For a better world, again and again
The United Nations has proclaimed 2012 as the International Year of Cooperatives, with the slogan: “Cooperative enterprises build a better world”.
In the midst of the coronavirus crisis, this may seem far away, even outdated.
Constraints designed to lessen the shock of the number of victims are bound to have significant social and economic effects and some might think that I am referring, out of nostalgia, to a bygone era, knowing that the World of tomorrow is likely to be significantly different from that of yesterday.
Of course, cooperatives, like others, are impacted by the need to adapt to immediate difficulties. At the same time, they are trying to imagine a way out of the crisis. Being present in almost all sectors of economic, social and cultural activity, cooperatives are, alas, suffering the common fate of all human organisations.
On some points they are more affected than other enterprises.
The first point to watch is the exercise of the democratic dimension. And yet it is one of the points most likely to make the difference in helping to emerge from the crisis thanks to the commitment of the members. In the immediate term, palliative legal mechanisms such as the postponement of general meetings or the organisation of such meetings behind closed doors must be put in place as a matter of urgency. This may be useful on a temporary basis. But to put this into the long term could be dangerous because the democratic dimension carried by the concept of deliberative assembly would fade away at the most indispensable moment: that of the mobilisation of all to rebuild a better world.
The moment we are going through, inconceivable until recently, is an opportunity for cooperative leaders to appropriate the power of the new communication media disseminated via the Internet to go beyond formal democracy and to give a new dimension to the exchange with members, i.e. participatory democracy.
The second point of attention is the exercise of their responsibilities by cooperative leaders. Of course, one must first live to resist. But the leaders in office must have a compass to stay on course in these uncertain times.
Cooperative values are the first anchoring element to be attached to. They appear in the introduction to the International Co-operative Alliance (ICA) statement on the co-operative identity. Allow me to recall them: “self-help, responsibility, democracy, equality, equity and solidarity. Like their founders, co-operative members uphold ethical values such as honesty, openness, social responsibility and concern for others”.
The other responsibility among co-operative leaders is to avoid turning inward, or at worst, selfishness and chauvinism, which are contrary to the values mentioned above. This is why our institutions of exchange and groupings such as sectoral or national federations, as well as Cooperative Europe and the ICA, are valuable in maintaining exchanges between us, in helping each other and in building new stages together. As far as Cooperative Europe is concerned, our common house at continental level, the Board of Directors and the whole team are mobilised to listen to you, to circulate information and to highlight the role played by cooperatives in such difficult times.
As most people in Europe are in lockdown, cooperatives, as economic actors and their members, are affected. Following the crisis some sectors will have to overcome many challenges, others might fear for their jobs, and for us as citizens, this period may question our vision of the society putting in front its fragility. The cooperative movement is reactive and acts in solidarity: for instance a Cooperative Solidarity Fund will be launched shortly by the ICA to tackle COVID-19 crisis and help those in need.
But that’s for tomorrow. Today we have to act to contain the virus and work to support our cooperatives wherever possible. The staff of Cooperatives Europe is working from home trying to manage the impact of the lockdown on our foreseen activities and pursuing the relations vis à vis the EU. But we also take specific actions regarding the COVID-19 ( see the article below), under the initiative of the President.
Meanwhile on behalf of the staff, let me wish you all the best for you and your loved ones during this difficult period.”