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What keeps leaders awake at night? - Thu, 07/11/2013 - 08:36

A new report based on a series of in-depth interviews with the Chief Executives of co-operative and mutual insurers from around the world, was published yesterday.

Produced by the International Co-operative and Mutual Insurers Federation (ICMIF) for its members, Chief Executive Insights highlights the issues, the challenges and characteristics of mutual leaders.

The CEOs of 34 co-operative and mutual insurers from 21 countries were interviewed, with half of those leaders of businesses with premium income of more than USD $1 billion, including the world’s largest financial mutual, Zenkyoren in Japan.

The report, available only to ICMIF members, looks at CEO views on innovation, strategy and leadership itself.

It includes fascinating insights into leadership in particular, revealing their styles of leadership, working life and concerns. The highlights include:

• CEOs lead by listening closely to their stakeholders and working collaboratively with their management teams, which enables them to make time for strategic work
• Professional development for CEOs has been most effective through previous experiences of others’ leadership styles, working overseas, having a mentor and contact with peers in other industries.
• CEOs spend most of their working time meeting people and communicating, with 25% of their time spent dealing with regulators
• CEOs were kept awake at night by regulation, staff issues, the economy, and unpredictable external events such as flooding or weather
• They advised new CEOs to start by talking and listening, and not making any strategic decision in the first months
• Integrity, courage and honesty were viewed as the essential attributes of a good leader

The report was launched in Cape Town, at ICMIF’s biennial conference.

'Radical change' at the International Co-operative Alliance - Wed, 06/11/2013 - 08:34

The International Co-operative Alliance has gone through a period of radical change over the past four years, according to its President Dame Pauline Green.

At the Alliance's General Assembly, Dame Pauline presented a report on the last term of office for herself and the board, which was fully elected at the Cape Town event.

Dame Pauline said: "When the International Co-operative Alliance board was elected in 2009 it set out a programme of radical change. A change into a valuable voice for the worldwide global movement."

She said the Alliance "influences global institutions and media" and that during the period the board was given impetus and focus by the United Nations naming 2012 as the International Year of Co-operatives.

The Alliance "maximised the value of the Year", according to Dame Pauline and the organisation has also through a period of internal change.

Dame Pauline said members of the Alliance approved a greater decentralisation to the regions and a larger distribution of membership fees. "In 2007, the global office kept 83 per cent of subscription funds paid to members and distributed 17 per cent to regional offices," said Dame Pauline. "There was no funding to sectors, this had to change. By 2011 the business sectors, which are much valued, now receive ten per cent of the global subscription funding.

"It's not enough but a start. The distributions for the regions, has increased from 17 per cent to 45 cent. The global office has decreased from 83 per cent to 45 per cent. I'm pleased that despite the cut we have reduced costs, we have brought the staff budget down from 80 per cent to under 50 per cent and we have made surpluses and diversified our income streams."

In his Director-General's report, Charles Gould told the Assembly that the Alliance has been laying the foundations for the Co-operative Decade this year. He said: "Much of the work on the Blueprint this year has been foundational. We have been designing the marque, establishing the Blue Ribbon Commission and understanding the data of co-op sustainability.

"Alongside that work, we engaged Sommersons to help us be clear on what our external messages are on the Blueprint. We want to be very clear how we communicate that externally. We do have a core message in the Blueprint, co-operatives are a growing and sustainable form of business, which is a message of hope and promise that is very much needed and welcomed at this particular point in history."

The Alliance has completed the work that is involved in relocating the organisation to Brussels from Geneva. The Alliance is now registered as an international non-profit association under Belgian law; and as of 31 December the Geneva operation is being dissolved. Mr Gould added that it's the Alliance's intention to share offices with other co-operative organisations in Brussels — it is already sharing a communications team with Euro Coop.

Dame Pauline also challenged the movement to be wary of "dark spots" within the movement. She said: "While co-op financial institutions have come out well from the financial crisis, some dark spots have been revealed."

Highlighted were "worrying trends" that have affect the sustainability and member participation of co-operatives in areas such as the Co-operative Bank in the UK, the co-op credit institutions in Cyprus and Rabobank in the Netherlands.

Dame Pauline added: "This meeting is so important. When a co-operative fails it is invariably a failure of governance, a failure of membership and a failure of empowerment. This is a massive opportunity to build new ways in participation and to make an impact for the young. This is how we can keep our movement alive, and invigorate our membership profiles.

"The next stage is to drive the Blueprint, drive our campaign to ensure our enterprises have community engagement and good business ethics."

Event:  ICA's Global Conference and General Assembly Monday: Cape Town Global Conference

“Fair for Life” Certification Now Lists All Available Products on Website - Tue, 05/11/2013 - 16:23

Institute for Marketecology (IMO) “Fair for Life” certification program now publicly lists all its available certified products, and which organizations trade them. There are more than 500 certified products in food, body care and other categories.

Also on the website, visitors can still see the evaluation score in 5 main criteria for each trading organization. These evaluation results are the only publicly available ones from any certifiers in Fair Trade.

More at “Fair for Life” product list

Watch Cape Town Live - Tue, 05/11/2013 - 14:57

Live sessions broadcasting from the International Co-operative Alliance's Global Conference and General Assembly. For more details, see the main plenary sessions in the official programme.

Event:  ICA's Global Conference and General Assembly Featured:  Featured Live Stream Live Feed:  Live Stream Live Stream Thumbnail: 

Co-operatives need to be on UN’s post-2015 development agenda - Tue, 05/11/2013 - 12:05

With the Millennium Development Goals coming to and end in 2015, co-operatives could help shape the United Nations’ development agenda, argued Simel Esim, Chief of the Cooperative Branch of the International Labour Organization.

