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.

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The Coop Wow factor

I participated in the workshop of multi-stakeholder cooperatives at the Co-operatives and World of Work research conference in Antalya, Turkey, this morning – but I had to do so by Skype, rather than in person. A last minute family health issue meant that, sadly, my seat was vacant on the plane on Sunday from Manchester to Istanbul.

But what came through on Skype was the a sense of a lively conference taking part.  I’m following the tweets coming out of the event, which are using the hashtag #coopwow15.

Coming soon…

I was obviously never cut out to be a new Samuel Pepys. I note with writerly shame that the whole of October went by without any posts from me here. But I hope to make up for lost time. All being well, I hope to be able to report both from the Co-operatives and the World of Work research conference (organised jointly by the International Co-operative Alliance and the ILO) and the ICA Global Conference which begins immediately after it. Both are in Antalya in Turkey next week.

A ‘passion for social justice’: the ICA spells out what the Co-operative Principles should mean in practice

Something rather important has been happening in the global cooperative movement which, unless you’re a regular at International Co-operative Alliance conferences, you may well have missed.

In recent years, cooperators (particularly in Latin America) began to complain that there was nothing in the international Co-operative Principles and Values about environmental sustainability. Rather than amend the seven Principles (agreed in 1995 after what seemed like decades of debate), the ICA has done something different. It has drawn up Guidance Notes to the Principles, a seventy-five page document currently in draft form which tries to explain how cooperatives should live out the Principles in their day-to-day life.

There’s a lot here to discuss. There’s also a lot here that’s radical. I like the statement near the beginning that says: “Our Co-operative Founders wanted to achieve much more than just establishing and operating successful business enterprises. They were concerned for social justice and were motivated by a passion to help transform the lives of those whose social, economic and cultural needs they had the vision to seek to meet through a jointly-owned and democratically controlled enterprise. In the tradition of our founders the Alliance too seeks, through these Guidance Notes, to show that same passion for social justice and transformation and a renewed vision of how co-operative enterprises in the 21st century can indeed build a better world by putting our Co-operative Identity Values and Principles into practice.”

What I’ve particularly noticed is the statement that cooperatives, in their employment practices, should abide by the international Labour Standards drawn up by the UN’s International Labour Organization – and more than that, should seek to be in the vanguard of good employment practice. This is the first time, as far as I’m aware, that the ICA has addressed this issue, and formal endorsement of the ILO Labour Standards is exactly what I’ve been wanting the cooperative movement to do for some time. (Some multinationals are well ahead of coops in this area).

Here’s the relevant section (the last two sentences are what to look out for):

Social sustainability: concern for employees

3.8 Employees are recruited from and live in the communities in which co-operatives work. Concern for the sustainable development of communities requires co-operatives to be good employers and to be concerned about their employees’ wellbeing and the wellbeing of their employees’ families.

 3.9 The Preamble to the 2002 International Labour Organisation’s Recommendation 193 on the Promotion of Co-operatives refers to “the rights and principles embodied in international labour Conventions and Recommendations”. In the draft text of Recommendation 193 approved by the Alliance’s Board in April 2002, reference to the ILOs labour conventions and recommendations was included and the draft text was approved by the Alliance’s Board. The ILO’s Labour Standards should therefore be considered as the foundation for establishing a co-operative’s employment policies. Co-operatives should lead by example in seeking to apply them.”

The ICA is asking for the Guidance Notes to be discussed as widely as possible in the run up to its forthcoming conference in November. You’ll find them here. There’s also an online survey being operated by the ICA for feedback, which you’ll find through the same link.

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.

International coops’ day coming soon

The first Saturday in July, as you may very well know, is International Day of Cooperatives, an idea which originally came from inside the coop movement but which many years back was also endorsed by the United Nations.

We try to mark the day in the town where I live, and I’ll be at a meeting later this week to discuss exactly what can be organised this year. But I’m pleased to see that the International Co-operative Alliance has produced a logo for the day – the first time, as far as I’m aware, that the ICA has done this.

coopday2015

Wake-up messages in new international coop report

Oh, a new report on capital and cooperatives… yawnorama.

But no, get those yawns under control. Capitalism seems somehow to have persuaded us that an understanding of finance is something that only well-rewarded bankers and their kin can have, but that’s not true at all. What we do with money (and particularly what we can do differently with money to remake our world) is really rather interesting and important, I’d suggest, and surely no more difficult as a subject than, say, learning to drive a car or to produce an unlumpy cheese sauce.

The International Cooperative Alliance has said that capital is one of the key issues which the cooperative movement has to tackle. (Personally I think it’s the probably the most important of the five themes in the ICA’s current strategic document.) The ICA has quite rightly stressed that the challenge is to develop forms of cooperative capital which enable the maintenance of cooperative principles and member control, rather than which undermine them. Too often in the past the introduction of external capital, particularly equity capital, marked the start of a slippery slope away from cooperation and towards demutualisation.

The ICA has established a high-level panel to work on capital and one of its first steps has been to commission this excellent new report from a Canadian financial writer Mike Andrews. The report may be prosaically called Survey of Cooperative Capital but it is the best analysis of the various forms of capital available to coops, and the ways that different coops worldwide are using these vehicles, that I have read for a long time. The report looks both at the issues facing start-ups and larger enterprises, with a particular focus on the regulatory requirements for banks and financial cooperatives. There’s also a table showing (and I think this is the first time this has been produced) the percentage of external capital held by the top 200 cooperative and mutual businesses worldwide.

The lesson I draw from this study is perhaps paradoxically that our focus needs to be not on the technical features of the various capital instruments which can be employed but rather on the ways these are to be implemented within the cooperative framework. Or in other words, how in practice can you successfully link access to new capital with cooperative governance and member democracy?

The report is here.