Editorial: A global vision to strengthen the movement

Co-operatives should not just be in the business of business. And this was proven on a grand scale by the attendance of executives and directors from co-operatives across...

Co-operatives should not just be in the business of business. And this was proven on a grand scale by the attendance of executives and directors from co-operatives across the world at the International Summit of Cooperatives.

Speaking to executives at the conference from Australia through Asia and Europe right to Canada itself, it is widely understood that the movement is here to make a difference in society.

And while some of the studies presented felt like recycled management reports that replaced the word ‘company’ with ‘co-operative’, this was largely offset by research that started to pick away at the depth of the movement.

With confidence, co-operative researchers can say there are 250 million people employed by co-operatives at 2.6 million co-operatives and mutuals around the world. And that the top 300 co-operatives are worth £1.36trn ($2.2trn), which is on a par with the GDP of Brazil and just behind the UK – the 7th and 6th largest economies in the world.

It is acknowledged that this is only on the cusp of getting to know the global impact of co-operatives, especially with the World Co-operative Monitor report still being labelled an exploratory report.

One of the other biggest factors of the co-operative movement is that there is a large equality disparity. The majority of sessions were propped up by 50-year-old-plus, white men. And, as has been noticed by the youth leaders programme, participation needs to be greatly increased at events such as these from all areas of society.

Besides the youth statement, the only real voice that young people had during the event was through social media. With one frustrated delegate pointing out that the people talking about the future of the co-operative movement, were not the future of the co-operative movement.

It was a fine point, and one that was echoed by International Co-operative Alliance president Dame Pauline Green. She put it perfectly when she told delegates to let the youth of today be radical, as today’s leaders were once radical in their generation.

The final panel, which was meant to sum up the whole of the three-day conference, was overrun by sentiments to give young people a much greater say and role in the future of the sector. Calls for change were led mainly by the president of Credit Cooperatif Jean-Louis Bancel, himself a white male aged 50+.

Another lack of representation at the event, was the British movement. The biggest co-op represented was Midcounties – and others were from smaller co-ops and bodies such as  Co-operatives UK, Co-operative Development Scotland, Benenden, SAOS, Abcul and Mutuo (as well as Co-operative News).

The point of the International Summit is to attract business leaders from co-operatives that have the greatest impacts to learn and share experiences about how others do the co-operative way of business.

This was an opportunity for the British sector to also repair its dented reputation stemming from the Co-operative Group/Bank crisis. Rabobank had the confidence to step up and smooth over its damaged character following its $1bn fine last year over the Libor scandal.

One of the concurrent themes that should be of interest in the UK sector was for co-operatives to become much stronger through “inter-co-operation” by linking with other co-operatives around the world. Whether this is through shared or link-up services, or even pooling buying power, the vision is there to strengthen all co-ops and ultimately provide a better service to our members.

As the digital age takes a firm grip on how business is conducted, it seems like the Summit’s push for global inter-co-operation could be the movement’s answer to the ever-increasing companies that are trading without borders.

Goodbye Amazon, Wal-Mart etc… ?

  • For all updates from the 2014 International Summit of Cooperatives, click here
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