Speaking at the International Co-operative Alliance Global Conference in Cape Town, the ILO official explained why co-operatives should play a role in setting up the post-2015 development agenda.

If co-operatives did not get involved in the discussions prior to establishing the Millennium Development Goals, they should be included in the new framework, said Ms Esim. Full employment remains ILO’s main objective and co-operatives could help to achieve this by creating employment and improving working conditions.

“We are very interested in knowing how co-ops can contribute to creating jobs.”

Apart from their important contribution to tacking unemployment, co-operatives could act as drivers of sustainability. Due to their open membership principle, co-operatives help to achieve social inclusion. Evidence from different regions around the world also shows that co-operatives have an important role to play in reducing poverty in local communities where they are embedded. According to the ILO, renewable energy co-operatives offer consumers a local option to have clean energy while investing socially and economically in sustainable development.

The Blueprint for a Co-operative Decade provides guidelines on how co-operatives could become the most sustainable enterprise model by 2020.

The Blueprint, argued Ms Esim, brings into attention the question of sustainability not only at enterprise level, but also at a much higher social, economic and environmental level.

To establish how co-operatives could help to achieve new development targets, the ILO, in collaboration with the International Co-operative Alliance (ICA) and the United Nations Research Institute for Social Development (UNRISD), has launched an online survey and in-depth interviews with representatives of the co-operative movement from around the world.

The initiative was designed to gather information on how co-operatives have contributed to sustainable development and their potential to contribute to the achievement of the soon to be proposed new development goals. The ILO has received over 300 responses to the survey within the first weeks.

Event:  ICA's Global Conference and General Assembly Sunday: Cape Town Global Conference

Blog: Co-operative research is fragmented say experts - Tue, 05/11/2013 - 10:49

Researchers from across the co-operative world have said research is fragmented.

At a session on the state of research into the co-operative sector around, Dr Ann Hoyt from the University of Wisconsin in the United States joked at the start of her presentation: “I was asked to talk about research networks into co-operatives in the United States. If that’s all I did then I would be finished very quickly.”

For all the speakers – who each provided an overview of what co-operative research is being undertaken in their region – two common themes emerged.

First, with a few exceptions, research into the co-operative sector appears to be fragmented. There are fascinating pieces of research being done, but they tend to be scattered across a range of topics rather than clustered around particular issues. As such, a coherent body of research that academics are engaged with does not appear to have developed.

Gianluca Salvatori, Chief Executive of Euricse, the research organisation responsible for the World Co-operative Monitor among other pieces of work, said: “The research on co-operatives in Europe is fragmented, so weak, so a small research organisation like ours can make a difference.”

Second, much of the research undertaken is in the form of partnerships between universities and co-operative organisations, often with the latter providing some level of financial support.

As such, research is often practical and developed to fit with the current interests of co-operatives, such as understanding the factors that influence co-operative development or practices for good governance.

While this is important, there was a sense that a shift is needed in the way co-operative research is developed.

Rather than research being seen simply as a practical instrument to support the co-operative movement, the speakers suggested co-operative researchers focus on fundamental issues and debates in both society and the academic world.

From employee happiness to job creation and business resilience, there are important, current issues that research into co-operatives can address.

The question, therefore, is how to develop robust, topical research that can also be communicated in a simple and practical way for use by the co-operative movement.

Event:  ICA's Global Conference and General Assembly Monday: Cape Town Global Conference

Singapore shares successful youth-engagement strategies - Tue, 05/11/2013 - 10:15

A successful youth engagement campaign relies on empowering young people, argued Dolly Goh, Chief Executive of Singapore National Co-operative Federation. Speaking at the ICA’s General Assembly in Cape Town, Ms Goh shared some of the successful youth engagement strategies developed by SNCF.

“In today’s fast and changing world there is a need to foster a stronger and more resilient generation to deal with these complex changes. But how do we really reach out to the youth?”, she asked.

An essential element in the success of such a campaign is identifying the target audience, said Dolly Goh. “We need to be part of their world. We do this through stories, with different ways of telling them to different types of youth”. It is important to customise programmes for each target group, Ms Goh added.

The campaigns should not be aimed at children and young people only, but at their parents as well. Parents of those aged between 12 and 18 years old have a strong influence on their children and so do teachers, principals of secondary schools or head of departments. Their influence needs to be taken into consideration when such campaigns are developed, said Ms Goh.

Another important target group includes pre-school children. “They can do parents do things for them even when they have no money or no appetite".

Co-operation is key to the success of the campaign, said the Chief Executive of SNCF. She added that partners are crucial in strengthening co-operation. One such partner could be the government. Co-operatives and co-operative organisations should identify target groups and identify groups that can exercise influence while aligning with the direction of the government.

“Customise your programmes to meet the needs of each focus group,” she said.

SNCF has been working  closely the government. By collaborating with the Ministry of Education they managed to get co-operatives included in school curricula. They also work with the Ministry of Social and Family Development to fund of school programmes as well as with the Ministry of Culture to develop youth-oriented cultural events.

According to Ms Gog, youth groups and youth-focused organisations form another improtant group that needs to be taken into account.

Ms Goh gave examples of some of the most successful projects developed by SNCF. They hold awareness talks in schools and have also managed to convince the organisers of a nationwide social enterprise competition to include the co-operative enterprise model. Students also get involved in a national debate are now also able to discuss on topics related to co-operatives. SNCF is committed to help form the next generation of leaders. For a couple of years they have been offering scholarships to university students. Most universities also include co-operatives as part of their business modules.

