International Co-operative Alliance highlights of 2014

Dec 5, 2014
International Co-operative Alliance

Dear Fellow Co-operator,

We are writing, as has been our custom at the end of each year, to thank you for your membership in the International Co-operative Alliance. It is something we highly value and never take for granted.


It is for that reason that we want also to report on a few of the highlights of the year, without waiting for our Annual Report, which is always a few months in preparation. We want you to know that your subscriptions have been put to good use and your engagement is making a real difference.


Central to all that we do is the fact that we have a long-term plan, we know where we are going. The Blueprint for a Co-operative Decade, which our members adopted at the close of the 2012 United Nations International Year of Co-operatives, guides our strategy. This year, 2014, the second year of implementation of the Blueprint, we have seen real momentum building.

The global co-operative marque, which we launched just one year ago, at our General Assembly in Cape Town, South Africa, has now been registered for use by co-operatives in over 80 countries. Our goal is for this to become one of the most highly recognised global ethical marques by 2020, as co-operatives use this graphic image to signal their co- operative identity. You can fill in the application to use the marque by going to - and it is free to members of the Alliance!

DotCoop, the top level internet domain, now has users in over 90 countries, who use a .coop address to demonstrate their co-operative identity online. It is at the same time an important business strategy for the Alliance, intended to diversify our revenue and decrease our reliance on subscriptions, as our members directed us to undertake at our Rome General Assembly in 2008.

We are aware that our identity is not only about image, and so our Principles Committee has been hard at work drafting the Guidance Notes to our Co-operative Principles that members directed us to develop  when we met in Manchester in 2012. These will be open for comment next Summer and presented at our General Assembly in Turkey, 10–13 November, 2015.

Following the completion of our Scan of Co-operative Sustainability, we were able to launch a Sustainability Advisory Group, comprised of representatives from co-operatives that the scan identified as leading in sustainability practices. This group is now identifying best practices and tools we can share with other co-operatives. More on that to come.

Our World Co-operative Monitor, which we produce in partnership with Euricse (the European Research Institute on Cooperative and Social Enterprises) has become the point of reference for co-operative statistics, with a database now of 2000 co-operatives around the world, allowing us to track co-operative growth by sector. The 2014 edition was released at the 2nd International Summit of Co-operatives in Québec City, Canada, which we co-hosted with the Desjardins Group in October. It shows that the 300 largest co-operatives around the world have once again grown, this year exceeding USD 2,200 billion (2.2 trillion) in turnover. These figures provide us with undeniable credibility as we take our larger people-centred message of co-operative impact at all levels to global policymakers.

Also released at the Summit was a groundbreaking report on employment prepared by CICOPA, our global sector for industrial and service (worker) co-operatives. This outstanding document has given us a badly needed refreshing of the number of people employed in co- operatives. For years we have used a rough estimate of 100 million people. The CICOPA report demonstrates that, in fact, 250 million people organise their livelihood through a co-operative, as employees, as worker-owners, and as producers.

You may recall that we established a Blue Ribbon Commission on Co- operative Capital, chaired by Kathy Bardswick, CEO of the Co-operators in Canada, to guide the Capital strand of our Blueprint. These global co- operative leaders determined the need for an assessment of where co- operatives are securing their growth capital, as a starting point for their further work on solutions to ensure a reliable stream of co-operative capital. The preliminary findings of that work were also presented at the Summit. We partnered with the Filene Institute to produce this, and were able to analyse the capital structure of 200 of the 300 largest co- operatives in the world, and obtain representative samplings from many smaller co-operatives. This report, which will be produced early next year, is another groundbreaking initiative, on which we can build year upon year.

All of our global sectors are engaged in important initiatives of special relevance to their respective business sectors. One of our newest sectors, health care, is witnessing an explosion of interest. Health was one of the themes at the 2014 Summit, and another important report was released there, measuring the size and impact of co-operative health care, not only through health co-operatives, but through health care provided by co-operatives in all sectors. ICFO, our fisheries sector, launched a Fisheries Scholarship Program, ensuring that young people are educated in the co-operative model. A young man from Nepal and a young woman from Indonesia were the first two recipients, and will receive full tuition and board for a two-year Master’s programme at a Korean University.

We know from our own United Nations International Year of Co- operatives in 2012 just how valuable the UN years can be in raising awareness. 2014 was the UN International Year of Family Farming. Primarily through the engagement of ICAO, our agricultural sector, and our global partnership with the FAO, we were able to feature co- operatives once again, through our agricultural work.

