Cooperating Capitalists?
September 2014
Have you found that many corporations are using business strategies that are very similar to that of cooperatives? From social responsibility to sustainable development and business ethics, each notion has made its way to the business world through companies that are considered corporate 'citizens'. A well polished image with charitable donations, a marketing plan that puts people first, all is well and good. With this image fuelled by the media, public recognition is unmistakable. We don't always know the deeper motivations that drive these practices, but for the end-consumer and the environment, the result is clear. I guess this should make us happy.

In may I had the opportunity to attend the C2MTL, a conference that celebrates business creativity. Two thousand participants from around the world and guess what was the focus of this event? Not cooperatives but social enterprise. There provided great examples of socially committed enterprises engaged in foundations or charitable organizations. In fact, One Drop, founded by Guy Laliberté and devoted to projects facilitating access to drinkable water, was at the forefront. Bravo. However, I couldn't help but think: Is the cooperative movement that invisible or is it being deliberately ignored? Cooperatives have been committed to their communities since forever, but public recognition never seems to materialize....

Then I happened to see the latest issue of Alternatives économiques. In a management article they addressed the notion of reducing costs through a strategy of horizontal collaboration. Hmmm. To find out more I did a little research on horizontal collaboration.

Presented as a key element of sustainable growth, horizontal collaboration consists of developing alliances with other businesses operating in the same field that may otherwise be competitors. For example, take Group Ferrero and Hershey, although they are competing for the same consumer dollars, they join forces for warehousing, transportation and distribution of their chocolaty goods. In doing so they are enjoying substantial savings and reducing their carbon footprint. Since horizontal collaboration doesn't always come easy, new consulting agencies are popping up to guide these companies through the process. One such agency is Tri-Vizor, it dispenses its wisdom to help businesses find the most appropriate like-minded partners: sharing a similar vision, critical mass, willingness to share gains...

Bravo again, but none of this is new to the cooperative world. Inter-cooperation has been always been a commonly used practice and it is constantly being renewed. Isn't this the very basis on which many agricultural cooperatives were created in the last century? Isn't this also the idea behind our multiple alliances and partnerships? And isn't this also the basis for our Chrysalide project, which will provide our vast network with a commercial framework worthy of the 21st century?

It's fascinating: It's as if corporations are slowly discovering the potential of cooperation ... one component at a time! There is even a new buzzword to express cooperation between businesses that would normally be in competition: Co-opetition. Wouldn't it be simpler to use the cooperative model as an example since it harmoniously integrates each one of these practices?

Maybe that day will come. I did notice that the Tri-Vizor website had a slide that said "If you want to constantly improve, compete! If you want to improve exponentially, cooperate!" Voilà! All that is left to say is that there are already businesses operating in just such a manner and are doing quite well; they're called cooperatives!

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


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