Changing times at the ICA

I am sorry that the International Co-operative Alliance’s current President Monique Leroux is stepping down after only two years in post.  Monique, who previously led the Canadian financial co-operative Desjardins, has contributed a great deal in recent years to the international co-operative movement.

Normally ICA Presidents serve four year terms.  Monique was elected for an initial two-year term (because Britain’s Pauline Green resigned two years before the end of her second term) and this may have made it harder for her to assert her leadership over a sometimes fissiparous global movement. Some people were reportedly already preparing themselves for a leadership challenge in the Presidential election which had to follow the end of Monique’s first two-year period.

I do worry about the ICA.  It has recently seen its Secretary-General Chuck Gould announce his forthcoming retirement, and its financial base remains more shaky than you’d wish. (It’s not necessarily easy to persuade co-ops than they need to support the global pyramid body).  Add to that some somewhat tedious internal politics between different national and regional blocs within the ICA and you have a recipe for difficulties. The forward-looking Blueprint for a Co-operative Decade, launched after the 2012 UN Year of Co-operatives, is now looking overly hopeful.

But of course we need internationalism in the co-operative movement, and we need the ICA to lead the way.  Fingers crossed that things will get sorted.  And good luck to the next President – it’s not an easy job.

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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.

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.