SNCF has also been successful in engaging with pre-school children and their parents. Their children book, a bestseller in Singapore, helped to teach children the values of co-operation. Minister of State Halimah Yacob also lead 15,000 co-operative members, families and the public in a chorus reading of ‘A Very Big Storm’, the first book of a series of four.

People across Singapore used these books to develop dramas, musicals and have children write their own stories based on the book.

Children drew what they learned from book and posted these as post cards to SNCF, who received over 1700 submissions.

Apart from getting youth interested in the idea of co-operation, SNCF also aims to empower young people across Singapore.

“They have more energy, they know how the target group thinks, we are just there to be their mentor”, said Ms Goh.

Event:  ICA's Global Conference and General Assembly Sunday: Cape Town Global Conference


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PPS CEO appointed to ICMIF board of directors - Tue, 05/11/2013 - 06:57

Mike Jackson, Chief Executive Officer of PPS, the financial services provider focused on graduate professionals, has been announced as the first South African to be appointed to the board of the International Cooperative and Mutual Insurance Federation (ICMIF), marking a significant milestone in the South African insurance industry.

ICMIF is a global trade association representing more than 220 cooperative and mutual insurers from over 70 countries worldwide, with its members accounting for 5.5% of the world’s insurance market in 2012.

Jackson says his appointment highlights South Africa’s importance to the global mutual and cooperative insurance industry, as well as the benefits of the mutual insurance model in the country. “Unlike listed financial services companies, in which all profits accrue to shareholders, a mutual exists solely for the benefit of its members, who share in the profits of the company.”

He says the mutual business model is hugely relevant for South Africa, given the spirit of ubuntu that runs through many communities. “Mutuality is aligned to the ethos of benefiting members in the long term and speaks to looking after community interests rather than shareholder interests.”

Furthermore, Jackson notes that the performance of mutual companies through the financial crisis in comparison to many listed life companies was exceptional. “Many mutuals grew their asset and client base strongly over the period, whilst listed life companies sought government intervention and were distressed sellers of their equity.”

Jackson says the fact that a mutual company doesn’t have shareholders means it is able to concentrate on its long term commitments and promises. “Having no external shareholders means a mutual also has no need to set aggressive profit targets, in order to deliver short-term, volatile returns to shareholders.”

“Through my appointment to the ICMIF board, I hope to create more awareness of the success of mutual business models in South Africa and assist in building the reputation of the country as being a leader in the financial services industry, concludes Jackson.

ICA Youth Network’s work is only beginning - Mon, 04/11/2013 - 15:13

By Emily M Lippold Cheney, USA Cooperative Youth Council

During the first formal meeting of the ICA Youth Network on Saturday, we had youth from all over the world convening to discuss what it means to be a youth, to share projects from their home countries and regions, and to take steps to form an international network and Executive Committee to aid youth in participating in the ICA, as well as to amplify our voices in conversations with the ICA and our local networks.

Our work is certainly only beginning. We have much to do to ensure better representation of genders, regions, and experience in the network and Committee. We also need to finalise governing documents and develop shared engage practices.

As one of the participants who were fortunate enough to be able to come to Cape Town, I hope, and will make an effort to ensure, more of the youth voices that could not travel the distance or attend the event will have an opportunity to weigh in on our development conversations. We do have great leadership on the networks' Committee, particularly in Gabriela Buffa, the youth nominee to the ICA Board of Directors. I look forward to our future work!

Event:  ICA's Global Conference and General Assembly Saturday: Cape Town Global Conference

FTF Publishes 2013 Holiday Guide - Mon, 04/11/2013 - 14:41

The Fair Trade Federation (FTF) has published its 2013 Holiday Shopping Guide, featuring gift, party, and decor recommendations from over 50 Fair Trade Federation members. All of the gifts in the guide are sold by members of the Fair Trade Federation– fully fair trade businesses dedicated to the people who make our products.

See the 2013 Holiday Guide

ICA General Assembly elects global board - Mon, 04/11/2013 - 13:24

Fifteen directors have been elected to the board of the International Co-operative Alliance.

At its General Assembly in Cape Town, the Alliance's members took part in one of the highest-contested elections in recent times with 31 candidates standing for the board. Delegates from each of the four regions of the Alliance — Africa, Americas, Asia-Pacific, Europe — were elected.

Dame Pauline Green from the United Kingdom was elected unopposed as the Alliance's President. Likewise, the regional vice-presidents, who are all elected by their regional assemblies, were ratified. The Alliance's vice-presidents are  Stanley Charles Muchire - Vice-President for Africa; Ramón Imperial Zúñiga – Vice-President for Americas; Li Chungseng Vice-President for Asia-Pacific; and Dirk Lenharrt Vice-President for Europe.

At the start of proceedings, Hajah Armi Zainudin, Chair of the Election Committee, told the conference: "This year there are 31 candidates for the 'at large' board of directors. which is a large increase in the interest of delegates to stand for election. This is a very positive sign and shows that people recognise the ICA has been doing a great job."

Representing the Alliance's sectoral organisations on the board will be Kathy Bardswick, President and Chief Executive of The Co-operators and member of the insurance sector body ICMIF, and Jose Carlos Guisado, President of the International Health Cooperative Organisation. Both candidates were nominated by by the Sectoral Organisation Liaison Group.

The youth representative of the board is Gabriela Ana Buffa, who was nominated by Cooperar — the confederation of Argentina co-operatives — and has been the youth secretariat on the board of the Mobilizing Institute of Cooperative Funds.

