New research reports on co-operatives

I wasn’t able to get to the international Co-op Summit in Québec this year, but I have been following what’s been happening over there over the past few days with interest. Usefully, the Summit organisers (the financial co-operative Desjardins) have commissioned a number of studies and reports which have been launched during the event.  One of these is the latest edition of the co-operative equivalent of the Fortune 500 list, the World Co-operative Monitor which is becoming a very valuable annual publication.

My eye has also been drawn to the research findings on public perceptions of co-ops and a study on the effect of the new financial regulatory regime on financial co-ops.  The studies are all helpfully together on one web site, https://www.sommetinter.coop/en/2016-edition/2016-studies.

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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.

Young people: coops should critique capitalism

Censorship at Quebec?  The story is going the rounds that the summit organisers chose not to distribute a declaration from some of the young people who had been taking part in the parallel youth delegation activities because their text included the words (shock horror) ‘capitalist’ and ‘neoliberal’.

I’ve contacted the summit’s press office to see if this can be clarified.  In the meantime you’ll find the Youth Declaration up on the ICA website here. I think it’s rather good.

Here is the paragraph with the (alleged) naughty words:

“Our vision and expectation of the global cooperative movement is for it to transform an economy based on the individual accumulation of wealth and power into a system that serves the collective wellbeing of people and our planet through redistribution of resources and common ownership. We believe that there is an alternative to the capitalist economy. We want to be part of a cooperative movement that critiques the current system and actively rejects its focus on limitless growth. This means not emulating its institutions, looking to its leadership and theory for guidance, or staffing the management teams of our cooperatives with subscribers to neoliberal philosophy.”

Reflections on the Quebec event

I think I have to wrap up the blogs which I’ve been putting in over the last few days from the Quebec cooperative summit with a final posting and, yes, it’s going to be a positive one.  Any large-scale event like this has its good and less good features but in the end something did emerge from out of it all. And the final afternoon concluded with a lively plenary which managed to capture some real energy and creativity and which did offer,  I think,  some hope for the future of a strengthened global cooperative movement.  Not all the faces on stage were the familiar ones, either:  it was good to see a young person, Gabriela Ana Buffa (the representative of the next generation of co-operators on the ICA Board), up there for example.

One familiar face who is never unwelcome is Pauline Green, the ICA President, who manages on occasions like this to bring out the necessary inspirational words to send delegates away in good heart.    She argued that more has been achieved in the two years since the 2012 UN Year of Cooperatives in bringing together a sense of cohesion between different parts of the very diverse coop community than at any time in its past history – a bold claim which, thinking about it, could indeed be the case.  And I liked Pauline Green’s message for young people:  bring some “edginess and radicalism” back to the movement, she said.

After the summit, perhaps, it’s onwards and upwards…

Pay inequalities and cooperatives

Richard Wilkinson was at the Quebec cooperative summit this morning, sharing some of the findings of his pioneering research into (more) equal and less equal societies that first came out in the book The Spirit Level, and also calling for cooperatives and employee-owned businesses to lead the way in developing business models which promote more equality.

Which I guess leads us on to the issue of executive pay in coops, always a prickly topic and one which you won’t be surprised to hear hasn’t been on the agenda  (the report I was told a year ago by organisers of the summit would be commissioned on the subject clearly hasn’t materialised).  Perhaps such a discussion would be deemed unkind to our host Monique Leroux of Desjardins, whose own pay packet (comfortably into 7 figures – well, she is a banker) has in the past raised some controversy in her cooperative.

Not on the agenda then, but three of us (a US cooperator from Seattle and another British delegate) made up for the omission by talking about the topic of executive pay in coops whilst eating our lunch today.  Conclusions?  That pay policies for coops are not necessarily completely straightforward, but that this is an issue which mustn’t be ducked.

On men, and women, and cooperatives

One of the most striking aspects of the Quebec cooperative summit is how many of the plenary sessions and workshops have had panels composed entirely of women speakers, sitting together in their business attire but without a single man with them to provide gender balance.  Admittedly, there was a round table this morning where there were two men contributing, but the session I am attending as I write this is back to the norm: six women at the front discussing the way forward for the cooperative movement.

 

This is worth remarking upon, perhaps, if only because the CEO of host cooperative Desjardins is (unusually in the financial services world) a man, as of course is the current President of the International Co-operative Alliance.

 

Hang on a moment, I think this blog is coming out a bit wrong.  Could I ask you to change the above, substituting ‘men’ for ‘women’ and vice versa?

Coop summit gets under way

The cooperative ‘summit’ in Quebec City got going yesterday afternoon and is now in full flow, with a session convened by FT economics writer Martin Wolf and featuring nobel laureate Robert Shiller drawing to a conclusion as I type this.

I intend to blog from Quebec as and when I have a chance.  But in the meantime I have been looking at some of the background papers now published on-line by the conference organisers.  Among these are an interesting assessment of our own dear Co-operative Bank’s recent problem by Johnston Birchall and a French take on the same issues from Jean-Louis Bancel of Credit Co-operatif.  Bancel calls for a combination of humility and professionalism from the cooperative banking sector internationally, and a renewed focus on member engagement and governance.  You’ll find these, and several other short papers, at www.intlsummit.coop (studies and articles> scientific articles).