United Nations’ International Year of Cooperatives: Why Embrace this Opportunity? Part 2

This entry was posted by Tuesday, 8 February, 2011
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In this, the second part of a two-part series, Sarah Arthurs’ outlines her ideas for how the credit unions and cooperatives can make the most of the United Nations’ declaration of 2012 as the International Year of Cooperatives. Please read the first post describing her thoughts on the opportunity presented in 2012.

To support this process I would like to offer some ideas for the consideration of the cooperative and credit union community.

Under 40 Friendly

Whatever we do, we need to make it under-forty friendly (at least! Probably under-twenty would be better!)  Our initiatives need to be in the social currency of the next generation.

  • We need to use social media such as FacebookTwitter and other digital media I don’t even know about because I am over 40.
  • We need to use the reality show model (e.g., Dragon’s Den) to engage new members, to encourage new cooperative ventures and tell our story. Of course this would need to be done with a cooperative twist where everyone is treated with respect and all participants get value from their participation.
  • Our initiatives need to be inclusive and participatory… perhaps with voting opportunities for the public.
  • We need celebrity participation.  We live in a culture where celebrities often lend credibility to and fuel social change initiatives. For Canadians how about Rick Mercer as a spokesman for our year? He did a great job with the One Ton Challenge.
  • It needs to be fun.  This is often accomplished by linking social change initiatives with sports, music or the arts.  We could have a bike tour across the U.S. or Canada with participation by co-op and credit union members.  We could have “Coopapaloooza’s” – music festivals with a message.

Legacy projects

As we think about “legacy projects” let’s broaden our thinking beyond books and investment funds . . . of course intellectual and financial capital of all kinds is important.  Equally important and a strength of the cooperative movement is our ability to create and leverage social capital—the relationships between people and the connections across organizations.

A bias toward mutually-supportive interactions is built into the structure of our organizations with the democratic model of member-owned credit unions, worker-owned cooperatives and social co-ops.  The events and initiatives of the International Year of Cooperatives need to create opportunities for the further development of social capital.

The legacy of 2012 can be new collaborative relationships between organizations fueled by trust, similar values, shared accomplishments and mutual appreciation.  In other words let’s do innovative projects with new partners so part of the legacy of 2012 is increased social capital within the cooperative community.

Local Autonomy

One of the guiding principles of the cooperative movement is local autonomy.  Our uniqueness is rooted to some degree in a structure which has tried to keep decision-making power and responsibility within its geographic location and as close to its member-owners as possible.

Co-ops and credit unions have often grown out of a group of neighbors who recognize a common challenge or opportunity.  These neighbors gather and generate a synergistic response using the cooperative structures.  The cooperative structure lends itself to bottom-up rather than top-down leadership.

The co-op movement is filled with engaged participants including directors, member-owners, CEOs and employees with a sense of ownership for their organization and the capacity to be leaders.  This leadership capacity has often been developed through their training and experience in the cooperative world.

In taking advantage of the United Nations 2012 International Year of Cooperatives it would be a huge loss not to use processes which give lots of freedom, permission, and support and indeed are dependant on as much local grassroots involvement as possible.

What if each city or rural area had a steering group of representatives from local co-ops, credit unions or utility coops  brainstorming how they can use this opportunity?

In Canada there could also be a steering committee with representation from provincial organizations.  In Alberta this could include Alberta Central and SACHA, among others.  And at the national level, The Canadian Cooperative Association has a committee with representatives from Cooperative organizations like The Cooperators and Mountain Equipment Co-op.

If credit unions and cooperatives are in a passive mode waiting for others to act, their leadership will not be awake to considering the opportunities afforded by the International Year of Cooperatives.

Those organizations and leaders will be given the space to own this opportunity creatively, releasing the energy and possibility inherent in the International Year of Cooperatives if they are challenged with questions such as:

  • How can the United Nations International Year of Cooperatives help your organization meet its strategic goals?
  • How would you like to take advantage of this opportunity?
  • Who would you like to work with?
  • What are your first steps?

It is time to change our BKS rating! We have a story to share. The story of a model which is democratic, local and sustainable . . . a story which the world needs to hear now!

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

One Response to “United Nations’ International Year of Cooperatives: Why Embrace this Opportunity? Part 2”

  1. I am impressed and inspired on what your esteemed organization is doing to support young democrats and change agents in our society. I believe it will go a long way to impact our people positively and also ensure a sustainable development in our ailing society.


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