Q&A: Andrew Crane discusses his role at the B20 and the International Summit of Cooperatives

Andrew Crane is a prominent voice for co-operators in Australia, and he has now stepped up to a global platform for the co-operative movement. This week, Dr Crane...

Andrew Crane is a prominent voice for co-operators in Australia, and he has now stepped up to a global platform for the co-operative movement.

This week, Dr Crane is taking part in the B20 leadership group in his role as chief executive of grains co-operative CBH. As chair of the  Business Council of Co-operatives and Mutuals (BCCM), Dr Crane will also be flying the flag for Australian co-operatives at this year’s International Summit of Cooperatives in October.

Dr Crane discusses the opportunities for the movement…

The Australian Business Council for Co-operatives and Mutuals was formed to address the lack of awareness of co-operatives. What have you achieved so far?
We have achieved a great deal already despite being less than a year old.  We are focusing on three areas; collaboration, education and advocacy. We have established a strong organisation representing a huge but often overlooked sector of the Australian economy made up of co-operatives and mutuals. We are producing research and studies to demonstrate the size of this sector and contribution to a diverse and fair economy. This information is being used to educate key stakeholders and politicians on co-ops and mutuals and strengthen our advocacy for recognition and support of the sector. Finally we are working on educating our own members with tailored courses and assisting new co-operatives to get established.

At this year’s B20 committee, what role can co-operatives play in communicating business priorities to the group of 20 member states?
I have been in contact with the International Co-operative Alliance as well as consulted with our own BCCM executive to provide input to the four B20 taskforces working on Human Capital, Financing Growth, Infrastructure & Investment and Trade. We believe we can provide some useful suggestions of how the co-operative business model can provide an opportunity for new start-up businesses as well as efficient ownership of infrastructure as just two examples.

As chief executive of Australia’s largest co-operative, which faced rumours of demutulisation some years ago, how much has the success of the organisation been influenced by the co-operative structure?
I think those rumours are pretty old now. The CBH Board and Management Team have spent a lot of time in 2009/10 reviewing the best structure for the business for the future. There was a very clear decision to remain as a co-operative and members voted overwhelmingly for a constitution that enshrined co-operative principles. It has been very motivating for the business since then to have such clarity and focus on creating and returning value to growers  through a co-op. Member loyalty has increased dramatically and has the financial performance and execution of key growth strategies.

What could the global co-operative movement learn from Australian co-operatives?
Actually in considering our structure a few years ago we looked globally to learn from others on why co-ops fail and why they succeed. We brought an international expertise to help us understand the importance of running a commercial business but with member interests at its heart. As we have found with the recently formed Business Council of Co-operatives and Mutuals there are plenty of successes out there but we have not been good in sharing that success with each other or with the wider community. It is conferences like the Quebec Summit that help us to learn from best practice social businesses wherever they are in the world.

What will your role be at this year’s International Summit?
I will be on a panel discussing the attraction and retention of members. We will be using examples from recent work we have done at CBH to put the grower member at the centre of everything we do. This started with a review of the co-operative structure and then use of the Argenti Strategic planning method to create a clear view of our beneficiary and measure of benefit.

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