Co-ops can provide solutions to the most pressing global challenges, says Monique Leroux

Monique Leroux, president and chief executive of Desjardins Group, shares her thoughts on this year’s summit and the future of the co-operative movement… The first edition of the...

Monique Leroux, president and chief executive of Desjardins Group, shares her thoughts on this year’s summit and the future of the co-operative movement…

The first edition of the International Summit took place in 2012 – the International Year of Cooperatives. What was achieved two years ago, and what is your vision for this year’s edition?

The first edition demonstrated that co-operatives are a real force in the global economy. Speakers and researchers presented 11 ground-breaking studies that recognised the global impact of co-operatives, and some 50 scientific articles and books were published.

The 2012 Summit wound with a Declaration, in which participants “reaffirmed the important contributions that co-operatives make to the socio-economic well-being of people and communities”, in addition to identifying the key business challenges facing the movement worldwide. This was presented to the ICA General Assembly and sent to the UN.

This year, the Summit will reveal how co-operatives are a vital solution to global issues, thanks to their ability to innovate. For more than a century, co-ops have adapted, evolved and improved to compete. Innovation is central to the way they do business. They foster an approach that emphasises long-term results and incorporate sustainable development into their growth objectives. They ensure that most of the economic and financial spinoffs of their activities benefit the communities they serve.

The Summit will touch upon a number of topics related to the five main themes, but is there one main issue co-operators should be focusing on?

The ICA Blueprint for a Co-operative Decade raised important concerns for the growth of co-ops and mutuals. To achieve their business objectives while maintaining their values, co-operatives and mutuals must relentlessly innovate. For this reason, the 2014 Summit umbrella theme is “Cooperatives’ Power of Innovation”, with five major themes:

  • Developing Co-operative and Mutual Enterprises
  • Economics, Financing and Capitalisation
  • Employment
  • Food Security
  • Health and Social Care Services

The Summit will provide managers with tools to foster the growth and sustainability of their businesses. We want co-operative enterprise and mutual leaders to leave the Summit with a wealth of new ideas and strategies that will help boost the performance of their organisations.

Are there particular studies or speakers that you are looking forward to during this year’s Summit?

With more than 195 speakers, eight round tables and 21 forums, the Summit is the most important forum of its kind for all businesses, decision makers and participants in the field of co-operatives.

We are eager to hear all of the keynote presentations including those of Peter Diamandis (XPRIZE Foundation), Robert J. Shiller (2013 Nobel Co-Laureate in Economics) and Richard Wilkinson (Equality Trust). We are also looking forward more than 25 ground-breaking and exclusive studies prepared by world-renowned firms. The studies will shed new light on the innovative potential of the co-operative and mutualist business model, and they are an invaluable source of information, available exclusively to participants.

Moreover, many Summit partners will host satellite events. In total, 53 Rendez-vous (meetings) are scheduled. Ranging from forums and workshops to panels and benchmarking presentations, they represent a unique opportunity to learn more about other themes of interest in different sectors of the co-operative and mutualist community.

Finally, I would like to highlight a pre-Summit forum on Affordable Energy and Economic Development, and a luncheon conference on Free Trade Agreements: Challenges and Opportunities. Both of these topics are central to business development, and co-operatives can play an important role in economic growth if they are well prepared.

This year, the Summit is running a Young Leaders Program. What message do you have for young co-operators across the world? Why should they attend the Summit?

The Young Leaders Program is an opportunity for co-operative employers and managers to inspire, connect with and train the next generation of leaders.

Young leaders will have access to the full programme, including the main conferences, round tables, forums and all of the ground-breaking studies. The Summit’s Young Leaders Program is sure to accomplish the following:

  • Develop young leaders by providing them with effective tools to grow, thrive and innovate within their organisation, while reinforcing their understanding of the co-operative movement.
  • Connect young leaders by allowing them to build relationships with global leaders and members of the movement, discuss priorities and complex issues with their peers, and – why not? – propose solutions to our most pressing business challenges.
  • Inspire young leaders by exposing them to the vibrant, strong and dynamic co-operative movement, while allowing them to witness the many benefits of the co-operative business model.

The future poses great challenges related to food security, demographic trends or climate change. How can co-operatives help to address these?

This is an excellent question. The seven co-operative principles guide co-operatives and mutual enterprises toward long-term results and the sustainable development of their communities.

The challenge of feeding everyone is tremendous. Agricultural and agri-food co-operatives represent more than 35% of co-operatives worldwide. They are active in every sector of the value chain, from farm to table. In terms of food security, they must identify ways boost productivity, strengthen competitive advantages, secure the supply chain and reduce speculation.

The challenges related to demographic changes are numerous, and responses will be diverse. Some countries are experiencing demographic growth, while others are dealing with significant population aging. There is more than one answer to the question of employment or the issue of health care.

In terms of employment, the Summit will examine how co-operative and mutual enterprises create and maintain jobs and foster local and regional economic development.

Regarding health and social care, co-operatives are innovating. Mutuals have known for many years how to mutualise risk. A number of models are emerging, such as doctor, patient, home caregiver and healthcare co-operatives.

On October 9, the round table entitled “The Future in 5 Key Actions” will take a close look at what the Summit taught us: five key themes, five key lessons and five key actions. The proposed takeaways and actionable items will be summarised in a Declaration. Participants in the 2014 Summit will be invited to comment on and contribute to this.

Co-operatives were represented at the B20 Summit earlier this year. How important is this for the global co-operative movement?

Co-operatives play an important role in the global economy, and make an invaluable socio-economic contribution. Together, they represent the equivalent of the world’s ninth largest economy, with revenues in excess of $2.5tn – and, with more than 100m employees, they employ nearly half the world’s workers. Moreover, the international co-operative community has proven its worth by successfully weathering the financial crisis. These successes have sparked the interest of governments in our unique business model.

The appointment of Dr Andrew Crane, President and CEO of CBH Group (Australia), who will be a Summit speaker, has provided an exceptional opportunity to share co-operative business model strategies for promoting growth and sustainable development, creating jobs and reinforcing the global economy. The  movement will continue to be active in such high-level gatherings: we strongly believe our business model can bring about solutions to the pressing challenges of the 21st century.


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