This video first ran in January 2012.
Narrator: The United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution declaring 2012 as the UN international Year of Co-operatives. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon declared that “cooperatives are a reminder to the international community that it is possible to pursue both economic viability and social responsibility.”
With more than 1 billion co-operative members around the world – including four out of every ten Canadians – the focus is on this model of business for 2012.
Kathy Bardswick is the President and CEO of The Co-operators Group Limited and is a board member of the International Co-operative Alliance. She sat down with ILSTV to discuss what the declaration means for her company and co-operatives in general.
Kathy Bardswick: I think that Ban Ki-moon’s comments are very reflective of why we certainly want to use 2012 not as kind of a start and an end but the beginning of being more aggressive at getting that particular message out to the broader world. What we’d really like the see…we’re looking at this both short-term and long-term. The actual year 2012 is what we’re referring to as the gift of the opportunity to claim the stage a little more so throughout the year. So, 2012 around the globe, we’re really using as that opportunity. Let’s ratchet up public awareness, let’s get the media more involved, let’s get governments more involved in dialoging the role that co-ops play. But let’s not see this as January 1 to December 31. This is really the opportunity to walk through a door of public awareness that drives, for us, the ultimate goal that we’re holding up as a result of this opportunity to celebrate 2012 where our ultimate and end goal is to have the co-op form of business the fastest growing model by 2020.
Narrator: There are seven principles co-operatives follow: voluntary and open membership; democratic member control; member economic participation; autonomy and independence; education, training and information; co-operation among co-operatives and concern for the community. Kathy explains why these principles matter in business and in communities.
Kathy Bardswick: It’s an interesting time for us in this country and around the globe. You pause and you think about the significant challenges that we face whether it’s challenges for employers to find and keep talent and keep people engaged or whether it’s people looking to do business with institutions where they feel they have a voice and an influence and there’s some form of mutual respect there. You look at the Occupy Wall Street sentiment that’s been growing in terms of this sense that there are fewer and fewer people around the world who actually have the power and have the money and have the decision-making and so many others feeling disenfranchised, that I think when you think about all of that and you go back to the basics of good business practice, setting aside co-ops for a minute and just look at “Business 101”, well, what do they teach you? They teach you to have a genuine interest in putting the customer first. They teach you to have a genuine interest in helping your people become the best they can be, which is about staff engagement. So a lot of the basic business principles of running good businesses is reflected in our co-operative principles. I think the fact that we’re democratically owned, so we have shareholders who sit around our board tables and our governance tables with a very long view of the reason why we exist, they don’t worry about quarterly share prices, they worry about how this company is going to flourish ten years from now and add value to the communities that we do business in. I think it’s easier in some ways for co-operatives to be able to actually live and emulate those basic business principles of good corporate behaviour. I’m not suggesting that there aren’t many organizations who are not co-operatively structured who do a very good job – an excellent job – who I look to and I admire and I learn from, but I think the governance that we have – this democratic starting point in our governance and our ownership – allows co-operatives to really reflect those fundamentals more easily. And for example, I have a Board of Directors who take a look at my insurance organization and I might be in communities where it’s really a challenge to make money at the time. But my Board wants to know how are we going to change that? How do we stay in that community, commit to the community, commit to the need to bring insurance products and service to that community, and at the same time, over the longer haul, figure out how we’re going to stay financially viable. That’s an easier conversation for me to have with my Board than I think, perhaps, other insurance companies have with their Boards. It’s not an end-all, be-all, I’m not suggesting that co-operatives are the only structure that work, but we really are a compelling alternative that really needs to be more seriously considered as a very successful model of business.
You may also be interested in: International Year of Co-operatives launches across Canada