The international co-operative movement is seeking a greater voice on the international stage and more political influence as it strives for recognition as “a social, human and economic global powerhouse” in a rapidly changing economic environment.
In a joint declaration approved by nearly 3,000 representatives from 91 countries at the first International Summit of Co-operatives in Quebec City, the movement on Thursday announced its plan to become a global player on the world economic stage.
“But efforts must be made to ensure they [co-operative and mutual businesses] gain greater political clout,” says the declaration adopted at the conclusion of the summit marking 2012 as the United Nations International Year of Co-operatives. “Important decisions are currently made around the world with no consideration of the co-operative movement’s distinctiveness.”
Co-operative businesses are owned by the members they serve, and sometimes, their employees. The summit was attended by groups in several economic sectors, including financial, banking, retail, agricultural, housing and health. Speakers discussed responses to the challenge of modern capitalism, including sustainable development, financing and capitalization of co-operative businesses, as well as identifying and meeting local needs.
The declaration will be presented to the International Co-operative Alliance general assembly in Manchester, England, later this month, and according to ICA president Dame Pauline Green, it will be a “blueprint for a decade of co-operative growth.”
During a joint World Bank-International Monetary Fund meeting in Tokyo this weekend, Ms. Green will make her case for a seat at the World Bank by a representative of the co-operative movement with the objective of promoting the co-operative model of business.
Ms. Green said decision makers at the United Nations and in international economic forums must recognize the co-operative movement as a credible voice in defining new ways to sustain development, especially in the post-2008 crisis era.
Members of the movement believe it can offer solutions where capitalism has failed, especially in fighting poverty, but have had to fight the notion that co-operatives are nothing more than niche businesses. Proponents say that multibillion-dollar co-operatives can offer large-scale and long-term planning for agriculture such as in Africa, where its business model can help people prosper from the development of the land. Ms. Green said the multinational capitalist model for development will only extend the poverty, hunger and deprivation.
“Now is the time in a global market for our movement to have a global voice that can speak with authority on the global stage. And that is exactly what we are intending to do,” Ms. Green said.
While the co-operative movement has always had advisory status with the UN, its role has been diluted in recent years. Ms. Green said that will be reinvigorated. “We are under new management,” she said.
In the short term, the ICA will demand representation for the co-operative model of business in international organizations that define the direction of the global economy, such as the G20. For instance, Canada’s biggest co-operative, Desjardins Group, and others like it should be part of the business group that advises the G20, Ms. Green said.
Ms. Green noted that not a single one of the 125 businesses that are part of the G20 advisory group is a co-operative or a mutual. “This simply will not do,” she said. Ms. Green added that the World Bank also needs to give serious consideration to giving a voice to those promoting the co-operative business model and values in light of global social unrest such as last year’s Occupy movement.
The president and CEO of Desjardins Group, Monique Leroux, added that the co-operative movement has taken stock of the advantages it can offer communities in the aftermath of the last economic crisis.
“The economy is so fragile and what is happening with the tensions that are developing, highlights the qualities and the relevance of the co-operative model,” Ms. Leroux said.
The organizers of the summit will examine the need to hold another summit in 2014 that some hope will become for the co-operative movement what the annual meeting in Davos Switzerland has become for major capitalists interests.
With more than a million co-operatives worldwide serving an estimated billion members, the leaders of the movement argued it has a significant contribution to make to the global economic growth especially in developing countries.