Back to top

Venice 2012: New knowledge for the development of cooperatives

The conference “Promoting the understanding of cooperatives for a better world” organized by Euricse , the International Co-operative Alliance (ICA) and the Alliance of Italian Cooperatives for the UN International Year of Cooperatives closed last week in Venice. The two-day conference featured over 50 speakers from around the world debating issues connected to the cooperative world. The participants also signed an appeal asking the European Union’s governments to pay greater attention to the importance of cooperative banks to economic recovery.

In order to cope with the economic and social crisis, “in the future we will have to ask for help from the cooperative world. Not just in the social services, but also in the reorganization of labour, taking inspiration from this alternative model.” So said Romano Prodi, Italy’s former Prime Minister and the ex-president of the European Commission, opening the international conference. Prodi delved further into the state of the global economy and the imbalance in the distribution of employment, concluding regretfully that “the inclusivity of the cooperative system and its positive changes to the employment model run up against a lack of responses and courage from the political leadership.”

The need to change the dominant model was confirmed by Sir Partha Dasgupta, Professor of Economics at the University of Cambridge. In his speech introducing the conference, he spoke about the economic and social costs of the prevailing economic system: “What allows big retailers and multinationals to have economies of scale is that we are not paying the real costs of the inputs, like resources and manpower. In the end our children and our grandchildren will have to pay.”

The sentiment behind the conference title, “Promoting the understanding of cooperatives for a better world”, is proving more important than ever, given the current shifts in global economic equilibriums dictated by the crisis.

To debate these highly topical issues, over 200 people had come to San Servolo Island in Venice to participate in the conference, including economics experts and cooperative representatives from 27 different countries.

The international relevance of the conference was also emphasized by Len Wardle,president of Co-operatives UK, who presented some very important figures, appropriate given the conference’s focus on economics: “The 300 biggest cooperatives in the world are worth 1.6 trillion dollars alone,” he said. “That’s a tricky number to write.” They have a certain weight, in other words, which will allow the cooperative world to launch itself into the future with a very specific demand: “Let’s ask if this year the cooperative world will be allowed to help build a sustainable world, break down the wall of poverty in rural zones and export the cooperative model to more new areas and emerging economies.”

The conclusions of the conference therefore “greatly re-evaluate the cooperative model, from both an economic and a social perspective”, and belie many of the limits considered to be typical to cooperatives. Though often considered to be systematically less efficient than other forms of businesses, it was shown that cooperatives are not confined to specific sectors, are not only small enterprises and are not less capitalized than shareholder companies. Cooperatives tend to maintain higher employment levelsthan other firms in times of crisis, and to increase employment levels in expansion phases.

Euricse’s research staff is working on a more comprehensive summary document based on the contributions of the keynote speakers and enriched with the outcomes of the related discussion sessions, which we will be published soon.

Once completed by the authors, the conference papers will be published in JEOD–Journal of Entrepreneurial and Organizational Diversity. You will receive an alert to inform you about each new publication.

Read the press releases
See the photo report
Watch the interviews