Desjardins election: the result is announced

I flagged up on March 8th the election which was going on at the Canadian financial cooperative federation Desjardins to appoint their new President and CEO.  It was, as I mentioned, a three-horse race.

The decision taken last Saturday by the 256-strong electoral college was to give the post to one of the two internal candidates. He is Guy Cormier, 46, who has been at Desjardins since his early twenties, starting off as a manager at several of the federated credit unions (caisses) and most recently being a Senior Vice President of Desjardins under Monique Leroux’s leadership.

Under Desjardins rules, his term of office is for four years, and he can then stand for election for a further term – but only for one more term. Monique Leroux, elected ICA President last November, would in any case have completed her term this year.

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Cooperative democracy, Canada style

Canada’s powerful cooperative banking and insurance federation Desjardins is currently in the thick of an election campaign. Its current President and CEO Monique Leroux is coming to the end of her (maximum) two terms of office, each of four years,  and a new President to lead the cooperative will be chosen on March 19 and will take over on April 9.

Desjardins is a federation of self-managing credit unions (caisses) and the Group’s top executive is democratically chosen by an electoral college of 256 delegates, primarily representing the federated credit unions. The college meets behind closed doors to take its decision, in a procedure slightly reminiscent of the way the Vatican chooses a new pope (no white smoke, though). In 2008 Monique Leroux was one of eight candidates and obtained the majority vote after six rounds.

This time there are just three candidates. Guy Cormier and Robert Ouellette are both currently Desjardins Senior Vice-Presidents. The third candidate, unusually, is external to the cooperative. He is Daniel Paillé, a former politician who led the separatist Bloc Québécois.

One of these three men will shortly be in charge of a very influential internationally-minded cooperative. We’ll find out who it is very shortly.

Just round the corner: 2016

This is the time of year when journalists fall on back on two familiar ploys in order to turn in the copy that their papers need.  Firstly, they look back over the past twelve months and cobble together some sort of review of the year.  Secondly they offer predictions to the year ahead. It’s pretty cheap journalism (in two senses of the word) but, hey, it’s Christmas.

I did ponder for a brief moment offering you selected highlights of my 2015 posts here, but frankly you can scroll back through the blog if you’re so inclined. But indulge me as I prove my journalistic credentials by offering you a quick look ahead to 2016.

Internationally, the ICA movement’s new President Monique Leroux will have one central date in her diary: the third of the Co-operative Summits in Québec city, which her own cooperative Desjardins hosts and which will be held from October 11th-13th.  The last two Summits have been useful occasions (if slightly overfull of business suits). Québec will be the only significant global cooperative event next year that I’m aware of.

Incidentally 2016 will also see changes at the top at Desjardins: Leroux’s two terms in office come to an end, so the powerful Canadian financial cooperative federation will be finding itself a new leader.

I’ll be following developments at Mondragon, where their new business strategy for the whole cooperative federation (drawn up in the aftermath of the failure of their white-goods cooperative Fagor Electrodomésticos) is due to be approved during the year.

The British movement has to hope for the gradual return to trading health of the Co-operative Group, and for its new democratic structures to begin to work more convincingly. On the wider political agenda, I do hope that there is space under Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour leadership to explore alternatives to the highly centralised state ownership model of nationalisation we had in the last century – we need Labour to be promoting a model of public ownership which is more creative, more bottom-up, and more attuned with cooperative ideas. The Ways Forward conference in January which I have previously mentioned is a potentially important springboard for these discussions.

In my own diary for early next year will be work with the Co-operative Heritage Trust to discuss the proposed workers’ cooperatives archive project which I’m hoping will get the funding it needs in 2016. Late January sees another advisory board meeting for the Woodcraft Folk’s 90th birthday heritage project, where we will have to start planning ahead for the 100th birthday! Locally, I will be continuing to try to help bring cooperative housing solutions to my neighbourhood, through the work of our local Community Land Trust.

And professionally, I’ll be looking to continue to work with a range of cooperative organisations at home and abroad on their publications. Unlike 2015, I’ve no book coming out next year, but can I mention that my All Your Own Work on early productive coops in Britain continues to be on sale… (and in fact would make an ideal last-minute choice of Christmas present…)

My best wishes to you for 2016.

Monique Leroux is new ICA President

Monique Leroux, the CEO of the Québec-based financial cooperative Desjardins, has just been announced as the new President of the International Co-operative Alliance. Leroux was the inspiration between the two successful Cooperative Summits held in Québec in 2012 and 2014 (another is to be held next year), initiatives which have meant that she already has a high profile in the global cooperative movement. So the result (there were three other candidates, all men) wasn’t entirely unexpected.  (I’m pleased to say this outcome was predicted on this blog some time back!)

