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.
The sign of a healthy cooperative organisation is perhaps one where elections for places on the Board are hard-fought. So the International Co-operative Alliance should probably take heart from the fact that over thirty people stood today for the fifteen places available on the ICA’s World Board. Countries represented by the successful fifteen candidates range from Argentina to Korea, Australia to Russia.
The UK, incidentally, was successful in seeing its nominee elected. He is Len Wardle, the current Chair of the Co-operative Group. Pauline Green, previously head of Co-ops UK, stays on as ICA’s inspirational President as well. And those who participated at the big Quebec summit last year may be interested to know that Monique Leroux, President of Canadian financial cooperative Desjardins and architect of the summit, will also be joining the ICA Board.
I’ll be blogging next week from the conference of the International Co-operative Alliance, taking place over the next few days in Cape Town.
The ICA came into being in the 1890s very much through the efforts of the British cooperative movement, and the Brits also played a big part in helping the organisation survive and regroup when it nearly went under a decade or so ago. (Pauline Green, then head of Co-operatives UK, played a key role at that time and is now the ICA’s President).
Things have been looking up more recently, though there’s still plenty which a global cooperative organisation needs to be doing. I’ll be looking out for the launch of the new ICA global ‘COOP’ brand, scheduled for tomorrow, and hoping to catch the session dedicated to cooperatives and sustainability on Monday. I also await the launch of new guidance notes around three of the seven international cooperative principles and just hope I won’t be disappointed at what the ICA is proposing with regard to environmental and social business objectives, where at present the principles are very weak.
I also gather from the ICA’s Director-General Charles Gould that the ICA is establishing a Commission to explore new ways that cooperatives can find the capital they need (given that coops are generally not able to access equity capital without doing a Co-op Bank type deal). The well-respected Kathy Bardswick, CEO of The Co-operators insurance company in Canada, is to chair this Commission, an appointment which bodes well for its work.
The Pope has an interest in cooperatives, or so I gather. Pauline Green and Chuck Gould, respectively the Chair and Director-General of the International Co-operative Alliance, reportedly spent the best part of an hour with Pope Francis earlier this week discussing among other things the role which coops can play in development. It probably helps that, as an Argentinean, the Pope comes from a country with a very strong cooperative tradition.