International Summit of Co-operatives was held in Quebec City between October 6 and 9 and more than 3,000 people attended from 93 countries.  The second Summit moved the co-operative conversation forward from a state of recognition and assessment of the co-operative movement during Summit 2012 to strategic discussions about solving global issues in 2014, with an emphasis on innovation. The Summit was an exhilarating event with global implications.

The near constant flow of information and research findings over the three day Summit created an atmosphere of excitement and urgency.  The main themes of the Summit – health care and servicesemploymentfood securityco‑operative financing and capitalization, and developing co-operative and mutual enterprises – were explored through forums, round tables, presentations and interactive debates.

On Monday October 6, the opening address to a packed house featured the Premier of Quebec, Philippe Couillard, delivering a remarkable affirmation of the co-operative model, and announced his government’s desire to work closely with the movement to “evolve the legal framework applicable to co-operatives” in Quebec.  He stated that this is to be a central feature of his government’s job creation plans. Needless to say, this statement was well received.

The findings of numerous international studies were unveiled at the Summit. These studies focused primarily on the Summit themes and targeted the innovative potential of the cooperative and mutualist business model. The research included quantitative and qualitative analysis of cooperatives and their impact on the global economy. The data disclosed was highly anticipated and central to the Summit program.

One of the key findings was the International Organisation of Industrial, Artisanal and Service Producers’ Cooperatives (CICOPA) research that showed co-operative enterprises generate partial or full-time employment involving at least 250 million individuals world-wide. The previous estimate had been pegged at 100 million people – which is already 20% more than multinational enterprises – so, to have this number increase by 150% was big news.

The Co-operative Monitor released its 3rd edition for 2014, which touted the top 300 co-operatives as having $2.2 trillion U.S. in revenue each year. This amount roughly equates to the economy of Brazil, a staggering figure given that it represents only the largest enterprises.

CMC, in partnership with le Conseil de la coopération et de la mutualité (CQCM), hosted Summit participants at Place Canada, a unique lounge and exhibit filled with member information and La Siembra co-op’s – now world famous after this Summit –  Camino chocolate. There was a great vibe around the exhibit. Quality fair trade coffee was served to visitors and a brand new co‑operative beer called La Rochdale was launched by four Quebec brewing co-ops Place Canada was a great place to meet and network; it was a big part of the Summit experience for Canadian co-operators.

CQCM played a big role at the Summit. In addition to partnering in Place Canada, they warmly hosted a series of special events, including visits to local co-operatives around Quebec City and a Gala celebration to honour six emerging co-operatives. CQCM also managed an international research symposium on co‑operatives where researchers publishing reports at the Summit could present an overview of their research.

The Summit ran its first international marketing and communications competition, called TOP-COOP. Canada won the prestigious Award of Excellence in two categories. Vancity was first up with their advertising campaign “Smart Money” for advertising and marketing, and On Co-op won top prize in the mobilization category for their innovative “All 4 Each” education program and curriculum.  The TOP.COOP award for mobilisation was presented to Kerr Smith, Education Manager of On Co-op, by Charles Gould, Director General of the International Co-operative Alliance. This was a proud moment for Canadian co-operation and sets the bar very high for the next competition.

265 people took part in the Young Leaders presentations and round table at the Summit. There was a lot of response to their declaration titled Co-operate to Transform Society, including the full support of International Co-operative Alliance President Dame Pauline Green in her closing comments.  They echoed many of the broader critical comments about the diversity of representation of Summit panels and committed to working through the ICA Youth Network to realize the vision outlined in their manifesto.

The keynote speakers offerble perspectives that resonatedwith most in attendance. Jeffrey Sachs and David K. Foot gave thought provoking presentations. Robert Shiller, winner of the 2013 Nobel in Economics, suggested that expanding inequality is creating many adverse effects, and that we need to co-operate as well as prepare to adjust taxation to avoid a crisis. He believes that we are evolving slowly toward a more empathetic economic model and that co-operation is central to that evolution.

The resulting Declaration from the Summit reflects the broad themes with specific action plans that will be presented to world organizations such as the UN, the ILO and the World Bank as well as national governments in the coming months. The co-operative model’s momentum has continued after the Summit with a positive response from inside and outside the co-operative movement.

The legacy of this second Summit will be measured by what was shared, by the substance and action taken  and by what this extraordinary networking opportunity set in motion. Canada – and the Ville de Québec – made a proud contribution to this unfolding story.

For CMC, the International Summit of Co-operatives reinforced key strategic goals. The summit demonstrated the importance of aligning data collection on the co-op sector in Canada with the Global Monitor, as well as the need to quantify the social, environmental and economic impacts of the sector as soon as possible.

It showed us that launching the Canadian Co-operative Investment Fund as an example of inter-co-operation, a concrete realization of co-operative principle 6, was very much in keeping with how others around the world believe co-operatives can help one another. Asking the federal government to partner in developing a national co-op development strategy seems like a natural next step, particularly in response to Philippe Couillards supportive comments during the opening ceremony.

The summit was an opportunity to share ideas about communicating to the public and networking globally in the digital sphere so that the co-op model can be given the best possible chance at become the fastest growing business model by 2020, the goal outlined in the International Co-operative Alliance Blueprint for a Co-operative Decade. The summit in Quebec was a big step if that ambitious goal is to become a reality.

Photo credits: International Summit of Co-operatives

Moments from the 2014 Summit