Cooperative principles in action!

Cooperative, Vision

In the new book by Ariel Guarco, president of the International Co-operative Alliance, the historical principles of the cooperative movement still prove useful in finding answers to the urgent challenges of the contemporary world: not only the pandemic, but also sustainability, women’s rights, future work and peace.

Highlights from A. Guarco, Principios Cooperativos en Acción frente a los desafíos de la agenda global, Intercoop Ltda publisher, 2020:

cooperative principles in action

Cooperative principles were first set by the Rochdale Society of Equitable Pioneers workers’ cooperative, in 1844 in England. Since then, they have become an inspiration for a movement that aims to build an alternative economic model. An economy capable of creating jobs, providing services and satisfying people’s needs, but keeping firm values such as democracy, equality, mutual aid, honesty, transparency, social responsibility and attention for others.

The cooperative movement now includes about 700 million people around the world and faces global challenges. To do this, as Ariel Guarco argues in his latest book, he must put into practice the cooperative principles on which it is based. Here they are, as redefined by the International Co-operative Alliance:

The Rochdale Cooperative principles 

  • Voluntary and open membership
  • Democratic member control
  • Member economic participation
  • Autonomy and independence
  • Education, training, and information
  • Cooperation among cooperatives
  • Concern for community
Rochdale cooperative principles

The Rochdale Society of Equitable Pioneers

Cooperative principles, key towards sustainability

How can we integrate environmental sustainability among cooperative principles? How can we make sustainable development, and not financial rent, the goal of the economy? And that the future of work is dignity rather than precariousness?

Faced with these and other issues, Guarco questions the spatial dimension of human activity. Guarco asks to re-discuss that process of delocalization of production and internationalization of value chains which, conducted with a logic exclusively oriented towards maximizing profit, has proved to be fragile in terms of health and dignity at work. We need to review our development models, strengthen small and medium-sized cities and local production and consumption chains, as a basis for a more balanced and sustainable territorial development.

Sustainable management of the relationship between environment, food and health is essential to reduce pandemics and control their effects. And that relationship is built starting from the territories. There are no global solutions if they are not devised by the communities of each region. Until that happens, our system is fragile, just as any rootless system is fragile.

The travel industry, as Guarco argues, is also closely and explosively correlated with the deterioration of ecosystems, urbanization processes, social inequality and the weakening of public health systems. This is why encourages sustainable tourism, attentive to respect for the environment, which is opposed to mass tourism and, therefore, to Over-tourism.

We have recently co-signed a Manifesto towards sustainability and an Appeal to strengthen mutualism within the network of the cooperative movement to which we belong. We promote close-to-home holidays and circular economy, including local communities in our governance. The platform is simply a technological tool available to those who want a change where they live, where they go.

principi cooperativi sostenibilità sustainability

Cooperative principles at the service of communities

The cooperative principles obviously do not only concern the internal functioning mechanisms of organizations, but also define relations with the rest of society, in particular as regards the commitment to our communities. In this sense, cooperatives can play a fundamental role in addressing one of the most complex problems of the global economy: the access of communities to financial capital, in order to put it at the service of the sustainable development of each territory.

The market cannot guarantee freedoms, in the absence of civil society organizations that democratize the conditions of access to resources and oppose the tendency to centralize profits in the hands of a few. The key, for Guarco, lies in the empowerment of consumers, producers and workers, to be achieved through an intense debate within each community:

The point is our empowerment as citizens. The ability to place the state at the service of our freedoms and the ability to participate in the markets under fair conditions. And the empowerment of citizens, in the view of cooperativism, occurs largely through the strengthening of civil society organizations. It is civil society, democratically and autonomously organized, which can increase the coordination of society without the need for authoritarian control.

Empowering communities is also the goal of the Community Powered Tourism model promoted by Being a cooperative, we want to be true to our principles by creating a community of equals that is decentralized and fosters empowerment and participation.

Our entire ecosystem is based on Local Nodes, which are networks of local residents, hosts and associations that facilitate the development of in a particular area. Local Nodes are the engines of, tailoring the platform to the needs of their community, deciding on the projects that will be funded by revenues, and ensuring that cooperative principles are upheld.

cooperative principles in action principi cooperativi

Cooperative principles, an antidote to the pandemic

The dramatic experience of the pandemic should lead to the empowerment of citizens. We don’t have to go back to normal, because normal was the problem. And we must always keep in mind that we have an even bigger storm on the horizon: the environmental crisis. We will not be able to find remedies if we continue to follow the paths that have led us to a society whose fragility the pandemic has revealed.

The pandemic is the moment of the cooperative paradigm. Nobody would think that the best way to solve the problem is to compete with my neighbour. Even the most extreme nationalisms have realized that competition is useless. The solution can only be cooperative.

The alternative can be found in those cooperative principles that we inherited from the Rochdale Pioneers and that Ariel Guarco has treated with foresight and clarity in his book. This is a dynamic response and not a ready-made recipe, since these same principles can take different forms depending on the social, cultural, economic and technological context of each community.

Certainly, the Coronavirus will leave us in a scenario of intense social debate. As members of co-operatives we have to assume our responsibilities, stand up for our ideas and cooperate among co-operatives and with our communities. The future requires alternative paths: let’s build them together by putting cooperative principles into action!

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