Cooperatives: The Counterweight to Capitalism

Quebec City, October 12, 2016 — “Cooperatives are extremely important […] and, to a certain degree, the future is in your hands,” commented Professor Robert Reich of the University of California, Berkeley, to participants at the third International Summit of Cooperatives, which runs until tomorrow in Quebec City.


The speaker, Ex-Secretary of Labor under President Bill Clinton, closed by arguing in favour of restructuring the global political and economic system by inviting cooperatives to unite their voices as a counterweight to the capitalism stifling middle class incomes and swelling insecurity.

The expert pointed out that in the United States, although economic activity may have doubled, median household income has fallen by 14% since 1984.

American innovation and leadership strategist Navi Radjou advocated for inclusive and sustainable growth through “frugal innovation” by affirming that cooperatives are the best positioned to optimize resource use and humanize society.

“Doing more with less,” according to him, would for instance be making a microprocessor for US$35 that is capable of adding complete encyclopedias to the tablets of people in Asia who do not have access to the Internet.

Presentation of 14 major studies

Since the start of the Summit, 14 new studies have been unveiled, including the World Co-operative Monitor 2016 published by the International Summit of Co-operatives and EURICSE, indicating that the 300 largest cooperatives increased their sales revenues by 7% in one year to reach US$2,500 billion.

The other studies cover financial services in different parts of the planet, forestry cooperatives, the contribution made by mutuals to health, and innovative practices. For the actual texts or summaries, go to the “2016 Studies” or “Press Room” tabs on the Summit website.

In a sector that is crucial for the world’s population, with 9.7 million mouths to feed projected by 2050, a report by PwC indicates that cooperatives in the agricultural and agri-food sectors are experiencing “a power surge in partnership logic”.

The study reviewed some 150 partnerships entered into on all five continents by cooperatives in that sector since 2005, including 45 in 2015. It points to the fact that these agreements are essentially driven by the search for new markets and outlets, and by the need to secure production.

In America, cooperatives mainly tend to ally with organizations in their own geographic area, but in Europe and Asia, such partnerships have considerably improved the capacity of agricultural cooperatives to move beyond traditional jurisdictional and geographic boundaries.

Catching up

An unexpected opportunity for cooperatives to make the most of an innovative and inter-sectoral business opportunity, based on digital technology and provided on a platform, has captured widespread attention since the start of the Summit. This is the Augmented Collaborative Economy, or Collaborative Commerce. But 64% of the heads of 110 cooperatives in 47 countries surveyed by the team of European researcher Fotis Filipopoulos for the International Confederation of Popular Banks admit that their institution is behind in this area. Yet among those who have gotten on board, 89% of members and 86% of customers see it as the next stage in the evolution of the cooperative movement.

Another study, this one presented by E & Y highlights the importance of the human factor in data analysis. Leading technologies and the analysis of big data may disrupt day-to-day business operations, but the value of that exercise lies in its being woven deep into the fabric of those operations, right down to where decisions are made by humans.

To be continued

The last day of the Summit will largely be dedicated to the role that cooperative organizations and mutuals can play in achieving the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals.

About the International Summit of Cooperatives

Held at the initiative of Desjardins Group and the International Co-operative Alliance, the third International Summit of Cooperatives brings together in Quebec City, Canada decision-makers and influential people in the cooperative and mutual world from every continent between October 11 and 13, 2016. Its ambitious and daring themes also attract many socio-economic and political leaders from around the planet.