Those elected to the board are:

Argentina: Dr Ariel Guarco Nominated by COOPERAR
He is also the President of the Federation of Electric and Public Services Cooperatives of the Province of Buenos Aires (FEDECOBA) and secretary of the Inter-federative Electric Cooperatives Confederation of Argentina (CONAICE) both since 2008. Since 2011 he holds the Presidency of the Cooperative Confederation of Argentina (COOPERAR).

Australia: Gregory Wall Nominated by Capricorn Society Limited
Group CEO of Capricorn a large Australian Cooperative and has extensive experience in the Mutual and Cooperative sector gained as a CEO and executive in Banking and Credit Unions.

Brazil: Dr Eudes de Freitas Aquino  Nominated by OCB
Since 2009 he has been the President of Unimed do Brasil, Vice President of IHCO and Board member of ACI Americas. In March 2013, he was re-elected president of Unimed do Brasil for four years.

Bulgaria: Petar Stefanov Nominated by Central Cooperative Union
Has been the President of Central Cooperative Union-Bulgaria since 2003. He is also an Executive Committee member of Consumer Co-operatives World, a board member on Co-operatives Europe and a member of the Co-operative House Europe Board.

Canada: Monique Leroux Nominated by Conseil canadien de la coopération et de la mutualité
Chair of the Board, President and Chief Executive Officer of Desjardins Group since 2008. Ms. Leroux is currently a member of many boards of directors, working groups and cooperative organisations, e.g. the European Association of Co-operative Banks, the International Confederation of Popular Banks, Conseil québécois de la coopération et de la mutualité, the Co-operatives and Mutuals Canada, Crédit industriel et commercial of Crédit Mutuel

Finland: Anne Santamäki Nominated by SOK Corporation
From 2001 to 2010 Anne Santamäki acted as Vice-President of Cooperatives Europe. In 2010 was elected as President of Consumer Cooperatives World Wide (CCW). Since 2010, she has been a Board Member of International Co-operative Alliance (ICA).

France: Jean-Louis Bancel  Nominated by Coop FR
Chairman of Crédit Coopératif since 2009 (vice chairman from 2005 to 2009), Chairman of the International Cooperative Banking Association - a sectoral organisation of the International Cooperative Alliance – and member of the Accounting Standards Authority (ANC).

Italy: Carlo Scarzanella Nominated by Associazione Generale Cooperative Italiane
In the Alliance of Italian Cooperatives (ACI), he is President of the ACI sector organisation for cultural cooperatives and Co-President of ACI sector organisations for the tourism and for the publishing and communication cooperatives.

Japan: Akira Banzai Nominated by JA-Zenchu
Mr Akira Banzai is president of JA-Zenchu (Central Union of Agricultural Co- operatives), the apex organisation of agricultural co-operatives in Japan. Mr Banzai also chairs Japan Joint Committee of Co-operatives of 14 ICA members, representing wide range of sectors in consumer societies, agriculture, fishery, banking, mutual, health & welfare and workers with over 60 million people.

Korea: Won-Byung Choi   Nominated by NACF
Mr Won-Byung CHOI is the chairman of National Agricultural Cooperative Federation which is the apex organisation of 1,165 member cooperatives representing 2.5 million farmers in Korea.

Russia: Evgeny Kuznetsov  Nominated by Centrosojuz
During the years of his work as the head of system of the Centrosojuz of Russia, which includes more than 3 thousand consumer societies and about 4 millions individual members from different regions of Russia, Evgeny Kuznetsov assured the recognition of the consumer cooperation on the State governmental

Singapore: Seah Kian Peng Nominated by Singapore National Co-operative Federation
Mr Kian Peng, Chief Executive Officer of NTUC FairPrice Co-operative, which has a chain of over 270 stores comprising hypermarkets, supermarkets, premium markets, petrol marts and convenience stores. The NTUC FairPrice Co-operative employs over 8,500 staff with an annual turnover of over SGD 2.6 billion.

Sweden: Jan Anders Lago Nominated by HSB & KF
In his role as president of HSB, Sweden’s largest co-operative housing organisation with more than half a million members, he has, among other things, engaged in making more young people take part and to develop new co-operatives. The activities pursued by the Swedish Co-operative Centre in 25 countries are good examples of this meaningful way of making people grow together and make a difference and he is proud of being a member of the Board of SCC.

United Kingdom: Len Wardle Nominated by The Co-operative Group & Co-operatives UK
Chairman of the Co-operative Group, one of the largest consumer co- operatives, with over 7 million members in the UK and business interests in food, pharmacy, funerals, travel, banking, insurance and farming. As Chairman of the Group he oversees strategic direction of the businesses so that they fulfil co-operative principles, and adopt ethical values such as Fairtrade and responsible retailing.

USA: Martin Lowery Nominated by National Cooperative Business Association
Martin Lowery has been involved in cooperative organisations and activities for over 30 years. His immediate responsibilities from 1972 forward have been with the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, the trade association representing almost 1,000 electric cooperatives in the United States.

Event:  ICA's Global Conference and General Assembly Monday: Cape Town Global Conference

Blog: Eight ways to connect co-operatives - Mon, 04/11/2013 - 13:07

Four of us were chatting about ways to connect co-operatives. Like many at the International Co-operative Alliance’s Global Conference, it was very international.

There was Nonhle Memela from the Department of Trade and Industry in South Africa, Steven Lynch of Bank Mecu in Australia and Erin Hancock of the Canadian Co-operative Association (CCA). Oh, and me, from the UK. Four people; four continents.

