"Cooperative enterprises build a better world"

The United Nations has declared 2012 the International Year of Cooperatives. Charles Gould, Director-General of the International Cooperative Alliance (ICA), describes the opportunities that this has created.


2012, the United Nations International Year of Cooperatives, is a made-to-order opportunity to tell the cooperative story. The message for 2012 begins with the UN slogan for the International Year: Cooperative enterprises build a better world. ICA worked extensively with the UN to ensure that the word enterprises was incorporated into the slogan, to reinforce what we believe is a critical component of the branding – that the cooperative is a serious enterprise model:  values-based, member-controlled, but an enterprise.

We are living at a time when increasing numbers of people, especially youth, feel disenfranchised, disconnected from the economic and social models that dominate their lives. We feel that our message about the impact and reach of the cooperative model, as a member-controlled model, is a powerful one. The cooperative model is scalable at a time when the world is looking for solutions to global problems. ICA’s most recent Global 300 Report, reviewing the performance of the world’s 300 largest cooperatives, found that they have an aggregated annual turnover of 1.6 trillion US dollars (USD), the equivalent of the world’s ninth largest economy, and remember, this is just the 300 largest cooperatives.

A recent report by Cooperatives UK on Global Business Ownership 2012 found that there are three times as many member owners of cooperatives as individual shareholders worldwide

(1 billion cooperators versus 328 million shareholders). The reach and scale is substantial.
ICA’s intent is to use the International Year to make more people around the world aware of the successful, values-based cooperative enterprise model. We also recognise that we can use this Year for a legacy opportunity:  to create a Global Development Fund of USD 50 million to be used for cooperative development. We are looking to the Global 300 cooperatives to provide the first tranche of capital, which would then be leveraged to attract additional funding, and would then be loaned out to intermediary groups with demonstrated capacity in cooperative development.

It is also essential that we have a focused public policy agenda during the International Year, one that we can build on in subsequent years. In her speech to the United Nations opening the International Year, Dame Pauline laid out that agenda, calling for: 1) greater diversification of the global economy; 2) full recognition in public policy and regulation of the specific and unique legal and financial framework of cooperatives; and 3) equal promotion of the cooperative model with the shareholder model.

So the International Year of Cooperatives is an opportunity on many levels. It is first an immediate opportunity to tell the cooperative story to a public – a young public especially – who are hungry for that message, to youth who live and breathe cooperative models in their daily lives, especially through the Internet and social media, but who might not have
been introduced to the cooperative as an enterprise model.

It is an opportunity to demonstrate that cooperatives can work together to communicate key messages, and then to use that cost-effective distributive communications platform to disseminate key messages on an ongoing or periodic basis in subsequent years. And it is an opportunity to relaunch the global cooperative brand as a serious enterprise model. In fact, ICA is beginning to work with the concept that the cooperative could be the fastest-growing enterprise model by the end of this decade. Not only do we hope for this future, we see both economic and social changes that lead us to believe that such an opportunity is indeed before us.

The most important events

The International Year of Co-operatives opened with a launch at the United Nations on the 31st October 2011, at which ICA’s President, Dame Pauline Green, addressed a plenary session of the UN General Assembly, followed in November by the movement's launch in Cancun, Mexico, at ICA’s General Assembly.

Major events are already unfolding during 2012. ICA co-convened a scientific conference in Venice, Italy, in March, along with Euricse (the European Research Institute for Cooperative and Social Economy) and the Alliance of Italian Cooperatives. The conference highlighted the importance of a regulatory framework coherent with the co-operative form. A declaration promoting the understanding of co-operatives arose out of this conference and will be presented for further consideration at events during the IYC.

ICA has also endorsed a round table on The World of Rural Co-operation being convened by the Plunkett Foundation near Dublin, Ireland, 11th –12th September 2012. This event is designed to highlight the contributions of rural co-operatives to economic and social development, and to debate and discuss the impact and future of rural co-operation world-wide. 

From the 8th - 11th October 2012, ICA will join with the Canadian co-operative financial group, Desjardins, in convening an International Summit of Co-operatives in Quebec City, Canada, with round tables on: the role of co-operatives and mutuals in the global economy; the co-operative and mutual business model; and a ministerial round table on global socio-political influence. In conjunction with this Summit, there will be an international conference on co-operative economics in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, called Imagine 2012.

Finally, the co-operative movement will close the IYC in Manchester, England, the week of the 31st October – 2nd November, with Co-operatives United: World Festival and Expo. This is intended to be a culmination of the work of the prior events, designed to ensure that they are not simply activities, but in fact build to a promising future. We plan to use the opportunity in Manchester to pivot from the International Year of Co-operatives to a Co-operative Decade, with the adoption of a Blueprint for a Co-operative Decade, a plan to achieve ICA’s vision that the co-operative will be the fastest-growing model of business by the end of this decade.

Author: Charles Gould
Director-General International Cooperative Alliance
Geneva, Switzerland

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