Finding a Meaning to the Action
October 2008
Throughout my twenty years in the field of cooperation, I’ve had to resort to all kinds of formulas to explain the nature of my work to people unfamiliar with the cooperative movement. Alas, cooperative education and association life are not well-known concepts. In fact, about ten years ago I remember saying that I was working “for worldwide peace”! I admit that this version was an easy shortcut, but it afforded my job with a meaning that I clearly felt. I honestly believed that if there were more cooperatives, there would be fewer conflicts in the world and by promoting a cooperative economy I was actively contributing to peace around the world.

I still think this is true. Now more than ever especially since the theory has been documented. I’ve just acquired a collection of essays published in 2007 under the heading “Co-operatives and the Pursuit of Peace”. Leaders from 16 different countries share their views and experiences on the contribution of cooperatives to maintaining peace around the world. This book is an absolute delight and was the object of my successful bid during the Association of Co-operative Educators’ most recent Institute auction.

In light of the whole peace issue, it’s interesting to note that the International Co-operative Alliance (ICA), which was founded in 1895, is the oldest NGO in the world and has in fact survived two World Wars despite having members on both sides of the conflict. Come to think of it, that’s not really surprising: cooperation allows for the creation and preservation of relationships on the basis of what brings us together, our shared values and common goals – and not the differences on which barriers are too often built.

Let us examine a few examples of the noteworthy contribution of cooperatives’ towards world peace. They say that throughout Benin and Burkina Faso revolutionary times, rural areas were able to maintain a minimum of social structure and stability thanks to the presence of agricultural cooperatives. In Japan, a country that suffered greatly during the Second World War, consumers’ cooperatives became compliant partners in international campaigns for peace and also played a major role in mobilizing public opinion as the threat of nuclear war emerged in the 70s and 80s. Also, following recent ethnic conflicts in Bosnia and Serbia, housing cooperatives allowed divided communities to rebuild and helped encourage dialogue between the warring factions.

In Ireland, financial cooperatives are acknowledged to have played a very important role in maintaining peace, this time between Irish Loyalists and the Irish Republican Army. And finally for my last example, one that is so important that I will follow it closely: a business partnership between both sides of the Gaza strip, aptly named “Co-operative Produce for Peace”, with the purpose of producing and merchandising agricultural products, as well as improving the quality of life and instituting a dialogue of peace, from one citizen to another.

I will say it again: because I am employed by an agricultural cooperative and I am also a member of various other cooperatives, I am working for worldwide peace. According to ICA data, there are some 100 million of us employed by cooperatives around the world and more than 800 million member co-operators. Considering that the world population totals 6.7 billions, I firmly believe that we represent a significant safeguard against humanity’s forays into war. This serves to add even more weight to my commitment to cooperation and the satisfaction of unwavering motivation.


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


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