United Nations International Year of Co-operatives. CO-OPERATIVE ENTERPRISE BUILD A BETTER WORLD: Ocho Rios, Jamaica 18 July 2012. IYC 2012.
United Nations International Year of Co-operatives
CO-OPERATIVE ENTERPRISE BUILD A BETTER WORLD:
Ocho Rios, Jamaica
18 July 2012
Let me start by acknowledging the remarkable nature of this moment in time where we find ourselves. This period in which the International Year of Co-operatives has arrived.
I don’t have to tell you that this is a time of unusual uncertainty. The future is always uncertain of course. But seldom does so much seem to be “up for grabs” , so unsettled.
I don’t mean to signal, when I speak of this uncertainty,
That this is a time for despair.
In fact, quite the opposite.
In certain parts of the globe, we see strong growth and great hope
A Movement with the rich history of this one
Also knows that a year is just the blink of an eye in the long arc of time.
The key is not what we accomplish during this Year
But how we use this Year to build a platform for the future.
ICA believes that a strong global Co-operative brand rebounds to the advantage of our members
And that the single greatest benefit ICA can provide its members
Is to strengthen understanding of and appreciation for that brand.
Our vision is that, if we do this well, the Co-operative will become the fastest-growing model of enterprise by the end of this decade
Our challenge is to make sure that more people in decision-making positions—
The media, business and law schools, emerging entrepreneurs—
That such people know about the scope, scale, and impact of the Co-operative sector of the economy and of our capacity to do so much more.
Its is essential for members to trade their products through the Society, as this practice guarantees a sustainability of the Co-operative.
Consequently, we are working this Year to make strategic advances in key areas where we can build, year-by-year, to achieve that decade-end vision.
The first area, and our priority, is public awareness: to increase public awareness of the Co-operative as a serious, values-based model of enterprise where the individual has a meaningful voice.
We’ve opened a communications office in the UK,
And we have established a relationship with a global communications and media relations firm there,
To plant our substantive messages in mainstream media.
We don’t want to talk about ICA; that’s of no interest to the public.
We want to place stories that demonstrate the impact Co-operatives are having.
If you unpack our public awareness message, there are three key components to it:
The Co-operative is a serious enterprise model;
The members control it—you have a voice.
We’re leading with the first message, that the Co-operative is a serious enterprise model, because we believe it is the least understood.
ICA publishes a list of the 300 largest Co-operatives in the world.
Last year’s list reported that those 300 Co-operatives had an annual turnover of USD 1.6T, equal to the world’s 9th largest economy.
The Co-operative model is a thing of beauty at a community level,
But it is scalable.
It has proven its credibility as a serious enterprise model.
We need to ensure that Co-operatives are not marginalised as a small model in a world without legitimate alternatives.
We need to resist what I’ve heard referred to recently as the notion that “Small is beautiful. Invisible is even better.”
We have a story of success to share:
The collective prominence of Brazilian Co-operatives in that nation’s economy;
The health system embedded in the Japanese Agricultural Co-operatives;
The growing impact of the Co-operative model in China.
Our public awareness strategy is getting stories like these told, in the context of the impact they are having.
The second key area where ICA is building during the IYC to position us for the remainder of the decade is in public policy.
We’ve established a Washington office and are more strategically exploiting our consultative status with the UN,
While building on our relationships at the World Bank.
Here, too, we have 3 core messages, which Dame Pauline Green, ICA’s President, was able to deliver at a Plenary Session in the iconic General Assembly Hall at the United Nations last October, at the opening of the International Year:
First, recent history has demonstrated that we need a more diversified global economy;
Second, we want equal promotion of the Co-operative model with the shareholder model;
Third, we want full recognition in public policy and regulation of the specific and unique legal and financial framework of Co-operatives.
We need to make the case over and over to global and national decision-makers that we can no longer depend on one dominant model of business.
The global economy needs a better-balanced and more sustainable economic model.
The Co-operative model is a substantial part of the solution,
With a reach into every corner of the world.
For those who doubt this vision, I can report it is already unfolding.
In May, the Economist magazine carried an intriguing Briefing on “The endangered public company”.
It leads with the note that “public companies have had a difficult decade, battered by scandals, tied up by regulations and challenged by alternative corporate forms.”
This is not surprising to Co-operatives.
We have long seen the pitfalls in the public shareholder model and have championed an alternative designed to avoid the excesses and tendency toward scandals that is inherent in that model.
The Economist notes that: “Public companies are in danger of becoming like a fading London club. Their membership is falling. They spend their time fussing over club rules. And, as they peer out of the window, they see the bright young things heading elsewhere.”
The number of public companies has been declining over this past decade, according to the article.
This does not mean that those rejecting the public company form are necessarily choosing the Co-operative model.
In fact, the article notes that private-equity firms are enjoying some of the rout;
And state-owned enterprises (SOEs), which list on the stock market, account for 80% of the value of China’s market, 62% of Russia’s, and 38% of Brazil’s.
Interestingly, partnerships are reversing a decline that began in the latter half of the Nineteenth Century. Family-owned businesses are also on the rise.
And the article gives a nod to employee-owned businesses.
This shift toward a more diversified economy is good news for Co-operatives,
Regardless of whether the shift is yet predominantly into the Co-operative model.
Another reason to take heart in this change is because this will lead to a more-responsive legal and regulatory environment.
The more various parties are arguing for model-specific treatment,
The more receptive we can expect policy-makers to be of our argument that we need a regime that recognises the unique nature of the Co-operative model
Now, some of these alternative models are as susceptible of abuse as the public shareholder model,
And some are formed by individuals looking for the greatest opportunity for exploitation with the least amount of Regulation.
But a movement toward models like partnerships, family-owned businesses, and employee-owned business, is a directional move toward models where the owners have direct engagement in the business. It may be a move toward a more co-operative society and one that the Co-operative Movement should embrace.
Finally, the third key area where ICA is building for the future during the International Year, is in development.
We recognize that Co-operative capital cannot be just a soft concept.
It has financial implications.
And so we have launched a Global Development Co-operative, a USD 50 million fund
To be loaned to Co-operative Development Agencies with proven expertise in growing co-operatives in developing countries.
The vision of the Co-operative that we see reflected in your work here in Jamaica—the messages that I see reflected in this Symposium—are indicative of trends and attitudes we see among leading Co-operative organisations around the world.
These messages of community, entrepreneurship, impact, relevancy, solutions
Are the themes that have informed and inspired ICA’s messages,
And it is the demonstration of these themes in Co-operative organisations
That has inspired our confidence in the future of the Co-operative model.
We thank you for the sustained commitment you have had to a Co-operative Society,
And for your ability to refresh your model and continue to make it “of our times”.