Also of key business relevance is the work of the International Accounting Standards Board. Our IAS Work Group is now led by Monique Leroux, CEO of the Desjardins Group. Under her leadership, we have reconstituted this group with representatives from across our sectors and regions, ensuring that the co-operative voice is heard at the highest levels before accounting policies that impact our financial viability are se

In the critical strategy area of Legal Framework, we work, as we have for decades, with the United Nations, the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO), and the International Labour Organisation (ILO), especially through our joint committee COPAC (the Committee on the Promotion and Advancement of Co-operatives). In drafting the Blueprint, however, we looked ahead to 2030 and predicted that other global hubs will wield increasing influence over global policy.

Chief among these is the G20, the international forum for the governments and central bank governors from the world’s largest economies. We set a deliberate strategy to influence these leaders. We were delighted when Andrew Crane, CEO of the largest co-operative in Australia, CBH (Cooperative Bulk Handling), was invited to join the B20, the business advisory group to the G20, the first time a co-operative has been at that important table. Thanks to this participation, the mutual sector was acknowledged in the final documents as an important contributor to global infrastructure. ICMIF, our insurance sector, joined Alliance representatives at the B20 meeting this past July and were able to reinforce our message of the scale of co-operative impact by reporting that co-operatives and mutuals now command almost 27% of the   global insurance market. With the leadership of our Turkish members, and the support of our members in G20 countries, we are now working to duplicate that influence when the G20 meets in Turkey  in 2015.

If it isn’t obvious, let us state here that this work is not the result of the Alliance staff and Board alone. And the Blueprint is not only the strategy for the Alliance. It is the Blueprint for the co-operative movement. We are excited to see its five themes — participation, sustainability, identity, legal framework, and capital — echoed in documents and plans around the world.

The Alliance is the essential forum through which strategies such as this can be agreed among disparate sectors, regions, and cultures, but the magic of the co-operative model is that we co-operate, we work together, in ways not seen in any other business model. Our potential impact as a result is magnified.

Much of the Blueprint work was enabled by our Leadership Circle, a group of ten co-operative organisations that provide thought leadership and, importantly, funding, so that we can aggressively advance initiatives that our subscriptions alone would not allow us to undertake.

We want to hear, too, from primary co-operatives of all sizes, to ensure the relevance of our work to all co-operatives, and so are expanding our participatory model with the Co-operative Roundtable. Eventually, the Roundtable will consist of 100 co-operative organisations that will help us to prioritize the business intelligence we need and the strategies that will have the greatest impact on the ground. We are beginning with the first ten organisations now and welcome inquiries from others.

You will hear separately from your regional leadership, but let us note here our pride in the work of each of our regions. This is led by our enthusiasm for the efforts we are seeing in Africa, where the members adopted a Plan for Africa, endorsed by co-operative governmental ministers in the countries where we have members. They are following this up with a funding commitment, through an Endowment Fund intended to secure the finances needed to achieve the Plan’s aggressive goals and ensure that the growth thecontinent is experiencing rebounds to the benefit of its communities and citizens.

2014 was a year in which our four regions each held their assemblies. We were able to see firsthand the reality of the African progress; but also to experience the energy of the Americas Region; the impressive advocacy of the European Region; and the growth and dynamism of the Asia & Pacific Region, where we recruited this year a new Regional Director, Balasubramanian (‘Balu’) Iyer.

If you were with us in Québec for the Summit, you know that we held a Meeting of the Members there, which is required under Belgian law to be held each year, in order to accept the audit. We will save our major business for our biennial General Assemblies (meeting next in Antalya, Turkey in November 2015), but we also were able to fill a vacancy on the Board in Québec, where our members elected a dynamic young leader from IFFCO in India, Mr. Aditya Yadav.

In closing, let us stress that it is you, the members, who are the lifeblood of the Alliance. Our credibility depends on the engagement of co-operative movements from all countries. We are delighted to welcome two new countries into the Alliance in 2014: Guinea and Palestine.

In the coming days you will receive an invoice for 2015 subscriptions. We hope that we can count on you to renew your membership. The only purpose of the Alliance is to serve its members and their interests. To do that well requires your active engagement. We hope that you will share with us any suggestions you have on how we can improve our impact.


With warm regards,

Pauline Green
ICA President

Charles Gould
ICA Director General