Interview: Q&A with Monique Leroux ahead of the 2016 Summit

Monique Leroux is president of the International Co-operative Alliance. Prior to joining the Alliance last year, she was president, chair of the board and chief executive officer of Desjardins Group, where she played a key role in launching the International Summit of Cooperatives. The idea for the Summit came to her at the World Economic Forum in Davos – she wanted the co-operative movement to have its own “Davos”. The first edition of the Summit took place in 2012, the UN’s International Year of Co-operatives, with the Alliance and Desjardins co-hosting.

Here Ms Leroux speaks about what delegates can expect from the 2016 edition and the importance of fostering international co-operative relations.

Anca Voinea: The first edition of the Summit took place in 2012. Did you intend for it to become a recurring event?

Monique Leroux: That was our greatest hope from the start of the Summit. In fact, our vision of the event revolved around this major goal. You have to remember that the initiative grew from a need in the co-operative and mutual movement to meet together and hold discussions. The UN had also just declared 2012 as the International Year of Co-operatives, and circumstances were favourable for a major gathering centred on this business model.

We hoped to not only highlight this important moment, but also elicit a pledge from the co-operative and mutual community and its leaders to support the objectives set out by the international organisation, such as: raising public awareness about co-operatives and their contribution to socio-economic development; promoting the creation and development of co-operatives; and encouraging governments to introduce policies, legislation and regulations that support their creation and growth.

Delegates at the first edition of the Summit in 2012.
Delegates at the first edition of the Summit in 2012.

Changes in Summit themes over the years also attest to our long-term vision. In 2012 the Summit featured ‘The Amazing Power of Co-operatives’, based on concrete examples, innovative studies and internationally renowned guest speakers. In 2014 the Summit highlighted “Co-operatives’ Power of Innovation” and adaptability in meeting the needs of its members. For the 2016 Summit, organisers plan to go a step further with the theme “Co-operatives’ Power to Act” by sharing information about co-operatives’ major local, national and international spin-offs, and their power to act in achieving the UN’s new sustainable development objectives.

AV: What should delegates expect this year?

ML: Summit delegates, whether directors, decision-makers, managers or leaders, will be presented with an extremely rich and varied programme. They can listen to some of the 210 internationally acclaimed guest speakers give a status report on the global situation and recommend solutions to foster sustainable economic development.

The 2016 Summit is special, considering that the global co-operative movement will make history as the first international group to make a concrete pledge to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. We will spend a full day engaged in group discussions to select the concrete actions we intend to take together to contribute towards achieving the goals of the 17 themes identified by the United Nations on planetary issues. We will make this pledge before United Nations’ delegates.

Apart from this major Summit event, delegates can participate in six round tables on topics as vital as the future of the world economy or the future of work in a constantly changing digital world. They can attend a series of eight forums on controlling the engines of growth in light of new business realities. They will also have a chance to attend seven sector-based meetings examining possible solutions to specific issues. Young co-operators between 20 and 35 years of age from across the world will also be on hand to meet with  co-op movement leaders and delegates from major international organisations, like the UN and the WHO.

In short, this meeting of dynamic forces from the co-operative community, the seminal world event in its field, will provide a unique opportunity and fertile ground for discussing sustainable growth and for reflecting on the new socio-economic and geopolitical realities facing the world.

AV: The contribution of co-operatives to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is one of the Summit’s key topics. Could you tell us more about platform Coops for 2030, which encourages co-ops to make pledges?

ML: We have come a long way since the launch of the Blueprint for a Co-operative Decade. We worked hard on creating an enabling legal framework for co-ops. As we are entering the second phase of our strategic plan, we must make sure to have the right tools to achieve our ambitions. The co-ops for 2030 platform is one such instrument, and one we’re particularly proud of. We launched the platform on the occasion of the 2016 International Day of Co-operatives. Through the platform, co-operators around the world can engage in the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), by making a pledge – it’s a campaign to unite co-operatives in building a sustainable future together. The platform will enable co-operatives to learn about the SDGs, set targets to help achieve them, track their progress and see how other co-operatives are engaging.

I would like to repeat the Alliance’s call and invite our members to register their pledges via We want the world to know that – as sustainable, people-focused businesses, fostering decent work and inclusion – co-operative enterprises play an essential role in implementing the 2030 Agenda.

In the end, those pledges will also complete the declaration at the Summit towards contributing in achieving the UN SDGs.

L-R: Charles Gould, director general of the International Co-operative Alliance, with Li Chunseng (vice-president) and Zhang Wangshu (international department director) of the All China Federation of Co-operatives, at the B20 China kick off
L-R: Charles Gould, director general of the International Co-operative Alliance, with Li Chunseng (vice-president) and Zhang Wangshu (international department director) of the All China Federation of Co-operatives, at the B20 China kick off

AV: In recent years co-ops have been represented at the B20 Summits and UN high-level events. Could you give us more details about the Alliance’s work in this area and what has been achieved so far?

ML: At the heart of my programme for the presidency of the Alliance, which is Unite, Promote and Develop, is the aim of stepping up our presence on the international stage by positioning the Alliance in global decision-making forums. The Alliance represents co-ops at key policy forums such as the Business 20, where international business makes recommendations to G20 leaders. Last month, the B20 Summit in China concluded with the adoption of a set of policy recommendations that mention co-operatives.

Our B20 membership emphasises the message that co-operatives make a fairer, more inclusive, sustainable and resilient society. In a similar manner, building on our work with the UN, the Alliance has achieved the inclusion of a reference to co-ops in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. But the Alliance also looks beyond the very visible global forums, and aims to speak on behalf of co-ops in highly specialised bodies too. For instance, in this respect, the Alliance has secured permanent representation on the International Financial Reporting Standards Council.

It is our continued work to promote co-operatives to world leaders, both in new and established global policy bodies, that will open the door for co-ops to play a significant role in the economic, social and environmental development over the next 20 years.

Related: B20 final documents highlight the contribution of co-operatives

AV: What is your message for co-operators from across the world?

ML: Apart from the tantalising programme sure to elicit discussion, information-sharing and networking with peers, a large brain-storming session on 13 October will provide world co-operative and mutual leaders with a chance to contribute their ideas for rising to specific challenges and advancing the well-being of communities. This day-long event, devoted to the SDGs, is intended to shed light on possible activities related to the five major issues addressed by the Summit: food security, employment, access to health care and social services, poverty and financial inclusion, climate change and sustainable development.

Participants will discuss the challenges they encounter in their daily activities. To ensure they can meet these challenges, they will work as a team to identify realistic and measurable courses of action.

By the end of the day, we hope to have generated at least 250 concrete courses of action for submission to the global co-operative and mutual movement in an effort to contribute toward achieving the United Nations’ SDGs. These actions will represent our collective effort to make a sustainable contribution to the development of societies.

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