Work Together (Archive)

Cooperative in industry and services: an entrepreneurial and innovative attitude to serve all of society

17 October 2016

The third International Summit of Cooperatives, an initiative of the International Co-operative Alliance and Desjardins Group, took place from 11 to 13 October, gathering 2,950 participants from 116 countries, this year focused on cooperatives’ “power to act”. For many speakers present, the true power of cooperatives stems from their long-term vision, collaborative spirit, and the integration of social progress with economic success: three factors that are shaping tomorrow’s economy. Cooperatives in industry and services participated actively in the Summit and CICOPA co-organised two sectoral workshops.

The first one, co-organised with the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association of Unites States (NRECA), entitled “Cooperatives in industry, services and energy: how to address the SME dimension now and tomorrow?” focused on the main strategies and tools cooperative SMEs implemented to strengthen their competitiveness. The second meeting, entitled “Acting wisely on health and social services – the co-operatives’ way” co-organised with the International Health Cooperative Organisation (IHCO), shared the actual and potential expansion of health and social services provided by cooperatives.

SME cooperatives
The different mechanisms put in place by SME cooperatives to remain strong and transform society were analysed at the sectoral meeting co-organised by CICOPA and NRECA. SMEs strengthen their competitiveness in private markets and in public procurement, by promoting cohesiveness, financial sustainability, business and technology strategies, R&D capabilities, internationalisation, clustering, economies of scale and scope… Cooperatives have developed different internal cooperative tools to cope with their size: using advisory services, training schemes, mutualized financial instruments, business networks and horizontal groups. Their resilience to crises and their capacity to innovate are to a large extent attributable to this cooperative way of working.

“These measures constitute the major source of SME cooperatives’ development because they come “from the inside” and are designed to meet their specific developmental and competitiveness needs. In countries characterised by a lack of public policies supporting cooperatives, they represent a main engine for their development. And when they are supported by adequate public policies, their effectiveness and positive impact are multiplied”, said Manuel Mariscal, President of CICOPA.

Health and social services provided by cooperatives
At the sectoral meeting co-organised by IHCO and CICOPA, eminent experts debated on the actual and potential expansion of health and social services provided by cooperatives. A strong emphasis was put on the new and increasing needs transforming society today that make the contribution of these cooperatives so necessary. Giuseppe Guerini, President of Federsolidarietà and CECOP, CICOPA regional organisation for Europe, mentioned some of these, such us the ageing population, rural depopulation and movement of people across national boundaries. What is the cooperative formula to respond to global challenges? The involvement of the whole community and in particular the multi-stakeholder dimension, under which many cooperatives providing health and social services are organised, is one of the spearheads of the cooperative business model. In this regard, J. Cotterau from the French Confederation of Worker Cooperatives (CG Scop) shared the model of French SCIC (Collective Interest Cooperative Societies), whose specific internal governance rules allow them to democratically combine the interests of different actors, such as workers, users and other community actors like associations or local authorities.

Simel Esim, Head of the ILO Cooperative Unit emphasised the role played by cooperatives providing health and social services in helping women get out of poverty, and facilitating the transition from informal to formal work. The key power and potential represented by cooperatives working in this sector is, according to the President of CICOPA found within the very nature of cooperatives that “differently from purely not-for-profit entities, combine social and economic purposes thus putting their entrepreneurial and innovative attitude at the service of the whole of society”.

Nobel Laureate: cooperatives can reshape our economy
In three days filled with enriching debates, exchanges were fuelled by discussions about the key global issues as seen by some of the leading economic thinkers, including Nobel Laureate in Economics Joseph Stiglitz, who looked at the key challenges facing the global economy, and the role of cooperatives in addressing them. “We should learn from cooperatives, if we do, we can reshape our economy, reshape globalisation and who we and our children are. These alternatives make a very big difference. I believe we can construct a world where the economy performs better for all, based on solidarity”. Read more on the Co-operative News article here

“Spread the model, it is a matter of public understanding and visibility: I urge you to have not only the courage of your conviction, but pride in what you are already accomplishing. Our future, in many respects, is in your hands”, declared opinion leader Robert Reich. Founder and Managing Director of FSG Mark Kramer also participated at the Summit underlining how cooperative principles “protect from short termism and give a competitive advantage” and also declared clusters are among “the best opportunities for cooperatives”.

A first in support of the UN Sustainable Development Goals
Cooperative and mutual businesses also reaffirmed their capacity, by virtue of their nature and values, to contribute to sustainable development. This is the first time an international economic group has committed to support the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals, which aim to eradicate poverty, protect the planet, and guarantee prosperity for all. Thus, the last day of the Summit was dedicated to mass reflection, as participants identified several courses of action for achieving the goals. To crystallize this collective effort, the resulting commitments and initiatives will be broadcast on Co-ops for 2030 in order to mobilize the entire cooperative.

The 2016 edition of the World Co-operative Monitor was unveiled
The world’s largest 300 cooperatives have had an increase inturnover of 7.2%. Over 32% of these are working in agriculture, 39% in insurance, 19% in wholesale and retail trade, and 6% in banking and financial services. Some of the top 300 cooperatives are also active in the health and social care sector (1%), the industry sector (2%) and other services and activities. The Mondragon Corporation remains the first cooperative group in the industrial sector with a turnover of USD $ 15.7 billion.

International Worker Cooperative Day
On October 14th, following the Quebec Summit, cooperators from all around the globe participated in the International Worker Cooperative Day entitled “Democratizing the workplace: Innovations in collective management by employees”. The President of CICOPA emphasised inter-cooperation as an ingredient for worker cooperatives’ development, and participants such as Tim Huet, founder of the Arizmendi Group shared tips for ensuring workers’ empowerment through worker ownership. It was organised by le Réseau de la coopération du travail du Québec (a network promoting worker cooperatives in Quebec) and the CICOPA member, Canadian Worker Cooperative Federation (CWCF).