Monique Leroux takes over from Pauline Green, who deserves considerable credit for the way she has transformed the role of ICA President. What was once a position which meant little more than chairing ICA board meetings has been converted into an active leadership role.  Pauline Green has been tireless in criss-crossing the world to promote the cooperative business model, knitting together a sometimes disparate movement and giving the ICA a much more strategic sense of purpose. Pauline will be missed internationally, although British cooperators will welcome the chance to see her once more giving her energies to the national coop movement.

Monique, a francophone Québécoise who is also fluent in English, will be a different kind of President from Pauline but will I think continue to see the role as one of giving political leadership to the movement. She has valuable experience too in leading a powerful banking and insurance business.

The ICA conference in Turkey which is now just drawing to a close has also seen the publication of a number of valuable new documents, most notably the new Guidance Notes to the Co-operative Principles, which for the first time set out in detail what the seven international coop principles should mean in practice. I’ll try to return to this document in a future blog.

Pauline Green to step down as ICA President

Dame Pauline Green announced last night that she is standing down as President of the International Co-operative Alliance. The news, which confirms what had begun to be something of an open secret in the movement, was given to the Co-operative Congress in Birmingham, with Pauline going out of her way to thank British co-operators for their support during her Presidency.

Pauline will continue in post until the ICA’s conference (taking place in Turkey, in November), when she will have completed six years as President. She advised fellow ICA Board members of her decision in a letter three days ago. She leaves two years before the end of her second four-year term, and told Congress that her decision was partly taken following the Co-operative Group’s decision to no longer support financially her position.

Pauline described to Congress her trajectory in the co-operative movement, from early days as a Woodcraft Folk leader to the high-level role she has played, including for example speaking on behalf of the worldwide movement at the UN General Assembly. There is no doubt that she has been an extraordinarily successful leader of the ICA and a powerful advocate for co-operation, giving a status to the position of ICA President which previous incumbents have never before managed to achieve. She can step down secure in the knowledge that the ICA is now in a far stronger position than it was when she first joined the ICA board, at the time when the organisation’s whole future was genuinely in doubt.

She’ll be much missed.

So now we wait to see whether the incoming ICA President, when they are chosen, will be able to match Pauline’s skills and achievements. Interestingly, it’s not at all impossible that she’ll be replaced by another woman. The ICA Board includes two extremely competent women, both from Canada and both from financial co-operatives. Kathy Bardswick is from anglophone Canada, and is currently CEO of the major insurance firm The Co-operators. Monique Leroux comes from the francophone side,and is CEO of Desjardins, the Quebec-based banking and insurance co-operative. Perhaps helpfully for Leroux, Desjardins have of course hosted the two International co-operative Summits (in 2012 and 2014) and are arranging a third next year.

Both Bardswick and Leroux might well welcome the chance to increase their involvement in the global co-operative movement (Leroux’s fixed term as CEO at Desjardins runs out next year). We’ll have to see what transpires.

Desjardins backs British co-op competition

Co-operatives UK are inviting us to vote for our Co-operative of the Year, the choice this time being between the Channel Islands society, East of England, FC United of Manchester, the Foster Care Co-operative, Jamboree, Midcounties, Oikocredit, the Phone Co-op, and Unicorn Grocery. You vote for your fave co-op here.

What interests me is that this year the Canadian banking and insurance co-operative Desjardins is sponsoring the competition. Good… but why? Desjardins is a highly successful co-operative, but one with no business operations in Britain.

Perhaps because it doesn’t hurt for Desjardins to remind British co-operators that it will be staging the third biennial Co-operative Summit in Québec city next year. But perhaps also because it could just mean a little extra international good will for Desjardins’ charismatic CEO Monique Leroux. Leroux’s fixed term as CEO finishes next year, and she is still only just in her sixties. The next step for her may well be in the international co-operative arena. As they say, watch this space.

Québec ‘summit’ for international coop movement

You can’t fault the organisers of next week’s Cooperative Summit in Québec (the Canadian financial coop Desjardins) for falling down on the publicity.  For weeks now, there’s been a steady drizzle of email bulletins and press releases in my mailbox.

This is the second such Summit in Québec (the first being two years ago during the UN Year of Co-operatives) and I hope it’s successful.  There’s a very considerable need to strengthen at international level the sense that cooperatives share something in common, and that perhaps in the cooperative business model we have something which is worth acknowledging and celebrating.

Creating that sense of a shared agenda for the future is not easy, however, given the heterogeneity of the movement.  Events like Québec (even though because of the costs involved they exclude the vast majority of cooperative activists) should have a role to play in trying to build up a genuine international movement.

I will be making the journey to see for myself how the event develops and will try to report here my impressions.  The opening events are next Monday and the Summit finishes on Thursday.