United Nations’ International Year of Cooperatives: Why embrace this opportunity? Part 1

This entry was posted by Tuesday, 11 January, 2011
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The United Nations has declared 2012 the International Year of Cooperatives

The United Nations has declared 2012 the International Year of Cooperatives

This is the first in a two-part series from Sarah Arthurs, Canadian credit union and cooperative professional. Look for her second post in the coming days which outlines Sarah’s ideas on how the credit union and cooperative community can make the most of the International Year of Cooperatives.

Over the past two years I have had the huge privilege of attending a number of credit union and cooperative conferences where we received the wisdom of world renowned leaders from outside of the cooperative world.  The recurring themes from these leaders were:

Where have you been all my life? Why haven’t I heard of you before?

As part of their preparation to address the Canadian Cooperative Congress or the World Credit Union Conference they had researched co-ops and credit unions and were blown away by the history, integrity and capacity of the cooperative model.  They say:

This is good news! Why is it not out there?

Well, as a psychologist, I have indulged myself in the consideration of this question.  I have frequently posed it to my credit union colleagues in formal and informal groups. Why aren’t we more out there?  Some suggested explanations include:

  • We are ambivalent about our cooperative identity.  We are afraid it might make us look “Mickey Mouse”, not in the same league as other financial institutions. We are concerned that folk will be turned off by non-mainstream elements.
  • We don’t have the shareholder imperative to maximize the bottom line through rigorously promoting our brand or products.
  • By virtue of the nature of cooperative ventures, we attract people who are team players and not self-promoters, so we are less likely to blow our own horn.
  • Our energy is going into doing the work, not talking about it; so we continue to operate under the radar.

Whatever the cause we continue with our BKS rating—Best Kept Secret!

But now, with the United Nations declaring 2012 the International Year of Cooperatives, we have been given permission—indeed we are encouraged—to blow our horn and tell our story.  We are challenged to share the scope and potential of the cooperative model with our neighbors, colleagues as well as with other businesses and institutions.

This is a unique and time-limited opportunity which would assist cooperatives of all kinds in Canada, the United States and throughout the world to advance their cause.  It would allow us:

  • to reach out to a younger demographic;
  • to create legacy projects of all kinds;
  • to raise our profile locally, nationally and internationally;
  • to empower local partnerships and inspire new collaborations.

More to come in Sarah’s next post, including several ideas for how the cooperative and credit union community can share their story with the world.

Sarah Arthurs M.Ed., C.Psych. is Director, First Calgary Savings; Director, Credit Union Central of Alberta; and a member of the Prairie Sky Co-housing Co-op.  Send Sarah an e-mail at sarah.arthurs[at]prairiesky.ab.ca

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