Each year the United Nations identifies an issue of global importance and raises awareness about it in the international community. The 2012 International Year of Cooperatives recognizes the diversity of the cooperative movement around the world and its contribution to socio-economic developments, such as poverty reduction, employment generation and social integration.
The World Co-operative Monitor launched in October 2012 ranks the 300 largest co-operative and mutual enterprises by turnover and provides a list of these organized by industry. The official website for the Year also provides a list of national cooperative associations organized by region. A few PRME professors shared their thoughts on top cooperative practices with us:
Leo Wang, Assistant Professor, School of Business, McEwan University, Canada: Mountain Equipment Co-op in Canada is a great example of an alternative business model that is built around leaving the world a better place than when we arrived. As both a cooperative and a business engaging in sustainable practices, it tries to champion sustainability in many different aspects (supply chain, internal processes, communications with consumers, etc.). For just $5 you can get a lifetime membership which gives you the right to vote. They now have over 3.3 million members.
Elizabeth Franklin-Johnson, Euromed Management, France & CEREFIGE, France: Sol à Sol is playing an important part in constructing the social economy as well as preserving nature. Selling organic fair-trade “Maté”, a traditional Argentinean drink, this cooperative offers rural workers in Argentina a chance to develop sustainably, have access to training and have a fair price for their products. From Sol à Sol’s base in Marseille, France, goods are packaged by employees in an environment which helps the social and professional integration of adults with disabilities. Sol à Sol has managed to combine the social, economic and environmental pillars into their business model, as well as having the additional ethical angle, all of which confirm their implication is sustainability, and in my mind ticks all the boxes!
Other examples recommended by faculty and students include;
- Mondragon in the Basque region of Spain is a cooperative movement of workers that began in 1956 which has more than 83,000 employees and 9,000 students. 85% of its industrial workers are members.
- Rabobank in the Netherlands was founded as a cooperative over 100 years ago by enterprising rural people who had virtually no access to capital markets. It has since grown in into an international financial service provider with a wide range of products. Its focus on sustainability revolves around four themes: safe and sustainable food supply, renewable energy and cleaner production, economic participation and access to finance for all and community involvement.
- Unimed do Brasil is the largest private healthcare operator in the world. It also has the largest number of coops – 370 – which include 109,000 doctors and 3,029 accredited hospitals that provide care for more than 18 million customers.
- Seikatsu Club Consumers’ Cooperative Union in Japan is an organization that started in 1965. Initially, a single Tokyo housewife organized 200 women to buy 300 bottles of milk in order to reduce the price. It has since grown and now places an emphasis on direct producer/consumer links and is dedicated to the environment, empowerment of women and improvement of workers condition. Today, there are 600 consumer co-operatives with over 22 million members (almost a fifth of the country’s total population of 127 million) who buy a wide range of food products, clothing, publications and daily goods.
What other examples of cooperatives can you think of? Share them in the comments box below.
– This is part of a three part series on the International Year of Cooperatives. Part 3 will feature the response from business schools.