Annual Q&A: Susanne Westhausen, president, Cooperatives Europe

‘I strongly believe that all together we can be hopeful and optimistic about the future – even in these dire times’

How was last year for Cooperatives Europe?

For Cooperatives Europe the last year has been quite turbulent but also interesting and productive. The war in Ukraine was a horrible start of the year, and a shock for us all to experience war once again in Europe. But it also triggered wonderful solidarity within the movement with numerous initiatives to help taken by our members, truly demonstrating solidarity and willingness to help. 

This year has been the first after the pandemic, and it has certainly had a lasting impact. The Cardiff Conference was long under way and was even postponed again in the spring. But when it finally happened in November it was a perfect springboard and platform for all co-operators to network and exchange to sprout new ideas or reinvigorate old ones. The event also catered for the Young European Cooperators Network to have its first physical meeting in two years. We were super happy to see many enthusiastic young people share their thoughts and ambitions.

Of course, key for us this year was the development of a new strategy for Cooperatives Europe with the new board in place after by-elections in May. Members had expressed their own local priorities in a survey and based on that the board concluded three key themes (Lighthouses) for the coming years: Gender equality, Education & research, and Youth & entrepreneurship. In Cardiff Cooperatives Europe’s members were invited to reflect on these themes – and we will integrate them into Cooperatives Europe’s work programme. 

We have found new ways of working and new energy in the board, and we are rather proud of what we have achieved so far and look forward to presenting a new strategy for Cooperatives Europe at the GA next year.

What are your hopes for the future?

The value of sustainable business is more widely recognised and promoted than ever. The mindset of many policymakers and the wider public has changed, which is good. But there are still many challenges to overcome for us to shape the world according to our vision, values, and principles.

My hope for the near future is that we as a movement will be able to overcome the economic challenges and that Cooperatives Europe and the ICA will continue to be recognised as a strong and relevant vehicle for co-operative development and implementation locally and a focal point for cross-cutting debates and ideas in all of Europe.

Co-operation in Europe has a lot of good in store for the near future. The board has great plans, and we hope to make most of them a reality. We also see that young people truly want to do things differently. I strongly believe that all together we can be hopeful and optimistic about the future – even in these dire times.