Across the ocean, Jean-Claude Detilleux, president of Mouvement coopératif français and director of the International Co-operative Alliance, recently decried the difference in what we are, we, being from the cooperative world, and public opinion. Although it is true that cooperative values, which are more popular now than ever, are being defended by all parties… people seem to overlook the fact that cooperatives are, at their very core, the channels of such values. Do we have a communication problem? Last June, taking advantage of a debate on cooperatives and social responsibility, Détilleux suggested: “We need to create and propose a more structured and more visible project”.
Create. And render visible. Most appropriately, during the latest Association of Cooperative Educators’ conference, Richard Fortier, from Mouvement Desjardins, began his speech with a famous quote from Boileau: “Whatever is well conceived is clearly said... and the words to say it flow with ease.” Of course, if we want to get our message across clearly when we communicate, we should begin by appreciating the full scope of the cooperative project. All too often, we are simply interested in the entrepreneurial profile represented by the cooperative and what it can offer us and what we can get from it. But there is so much more. Even before there is a cooperative venture there is an association of individuals. And it is that association that, first and foremost, provides the cooperative with all of its value.
The cooperative association rests on an inherent agreement: We need an honest, pleasant and constructive rapport with each other. In fact, the cooperative venture provides each individual with a means of attaining his or her professional goals, while at the same time allowing the individual to develop his/her own network of mutual help. In reality, far beyond dividends is a complete system of reciprocity within the cooperative that generates social capital whose extent we often tend to forget. There are countless heart-warming stories of how people were able to pull themselves out of despair and achieve decent living conditions thanks to cooperation. Entire populations, who, thanks to cooperation, were better trained and better organized, were able to build, to strengthen, to benefit and to set themselves free… Isn’t Quebec deeply imprinted with this cooperative fibre, which was once an extraordinary power during the quiet revolution?
Yes. We definitely need to learn to better communicate cooperation’s richness and wealth. Last year, Claude Cossette was invited to attend the annual general meeting of the Coopérative de développement régional de Québec-Appalaches – yes, the founder of Cossette Communication, now a full professor with the Information and Communication Department of Université Laval. Thus, Quebec’s communications guru reminded those in attendance: “Cooperative managers must be convinced that they hold a treasure in their hands, that their organizations promote their features, which are great sales arguments. That’s what we need to depend on. […] The young public who will be tomorrow’s customers – today! – are open to all kinds of solidarity, therefore open to cooperation.”
I know very well that no man is a prophet in his own country. But nonetheless, do we always need someone else to tell us that within cooperation is concealed an invaluable treasure? Come now, let’s make an effort: 2012 will be the International Year of Cooperatives. We’ll have to communicate. What will we say? Nothing too complicated: Simply convey what we are. By the end of the debate on social responsibility, Detilleux concluded: “We must connect our communications to the implementation of cooperative principles.” Of course, whether we’re selling farm products, school books, funeral or financial services, essentially, all are visible. And others do it too. For a message that is different, unique and inspiring, we would be well advised to look at the very core of the cooperative project. Okay… Let’s get going!