through “Zero Hunger”, with co-ops playing a key role in the success of the programme. She explained how in China a pilot scheme running in five provinces to build grass roots community co-operative finance in village banks aims to lift the standard of living of 600 million people living in rural poverty. The ICA President also described how in Kenya, co-operatives account for nearly half of the nation’s GDP and in Rwanda in the last ten years, the co-operative economy has gone from zero to eight per cent of GDP.

Dame Pauline said co-ops in emerging countries are built on the experience and expertise of co-ops in developed countries. She explained how 90 per cent of cheese production in Italy comes from co-ops and she added the same can be said about champagne in France.

Dame Pauline added: “There is in fact irrefutable evidence that the co-operative model of enterprise is working in the real economy to push back against a tide of global trouble, not just in the developing world.”

She said in Greece the Pindos Poultry co-operative has managed to prosper even in the context of the recession, growing profits making it Greece’s 11th biggest food business and its biggest poultry producer. Dame Pauline also referred to Mondragon Corporation, saying it has played a key role in keeping the Basque region’s unemployment levels to half that of the rest of the country.

Dame Pauline ended her speech by saying the UN and its agencies have the agenda, the infrastructure and the resources and it is up to co-operators from all over the world to put this together, building a Co-operative Decade.

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