Please find below the official Declaration of the 2012 International Summit of Cooperatives presented to the United Nations on the official closing of the International Year of Cooperatives on November 19 and 20, 2012.
The 2012 International Summit of Cooperatives, a pivotal event of the International Year of Cooperatives, was held in Quebec City from October 8 to 11. It was attended by some 2,800 representatives and future leaders of cooperatives and mutuals from 91 countries. Participants came together to engage in in-depth discussions on the business challenges facing the cooperative and mutualist movement. Other objectives were to help facilitate networking and inter-cooperation, make governments, the regulatory authorities and the general public more aware of the cooperative model, and find concrete ways to stimulate the development of the cooperative and mutualist sector at the local, national and international levels.
Summit participants acknowledged the important contribution that cooperatives and mutuals make to the socio-economic well-being of people and communities and to a balanced and more stable plural economy. Cooperatives and mutuals can make unique and relevant contributions because:
- they are rooted in the values and principles of cooperation
- they have a long-term commitment to their communities and the environment
- they have a solid democratic governance process that encourages people to participate in the management of their cooperative and provides training in democracy
- they promote job creation and retention in the communities they serve
- they strive to be profitable, not as an end in itself, but to effectively meet the needs of their current and future members
- they contribute to the stability of the economy because their actions are based on a long-term perspective and their strategies are people-oriented
- they use a business model that is robust and viable, at the local, national and international levels
- they are very resilient, as the last financial and economic crisis has shown
Based on the Summit's findings and discussions, the participants declare that:
Cooperatives and mutuals have an important role to play in the global economy and contribute to sustainable development.
It is estimated that one million cooperatives and mutuals are active around the world, serving the needs of one billion members and providing jobs to over 100 million people. The top 300 cooperatives and mutuals, from all activity sectors combined, generate 2 trillion dollars in global revenue. This figure is comparable to the world's ninth largest economy. The global cooperative movement represents the largest democracy and most impressive educational system in the world by virtue of cooperatives' democratic governance and the role they play in educating their elected officers and members on the economy and on democracy.
Cooperatives and mutuals exist in all sectors of the economy and impact all aspects of life. In many countries, they are key players in such sectors as manufacturing, agri-food, retail, financial services and social services. Wherever cooperatives are active, they strengthen the communities they serve because, in addition to their significant economic contributions, they also play a major role in social and human development.
Cooperatives and mutuals are helping many international organizations fulfill their missions and are contributing to the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals. This is due to their involvement in the areas of food security, poverty reduction, access to healthcare, gender equality, and mitigating the impacts of crises on high-risk populations. Their unique participative governance and democratic practices based on the principles and values of cooperation also support sustainable development.
To continue to maximize their full potential within a changing world and fragile economy, cooperatives and mutuals must:
- continue to improve their overall performance and remain competitive to ensure their longevity
- aim for successful and sustainable business growth, guided by member needs and environmental sustainability
- demonstrate a greater capacity for innovation
- remain relevant and current by training their employees, elected officers and members
- prepare future cooperators
- promote and support the creation and development of new cooperatives and mutuals
The cooperative and mutualist business model is diverse, effective and versatile. It actively encourages people to become engaged and participate in the economy and helps generate the growth required for our collective prosperity.
The application of the cooperative model across so many activity sectors (agriculture, agri-food, health, public services, consumer goods, energy, financial services) and in so many ways (consumer cooperatives, producer cooperatives, worker cooperatives) shows how flexible and adaptable it is.
To continue to grow and improve their performance, cooperative and mutual enterprises must:
- acquire a greater competitive edge by leveraging their close relationship with their members
- systematically identify members' needs that have not been properly addressed yet
- become more organizationally agile within the parameters of their mission and the principles that guide their actions
- clearly communicate and show how they are different
- join forces with other cooperatives through partnerships and collaborative agreements
The cooperative and mutual business model can evolve and adapt to the changing conditions of its environment and the needs of its members and their communities. However, their unique governance and capitalization methods pose challenges of their own.
Cooperative governance, which is based on transparency, the democratic election of officers, member participation, and a long-term vision, allows cooperatives to build a relationship of trust with their members, employees, clients and communities. The close relationship that cooperatives and mutuals have with their members explains their exceptional ability to meet their needs. The shared vision that inspires them leads to more concerted action.
To continue to stand out in a globalized and technologically advanced economy, cooperative and mutual enterprises will have to react faster to the rapid changes that impact their environment.
They will also have to:
- strike a better balance between their decision-making processes and their operational agility
- clearly define the responsibilities of their elected officers and managers
- constantly improve their overall performance management systems
- create more effective member consultation processes regarding their strategic directions
- leverage social media and other innovative communication tools to engage members in the democratic process
- maintain their natural position as leaders in terms of member satisfaction at a time when interactions are becoming increasingly virtual
Because their ownership structure limits their sources of capital, cooperatives and mutuals have always had to be very creative when they needed additional capital for development purposes, while remaining true to their identity.
To address the challenges of capitalization in times of tighter financial regulations, cooperatives and mutuals must:
- create inter-cooperative forums to give themselves a shared political agenda, speak with one voice, and better promote their distinctiveness with regulatory and political bodies
- strengthen their relationships with governments and regulatory bodies to keep track of new regulatory developments and ensure that the distinctiveness of the cooperative model is taken into consideration in legislation and public policies
- set up financing mechanisms to create, consolidate or maintain cooperatives and mutuals
It is a fact that, together, cooperative and mutual businesses represent a global social, human and economic powerhouse. But efforts must be made to ensure they gain greater political clout.
Important decisions are currently being made around the world without considering the unique aspects of the cooperative model. This is because the model is not very well-known or recognized, even though it has demonstrated its ability to be successful. It has survived crises better than many other models thanks to its distinct ownership structure and capital stability.
To prevent their business model from being overlooked or weakened, and to allow them to gain political influence that is more in line with their global economic influence, cooperatives and mutuals must:
- combine their efforts and resources to give their international interventions greater impact
- commit the necessary resources to promote and spread the word about their achievements and tangible contributions to the world's socio-economic development, and the innovative ways in which they have responded to today's challenges
- intensify their representation activities in order to make themselves better known to policy-makers and be considered in stimulus and economic development projects
- commit the necessary resources to develop new cooperatives and mutuals and to support their networks, and encourage governments to do the same
- communicate their financial, social, human and environmental achievements more effectively
- get researchers interested in the cooperative movement and set up an international cooperative and mutual knowledge and database to serve as a foundation, so that cooperative studies become an essential component in the academic and business world
- prepare the next generation, make room for young leaders and encourage their participation
The cooperative model offers a sustainable business legacy for generations to come. To maintain and develop this effective business model, we need to recognize how vital it is for young people to get involved as members, employees and officers.
To ensure the full participation of young people, cooperatives and mutuals must:
- support the development of the technological infrastructure geared to young people and make it easier to share information
- encourage governments to include cooperative and mutual studies in their school curriculums
- help the next generation of entrepreneurs develop new cooperatives and mutuals
- make room for future cooperators
The Summit participants realize now more than ever that cooperative and mutual businesses can effectively respond to the socio-economic challenges that our societies face. The current crisis has actually reinforced the relevance of the cooperative and mutual response to people's needs. At the same time, the participants also stressed the importance of the overall performance of cooperatives and mutuals, as it is a necessary requirement to ensuring they can make a sustainable and significant contribution to global wealth creation and distribution.
If we want to help build a better world, we need to focus all of our efforts on developing, strengthening and promoting the cooperative and mutualist model.
Quebec City, Canada, November 2, 2012.