Though co-operative businesses often trade in different sectors, they have shared areas where they can learn from one another – areas like membership, engagement, marketing, finance and governance.

Together, we created a list of ways to connect co-operatives that I’d like to share with you, most based on existing experiences, although a couple are ideas that the co-operative sector might like to look at further.

1. A co-operative breakfast. Each month, co-operatives in Melbourne come together for a business breakfast, to network and hear from specialists on key areas of interest.

2. Meet-ups. More widely, regular local meet-ups for informal networking and peer to peer learning is a growing way of linking up local businesses. This could support trading and shared learning amongst co-operatives.

3. Incubation centres. On a larger level, some municipalities in South African run incubation centres as a space for co-operatives contracted by the municipality to meet, attend training sessions and learn about co-operative running a successful business.

4. Training sessions. The CCA runs regular training sessions for between 25 and 60 professionals in particular functions such as membership, governance and leadership.

5. Networks. Virtual networks provide an easy way to link people together, through a website, online discussion, occasional teleconferences and sometimes webinars. See, for example, the CCA Research Network.

6. #coopchat. This doesn’t exist yet. But on Twitter people with shared interest agree a time and talk to one another about a given topic. For example, #commschat and #breadchat. Timezones will need to be considered, but what about a fortnightly, international #coopschat?

7. Sector media. In the UK, the Co-operative News provides a link between co-operatives, giving them news, analysis and business insight. The website provides an international news and analysis for co-operatives, but perhaps sector media could be extended further in countries where there is no sector media yet.

8. Social media. And social media is a key way for peers to network. The use of the hashtag #coops on Twitter is an important part of this, as is sharing and talking on Facebook and other leading networks.

This is, of course, just the start. There are sure to be so many other ways to connect co-operatives and enable them to learn, share and talk.

Event:  ICA's Global Conference and General Assembly Sunday: Cape Town Global Conference

Japan's growing student co-operatives have one million members - Mon, 04/11/2013 - 12:49

“We have more than one million students who are members of co-operatives”, said Dr Kokichi Shoji, the President of the National Federation of University Co-operative Associations.

Dr Shoji was speaking at the ‘Inspiring the next generation’ workshop at the International Co-operative Alliance’s conference, in which people heard from co-operative practitioners from around the world discuss examples of how young people are starting, running and experiencing co-operation in schools and universities.

Alongside speakers from South Africa, Canada, Uganda and the UK, Dr Shoji highlighted the extent of student-led co-operatives in universities across Japan.

There are 782 universities in Japan. Of these, a quarter (192) have a large student-led co-operatives providing services, with more than one million members.

These co-operatives are owned by their customers – primarily by students, but also by faculty and university staff.

They are the main providers of various services in the universities, from bookstores and dining halls to IT repairs, housing and mutual insurance.

Dr Shoji explained that “university co-operatives started life following the Second World War, during hard economic times”, when the co-operative model could offer affordable services to students and staff.

The co-operatives continued to grow during Japan’s economic boom and to date. Dr Shoji said: “The cause of this growth has been the desire for co-operatives during the student movement of the 1960s and 1970s and the creation of regional association to support the development of new co-operatives.”

Discussion at the session turned to the relationship between profit and the education system, with Dr Shoji pointing out that the co-operative model “provides an alternative to services being provided by universities or the state as is found in France and Germany, or by the private sector as found in the US.”

Event:  ICA's Global Conference and General Assembly Sunday: Cape Town Global Conference

'Signposts on the Roadmap' - creating a shared platform for communicating the Blueprint strategy - Mon, 04/11/2013 - 12:09

By Melina Morrison and Kate Askew, Sommerson Communications

Over the past year the ICA has been focused on internal positioning of the Blueprint for a Co-operative Decade with members and friends. The adoption and endorsement of the Blueprint has been tremendous. The ICA recognised that the next step was to take the Blueprint strategy outside to the public, media and policymakers.  

To ensure that there was a set of messages based on the themes of the Blueprint and supporting its objectives, the ICA asked Sommerson Communications to help identify the key messages that should drive its external communications strategies in the coming years. The result is the ICA Blueprint Message Platform and Storybook.

When Charles Gould, ICA Director General, approached us to develop a set of messages to support the Blueprint, we were very excited about the opportunity. Chuck was very passionate about the Blueprint, but the first challenge was to help everyone else, all of the constituents in the Co-operative Movement, to be passionate about the Blueprint as well. To that end we have been working closely with Chuck and the Regional and Sectoral heads of the ICA to develop the core messages, which communicate the Blueprint.

Before we talk about the messages it’s important to remember why we work in this way; why we develop messages.

The world is a noisy place, fractured by multiple channels through which anyone can communicate. By channels we mean social media, traditional media and what we call “owned” media, and by that we mean your own website. Media, once the key vehicle for messages to be communicated to the public, has suffered as consumption habits of media change. This move into a new digitally driven communications sphere is making it ever more important to be clear and concise, but also engaging, in the way in which you communicate.

This is why we have messages. It helps keep us consistent, it helps to build an audience and it helps to establish a brand identity.

The first thing to say is that it is important to have a roadmap for the future because if we all know where we are going, we can plan ahead, and we can all work together to get there.

Now that we have this roadmap - the Blueprint -  we need to communicate about this plan and engage the co-operative moment around a common set of objectives.

There are strong reasons to work together:

1. Co-operation - by working together we utilise the same principle we use in running our businesses – co-operation.

2. Economy of scale – quite simply by working together we will get more “bang for our buck”.

3. Resources – we can unlock the potential of our greatest asset; one billion co-operators.

As Dame Pauline Green, our President says, “We are a global network of independent, autonomous, democratically governed businesses”, and we have one billion agents of change.

