The Strength of a Network
October 2004
The strength of a network. I’m rather fond of this catchphrase as it gets increasing use here at La Coop fédérée. A limited number of words suggesting the promise of committed solidarity, wide-ranging possibilities to a group that shares a single vision. And, if you want my opinion, I think it truly reflects the reality of agricultural cooperation as we live it today. Actually, I’ve noticed an increasing unity and authenticity in our leaders and their choices. Projects are plentiful and inter-cooperation is evident.

Point of fact, during the last quarterly meeting, network leaders examined various collective models of European pork production. A very pertinent subject if ever there was one, it provides an answer to a question that is increasingly troublesome to member-producers: how can their businesses benefit from the group’s combined efforts without having to submit to the model of integration espoused by large capitalist enterprises? This model, which is jarringly efficient, affords the agricultural producer very little control: the power belongs to the integrator who makes the decisions as to the parameters of the chain, starting with the farm and ending with the consumer. Thank goodness for other models that are better suited to cooperation’s particularities. Models where agricultural producers work together, towards a common goal, and remain independent within their own cooperatives, which in turn remain independent within their respective federations. Network leaders are leaning toward this model, which is referred to as vertical coordination. It’s a way of working based on inter-cooperation, which in turn is a pre-requisite to cooperative efficiency.

The strength of a network. Yes, indeed. Imagine a great network, comfortably stretched over its territory. Similar to a quilt. Seriously, think about it! An authentic quilt made according to the rules of this art form. In the old days when large families abounded, women gathered together to create these works of art. Delicate and agile fingers worked with colourful and vibrantly printed fabrics, which were then painstakingly prepared by each seamstress, making sure agreed upon proportions were respected and each stitch was straight and would blend harmoniously into the whole. Doesn’t this remind you of our network? A beautiful quilt created from a hundred cooperative units, each with its own role to play. A lively ensemble based on each region’s particularities yet all sharing a common purpose. Warm and welcoming but not overwhelming. Anchored locally like a solid yet delicate sewing stitch that connects each unit to its origins. And should one section become undone, repairs are easily undertaken and the quilt is the stronger for it – suffused with a little colour and a lot of strength! Okay, enough with the poetry!

Let’s return to the strength of a network. Have you noticed that thinking as a network allows us to set aside boundaries. At any rate, last August, La Coop fédérée offered its substantial support to organize the first ACE (Association of Cooperative Educators) convention on Québec soil. This was a unique opportunity to promote exchanges with those who work in the field of cooperative education in Québec and elsewhere in North America. Québec was proudly represented by almost all cooperative sectors, including educational institutions actively involved in cooperation and the ministère du Développement économique et régional. A fascinating convention! A true cultural mosaic! It was a sight to behold; cooperative researchers and employees, Spanish mingling with English and French, people gathered to share their passion for their work, cooperative education, and delighted to talk about their experiences, from good to bad! This too reflects the strength of a network: boundaries crumble and everything becomes possible.

Everything becomes possible because cooperation is first and foremost another way to view the economy. A veritable cooperator, unless he or she suffers from multiple personality, is interested in exploring the cooperative formula in all its forms. There are about 730 million cooperators around the world that we have yet to meet. One life is not enough, but so what? What is important is taking advantage of opportunities to engage in inter-cooperation: these opportunities are a chance to meet with groups which are sometimes surprisingly similar to ourselves and would indeed like to unite their quilts to our own at least long enough to realize a particular project. And this too is the strength of a network.

Colette Lebel, agr.
Director of Cooperative Affairs
La Coop fédérée
Fax: (514) 858-2025


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