The Amazing Power
of Cooperatives

January 2013
Last October's International Summit of Cooperatives in Quebec City was an overall success. There were participants from all over the world and from all areas of industry: 2,800 people journeyed from 91 countries to listen to some 150 speakers. There were business leaders, economists, teachers and researchers, politicians, activists and so many more. This is a clear sign that things are not going well in the world. Not well at all. People are seeking solutions. And suddenly, they are realizing the amazing power of cooperatives.

This was a unique opportunity for us: this immense gathering will have strengthened our international relationships, consolidated our movement's social capital and finally gained its rightful acknowledgement. But the true fallout, in my opinion, will mostly come from the influential speakers who are not associated with the cooperative world. The people who, associated with prestigious learning institutions or highly renowned organizations, delivered a clear message of hope for a better world, one that is fairer, more sustainable, and more cooperative. From their perspective as independent outsiders, these same people candidly reminded us that we held a veritable treasure in our hands. This Summit was an incredible opportunity for these people to get to know us better.

International speakers were able to crack the foolproof cocoon of our universe. They were a breath of fresh air and gave us a healthy dose of pride. And back in their offices, strengthened by their experience at the Summit and their many positive encounters, they will continue to pass on the cooperative message beyond their walls. Among the highly reputed speakers, Jacques Attali, economist and former special consultant to François Mitterand, delivered a particularly incisive speech.

Attali expects that we will progressively switch from a materials economy to an economy of intangibles, due to the finiteness of our resources, services more than products will be marketed. However, when selling services, he appropriately noted, quality relationships will be sought, it is the capacity for empathy that becomes a strategic asset, a competitive advantage. That's why, according to Attali, this in-depth transformation of the commercial function will bring humanity from an era of individualism to an era of altruism. This would be the onset of a new business context that is perfectly primed for cooperative success. Far from being a thing of the past, cooperatives are in fact avant-garde! Vera Negri Zamagni, professor of economic history at the University of Bologna, also presented perspectives of the future that would be favourable to cooperatives during the pre-Summit event, Imagine 2012. Just like Attali, she believes in the emergence of a service-based economy that would foster quality interpersonal relationships. Demand will therefore slide to the side of quality rather than quantity.

Yet, she recollected, quality does not benefit economies of scale, quite the opposite, proximity is what gives it value. Several managerial paradigms will be overturned. For example, in the context where economies of scale no longer constitute an advantage, para-organizational growth will lose its appeal. Preference will go to implementing networks, horizontal and vertical, the kind cooperatives do so well.

This would lead us to believe that the best way to prepare the future is to conserve and consolidate our cooperative distinction based on strong local roots and quality partnerships with other cooperatives. Finally, and this may very well be where the power of cooperatives truly lies: to build the new economy by remaining true to ourselves and to our business model. Our numbers are strong enough to change things: they say that the market economy has three times more member-cooperatives than business shareholders! What are we waiting for to be happy?

Colette Lebel, agr.
Director Cooperative Affairs
and Board Secretary Assistant
La Coop fédérée
Fax: 514 850-2567


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