Therefore we have built what we like to call a message house.

This house, like any house, has a roof on top – in this case we like to think of this as a message, which encapsulates the whole Blueprint.

But a roof needs walls, or rather structure. So we created a series of twelve messages, which feed into the one overlying message.

Does everyone understand what a message is? A message is a sentence or two which captures the essence of the subject matter, in this case the ICA’s Blueprint for a Co-operative Decade.

Again, if we’re all working from the same messages, it helps to focus and empower our communication strategy and it helps to get voices behind the co-operative movement and its Blueprint.

Of course messages don’t fly just on their own. Messages need proof points and stories to help an audience understand, but also to believe. We know that the stories, which engage on an emotional level, are a very successful form of communications and applaud the use of storytelling.

So, here is the core message of the Blueprint, that “Cooperatives are a growing and sustainable form of enterprise serving the needs of people”.

This message touches on all five areas of the Blueprint: Participation, identity, sustainability, legal framework and capital.

There are three things to remember about messages.

1. Messages are ideas not slogans – as ideas you will use your creativity to find the ways of expressing them for your various audiences.

2. They belong to you – the movement  - and you will develop them to suit your needs.

3. They only work through transformation, through your stories.

When people hear stories that reach them on an emotional level their brains do something special, the neurons are sparked and the story is remember.

This is why you are seeing such a change in the way big brands communicate with their customers and potential customers – they try to reach them emotionally in order to get them to act – to buy something for example.

When you communicate something simply with authenticity, it can be very powerful. The messages are the ideas that are expressed powerfully in our own words or through our own stories.

What we really want you to remember is that for this Blueprint to truly hit the mark we must really consider that we become advocates and champions for the Blueprint.

Event:  ICA's Global Conference and General Assembly Sunday: Cape Town Global Conference

Setting co-operative accounting standards - Mon, 04/11/2013 - 11:43

Delegates at ICA’s General Assembly discussed the importance of providing accounting education tailored to co-operatives. As part of a special showcase session, Gary Strain, President and Thomas Husek, Director of the National Society of Accountants for Cooperatives (NSAC) presented the large number of activities and projects carried on by their professional society.

The two speakers emphasised that accounting standards are a strategic regulatory risk factor for the continued viability of the co-operative business model worldwide. According to them, accounting standards setters generally do not understand co-operatives or the co-operative form of organisation.

NSAC seeks to address this problem by supporting co-operative business interests in standard setting processes. Founded in 1936 and comprising of 2,000 individual members actively involved in financial management and planning of co-operative business, NSAC aims to keep its members up to date with the latest tendencies and developments in the field of accounting. The society also helps identify and respond to relevant accounting and tax issues on a timely basis.

They run training, networking and education events for their members, who are either employed by a co-operative or provide professional services for co-operatives. They include, but are not limited to, accountants, chief financial officers, auditors, bookkeepers, chief executive officers, attorneys, bankers, tax professionals and other finance and accounting employees of co-operatives.

NSAC’s vision for the future includes creating an International Society of Accountants for Cooperatives and enhancing and expanding educational programmes.

Event:  ICA's Global Conference and General Assembly Sunday: Cape Town Global Conference

El poder de la comunicación y todo aquello que las cooperativas no cuentan - Mon, 04/11/2013 - 10:21

Las cooperativas llevan al menos desde 1844 (año arriba, año abajo; las fechas “oficiales” no son exactas, ya saben) cultivando un modelo de negocio que pone a las personas por encima del capital y que contribuye al bien común. Cohesión social, protección del medio ambiente, y, en definitiva, sostenibilidad (en el sentido  más amplio de la palabra) salpican su actividad con independencia del sector en el que operen.

Sin embargo, lo que para otras empresas convencionales es una parte fundamental de la estrategia de comunicación (piensen en todas esas campañas de responsabilidad social corporativa), para las cooperativas queda relegado a un segundo plano. Quizás se debe a la falta de recursos (el departamento de Marketing y Comunicación es siempre el último en aparecer en escena); o, tal vez, al hecho de que destinar fondos a proyectos sociales o invertir en energías renovables es tan innato a las cooperativas que se olvidan de contárselo a los demás –¡cómo si alguien se fuera a sorprender!.

Pero lo cierto es que, por muy habitual que a las empresas cooperativas les parezca eso de ser “buenas”, para los consumidores y usuarios sigue siendo, cuanto menos, un gesto loable; algo que llega a ser incluso determinante cuando se trata de elegir los productos que van en la cesta de la compra o buscar a un cuidador para sus mayores.

De ahí la atrevida pregunta que Anthony Murray, editor de Co-operative News, lanzaba hoy a los asistentes a la Conferencia Annual de la ACI. ¿Dónde están las cooperativas cuando se habla de soluciones a la crisis alimentaria, de herramientas para combatir el desempleo o de alternativas al fallido sistema económico que nos tiene asfixiados?

Ciertamente, en algún lugar donde no son ni visibles ni reconocibles.

De acuerdo con el Banco Mundial, 250 millones de productores de países en vías de desarrollo son socios de una cooperativa. En Colombia, las empresas cooperativas son responsables del 3,65% de los puestos de trabajo. Y, en China, proporcionan el 91% de los microcréditos. Por ahora, son, además, las empresas que mejor han sobrevivido a la crisis económica en países como España.

