A (green) helping hand
We have launched a Sustainable Communities programme with Co-operative Energy to help members save energy and alleviate fuel poverty. This builds on the Regional Community programme and uses community and school partnerships to deliver energy savings. Christine Fieldhouse reports.
Published 7 Jul 2017
The Midcounties Co-operative is a leading member of the International Co-operative Alliance (ICA), which has over 1.2 billion members. The ICA recently appointed a new President, Ariel Guarco, and a new Director-General, Bruno Roelants. Here, Group Chief Executive of Midcounties Co-operative, Ben Reid, who is on the ICA Board, interviews them both about their hopes for the future.
You’ve both been involved in the co-operative movement for more than 30 years. What are you most proud of achieving?
Ariel: I’m really proud to be the President of Cooperar, the Co-operative Confederation of Argentina, a role I’ve held since 2011. In that time we’ve grown to represent 74 co-operative federations, as well as 5,000 co-operatives, and we now have 10 million members. I’ve also been a board member of the ICA since 2013. I grew up in a co-operative family – my mother worked in our home town electrical co-operative shop, part of the Buenos Aires Electric Cooperative Federation (FEDECOBA). Today I’m proud to still preside over FEDECOBA together with the electric co-operative in my home town.
Bruno: From 2002 until I got my current job as Director-General of the ICA, I was proud to be Secretary General of CICOPA (the International Organisation of Industrial, Artisanal and Service Producers’ Co-operatives). In that time, membership increased from 18 countries in 2002 to 32 countries in 2018. My background is in labour studies, and I’ve also worked on development projects in China, India and Eastern Europe. I joined the ICA as a volunteer back in 1995, and I am now proud to be heading a powerful global alliance for promoting international co-operation.
Why is it important for co-operatives to work together internationally?
Ariel: This is what gives the ICA real influence on the global stage and means we can work with global institutions such as the EU, UN and the International Labour Organisation (ILO). The ICA now has over 1.2 billion members, including 280 million people who are employed by co-operatives: 10 per cent of the global workforce. That’s a huge international movement for change.
Bruno: Due to globalisation, the world has become a small village. We are not afraid of free trade; what scares us is the lack of companies involved in international trade representing the interests of workers and local communities. That is why ‘interco-operation’ (co-operation among co-operatives) is so important. The ICA can serve as a catalyst for driving a global co-operative movement but it must develop by representing each region and sector.
How can ICA members help you to increase the profile of the co-operative movement globally?
Ariel: As a movement we must remain unified and inclusive. The ICA is there to represent its members and show that collectively we can achieve far more than we can by working alone. Members are our greatest source of inspiration and they bring a wealth of experience to the table, based on strong co-operative values and principles. The ICA’s role must be to help its members become stronger but also to understand how together we can best influence international policies and programmes that affect them. We want co-operatives to grow into an international movement that is open, innovative, creative and at the cutting edge.
How can the ICA most effectively influence the global agenda on issues such as fair trade, climate change, job security and refugees?
Ariel: We need to use our economic influence to help the worldwide community overcome these challenges. The co-operative movement globally can draw on its talent, knowledge, experience and technical skills to help governments and institutions grow the next generation of co-operators and create wellbeing. It will not be easy – we face huge global challenges, from political instability to migration on an unprecedented scale.
How will Brexit affect the UK co-operative sector?
Ariel: The ICA was founded in 1895 and has survived two world wars; since then it has played a significant role in re-establishing a peaceful society. Co-operation shows that another economic world is possible, that we can produce and distribute goods and services differently, not just through a ‘profit only’ model. Britain should really embrace co-operation as a way of defining a new role for itself in the world.
Bruno: Unlike Brexit, co-operatives cannot turn their backs on international co-operation. The biggest challenge British co-operatives may face is the risk of their country falling back on itself. The co-operative movement has always been resilient – showing a great capacity for adaptation – which has enabled it to survive social, economic, environmental and financial crises but also reach out beyond geographic borders and political obstacles.
How can ICA members help deliver the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)?
Ariel: Sustainable development was invented by co-operatives way before the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development was adopted. It’s part of our DNA. The co-operative model of business is based on ethics, values and principles that put the needs and aspirations of its members above profit maximisation. Through a combination of self-help and empowerment, reinvesting in their communities and concern for the wellbeing of both people and the world, co-operatives nurture a long-term vision for sustainable economic growth, social development and environmental responsibility.
Bruno: The UN explicitly recognises co-operative enterprises as important players within the private sector to achieve the SDGs. This creates a unique opportunity for co-operatives to position themselves as key partners with local, regional, national and global institutions to achieve sustainable development.
Apart from sustainability, what are the greatest global challenges facing the co-operative movement?
Ariel: Its major challenges are peace and security, human rights and humanitarian issues, and international development. We need to inspire consumers, producers and workers around the world to challenge the existing economic status quo and promote a different economy – one that is compatible with the objectives of peace and development that form the basis of all international agreements.
With the Blueprint for a Co-operative Decade coming to a close in 2020, what have you set out to be your priorities in the future?
Ariel: We are working on a strategy for the ICA. Following a survey sent to members in February, the Board analysed the results at the last meeting and mandated Bruno to present a short-term plan based on the survey. This will be discussed at the next Board meeting to be held in June in Alabama and presented to the General Assembly in October. This short-term plan will be the pillar for building the main strategy guiding the co-operative movement after 2020.
ICA: THE FACTS
The co-operative movement brings together over 1 billion people around the world. The United Nations estimated in 1994 that the livelihood of nearly 3 billion people, or half of the world’s population, was made secure by co-operative enterprise. Co-operatives provide over 280 million jobs around the world, 20 per cent more than multinational enterprises. In Brazil, 7.6 million people are members of more than 7,600 cooperatives. In France, 23 million people are members of one or more co-operatives or approximately 38 per cent of the population. 75 per cent of all agricultural producers are members of at least one co-operative, and one in every three people is a member of a co-operative bank. In Kenya, one in five (or 5.9 million people) is a member of a co-operative, and 20 million Kenyans directly or indirectly derive their livelihood from the co-operative movement. In the United States, more than 29,000 co-operatives operate in every sector of the economy, with Americans holding over 350 million co-operative memberships.
The Society achieved the Queen’s Award for Sustainable Development in 2015 and supports the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.
Working with members and Co-operative Energy, Midcounties will:
- Educate members about our Co-operative Energy business, our Co-operative, our Society.
- Raise awareness of eco obligation money and work with members to alleviate fuel poverty.
- Inspire the next generation through education and examples of best practice to live our Co-operative Values.
- Offer our communities energy-saving advice, products and services.
- Encourage members to join Co-op Energy.