Si dejamos los números a gran escala, les puedo poner el ejemplo muy práctico de una cooperativa británica. Su sector es el de las telecomunicaciones (telefonía fija y móvil, e internet), pero los beneficios se invierten en mucho más que sostener el negocio y repartirlos entre los socios. En los últimos 18 meses, The Phone Co-op ha destinado más de £622,000 a la instalación de paneles solares que permitirán reducir las emisiones de dióxido de carbono a la atmósfera en 140 toneladas anuales. Eso por no hablarles del dinero que recientemente ha invertido en energía eólica, en ayudar a rescatar un pub local en Brighton, o apoyar a la cooperativa de comercio justo Revolver.

Cómo éste, me imagino que se les vienen a la cabeza miles de ejemplos prácticos de cómo las cooperativas “contribuyen a construir un mundo mejor”, como reza el eslogan de la Alianza Cooperativa Internacional. Y, sí, no son la varita mágica con la que vamos a resolver todos los problemas  a los que nos enfrentamos, pero, como advierte Anthony Murray, son parte de la solución. Simplemente, tienen que aprender a contarlo. Después de todo, difícilmente la gente podrá optar por un modelo que desconoce, por muy buenas que sean sus intenciones.

Isabel Benitez es Relaciones Públicas de The Phone Co-op, la primera cooperativa de telecomunicaciones del Reino Unido.

Event:  ICA's Global Conference and General Assembly Sunday: Cape Town Global Conference

Los retos de la marca Coop - Mon, 04/11/2013 - 09:56

Habría que preguntarle a quiénes idearon la primera marca o etiqueta de Comercio Justo, allá por los 80, cómo se sienten ahora viendo que cualquier persona reconoce el logotipo azul, negro y verde en casi todos los rincones del planeta. Por poco que sepan de comercio justo, los consumidores asocian el símbolo a la lucha contra la pobreza, al desarrollo y a la igualdad social, y, de hecho, también a precios más elevados que, no obstante, “merece la pena pagar porque contribuyen al bienestar social” — al fin y al cabo, a todos nos gusta sentir que nuestras acciones tienen un impacto positivo en el mundo que nos rodea.

Siguiendo los pasos ejemplares de la marca Comercio Justo, la Alianza Cooperativa Internacional ha decidido crear una imagen que permita identificar a este tipo de empresas en todo el mundo. La marca Coop la ha diseñado una cooperativa de trabajadores del Reino Unido llamada Calverts y quiere convertirse en el símbolo que unifique el movimiento cooperativo a nivel internacional. Pero ¿podrá conseguirlo?

La marca se acaba de presentar en Cape Town en la Conferencia Anual de la ACI. Sin embargo, la parte más difícil está aún por llegar.

Hablamos de un movimiento, el cooperativo, que se caracteriza por tener dificultades para cumplir uno de sus principios fundamentales: el número 6, la cooperación entre cooperativas. Es la eterna protesta que se escucha en este tipo de eventos: las cooperativas son las que más obstáculos ponen a la hora de trabajar codo con codo. Quizás es porque, cuando no hay recursos, uno tiene que centrarse en sobrevivir primero; pero es que nos olvidamos de que la cooperación desde la base puede ahorrarnos también muchos quebraderos de cabeza. 

En cualquier caso, tratándose de usar etiquetas dudo mucho que no surjan dificultades similares. ¿Cómo se empleará el logotipo Coop? ¿Dónde? ¿En qué parte del envoltorio del producto? ¿A qué distancia del logotipo de cada empresa cooperativa independiente? Es más, ¿en qué medida quieren las cooperativas verse asociadas a ese Coop que puede no es aún mundialmente conocido? Y, si me apuran, ¿cuántas cooperativas dejarán de ocultar que lo son para no perder peso en el mercado?

Desde luego que, como Sion Whellens, diseñador en Calverts, espero que la respuesta a todas estas preguntas sea una adopción unánime de la marca Coop. Desde mi humilde opinión, lo ideal sería que esta marca se convirtiera en la marca y que los logotipos individuales de cada negocio pasaran a un segundo plano. Claro que también soy consciente de cuán utópica una propuesta así puede resultar: qué tipo de controles habría que establecer para garantizar que, como ocurre con la etiqueta Comercio Justo, quien con orgullo luzca ese Coop sea una cooperativa ejemplar.

De momento, a Sion Whellens le toca la ardua tarea de dar indicaciones a las cooperativas reunidas estos días en Cape Town para que saquen el mayor partido posible a la etiqueta cooperativa. Con suerte en 7 años (la ambiciosa fecha tope que se ha puesto la ACI en su Plan para una Década Cooperativa), cualquier persona a la que paremos por la calle y enseñemos el logotipo podrá reconocerlo e incluso asociarlo a un modelo de negocio más justo y mejor para todos.

¿Y ustedes cómo lo ven?

Isabel Benitez es Relaciones Públicas para The Phone Co-op, la primera cooperativa de telecomunicaciones del Reino Unido.

Event:  ICA's Global Conference and General Assembly Sunday: Cape Town Global Conference

Group retains 30% in Bank, but branch closures are imminent - Mon, 04/11/2013 - 09:16

The Co-operative Group has confirmed that it will be holding a 30 per cent stake in the Co-operative Bank, but it has also announced a plan to reduce costs by closing branches.

Today, the recapitalisation plan for the Bank was announced to generate £1.5 billion in capital. The Group will retain a 30% share in the Bank and will be the largest single shareholder, with no other single shareholder holding no more than 10% without regulatory approval.

The Group will put £462 million into the Bank with £125m coming from the LT2 Group, which is predominately represented by US hedge funds.

As part of the first phase of cost cutting initiatives, the Group will close around 50 branches leading to job losses by the end of 2014. Its branch network of 342 will be reduced by 15 per cent. A new digital offering for the Bank is to be the main focus of the business, along with other self-service facilities.

In the new Bank, which is expected to formalised with investors by the end of the year, co-operative values and ethics will be legally embedded into the constitution.

Euan Sutherland, Chief Executive of the Group, said: "We have enshrined the Values and Ethics that lie at the heart of the Co-operative Group into the new rules that govern the Bank. We have set up a Values and Ethics committee that will be chaired by a senior independent director. The Bank will be what its customers expect of it – a fair, responsible and trusted Bank that delivers great service to retail and small business customers, underpinned by the Values and Ethics of the Co-operative movement."

This message was reiterated in a national press campaign that underlined the Bank's ethical direction, under the headline: "Ethical banking has always been our DNA. Now it's in our constitution." It also said that by spring next year, it will hold a customer vote to redefine the Bank's ethical policy.

Mr Sutherland added: "Today we have taken a major step forward towards achieving our plan to secure the future of the Bank, putting in place an agreement with a number of our leading investors on a comprehensive Plan that will raise the necessary £1.5 billion of capital. The financial position of the Bank means that all stakeholders will have to make a contribution but in delivering this agreement we have worked hard to balance the distinct needs of all those affected."

Mr Sutherland also said that the Group's contribution of £462m will, in the main, be targeted to individual investors who will "suffer a loss", but, he said, "these options secure the best possible outcome for them, in the circumstances".

He added: "Our ability to support the financial future and business approach of the Bank was made possible because of our long-term view of the value that will be created in the four to five year transformation plan drawn up by the new management team. We are optimistic about the future; there is considerable potential to be realised across the Group and we are now well placed to restore the Co-operative brand to its rightful place at the heart of communities up and down Britain.”

Niall Booker, Chief Executive of Co-operative Bank, said: “The Bank is now focused on implementing our business plan which, following the capital raise, begins the process of strengthening the Bank, and returning it to profitability over time.

"We now have the opportunity to renew our focus on serving the needs of our retail and small business customers. We will strive to make things simpler for our customers, removing unnecessary processes and reducing costs. We will also put greater rigour into our risk management and controls, ensuring our customers are dealt with respectfully, fairly and transparently.

“The Bank has already taken a number of steps to address the challenges it faces. It is clear, however, that there is a significant task ahead; we are only in the very early stages of turning the business around. The legacy issues we are working hard to overcome will continue to have an impact on the Bank for some time."

The cost savings from the Bank are in addition to an internal Group-wide agenda to save £500m of expenditure by the end of 2017. Project Orion is expected to save £100m by the end of 2012 by streamlining how the organisation operates.

In a message to elected members, Co-operative Group Chairman Len Wardle said: "It will form a vital part of our recovery plans, focusing on our Trading Group businesses, their support centres, and the Group-wide corporate functions. The Bank will be pursuing its own cost reduction programme to align the business with its new focus on serving retail customers and small and medium sized businesses.

"The first phase of Orion will concentrate on streamlining our activity, reducing our expenditure and controlling our costs. During the next few months, Orion will achieve radical cost reduction through new scrutiny of costs and a step change to our governance. The Orion Programme will complement and build on existing cost reduction initiatives already underway."

Mr Wardle added: "I want us to address the need for cost reduction in the Trading Group urgently and I want us to do so in a co-operative way. That means taking individual responsibility in our own areas for expenditure or activity that we control or can influence; demonstrating solidarity with the Group as a whole; and acting in ways that show we are fair, open, honest and equitable in all our dealings."

Global conference for co-operative movement opens in South Africa - Sun, 03/11/2013 - 10:43

The International Co-operative Alliance has opened its Global Conference and General Assembly in Cape Town.

In opening the event, the Alliance's President Dame Pauline Green said: "There are 1,100 people from across the globe here, 350 from Africa. It is no coincidence that we are here. Africa remains a part of the world where co-ops can do more. It is a young and vibrant growing country. Co-ops can help wealth and prosperity for Africa."

Stanley Muchiri, vice-President of the Alliance's Africa region, said he was delighted when Africa was chosen by the global board. The General Assembly has been held in Africa for the first time in its existence of the Alliance. He said: "This gathering gives Africa a huge opportunity to share knowledge and experience from co-operatives across the world. Lessons learned will help us to reposition and focus the co-operative development in Africa."

Mr Muchiri outlined the growth and prosperity across the continent, including agriculture, finance and housing. But he said areas such as consumer and healthcare have been neglected. He told delegates that a co-operative development strategy will be looking at this.

Dr Rob Davies, the Minister of Trade and Industry for South Africa, told the opening session that co-operatives have helped to promoted the development of people and has helped in areas such as unemployment and poverty. But one key challenge that has been identified is the issue of youth unemployment.

Sithembiso Nyoni, a politician from Zimbabwe, said that the co-operative model promotes equality across Africa. She said: "Co-operatives as a model are saying that everybody who is a member is equal — equal votes and equal membership. This is a good model and good in many ways for Africa, since they are a force for democracy and participation. They also help us to democratise organisations and, since co-operatives are value driven, they are helping us to bring their values."

Ms Nyoni added that values of respect, sharing and caring are promoted within co-operatives, which helps to bring together communities throughout the continent.

Added Dame Pauline: "We have the moment, we have the knowledge and the good will and support from those who desire what we desire. We have the strength and voice from one billion people with us. Let us use that slogan that was given to us by the United Nations and show that co-operatives build a better a world."

Event:  ICA's Global Conference and General Assembly Sunday: Cape Town Global Conference
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