Interview with Ariel Guarco, newly elected president of the International Co-operative Alliance

18 Dec 2017

Following his election at the General Assembly in Kuala Lumpur, Alliance President Ariel Guarco was interviewed by the eDigest team.

He discussed the main themes that came out of the conference, the key challenges and opportunities for the Alliance going forward and the contribution of co-ops to tackling global issues.

Read the full interview below...

You were elected president of the International Co-operative Alliance at the General Assembly in Malaysia. What are the main themes that came out of the conference?

Ariel Guarco: The conference had a clear central idea – that it is the duty of co-operators to continue to put people at the centre of development, at a time when technological innovation goes hand in hand with wealth concentration. Added to the threats against peace and the constant climate disasters, these issues threaten global stability.

For our work on this, it is important to keep promoting integration. I think that in Kuala Lumpur there were, in that respect, valuable exchanges between the sectors. The debates looked at what has been called the collaborative economy and how we can help to democratise technological platforms that cross the global economy. 

We have also updated our statistics: we know that 1.217 billion people are members of 2.94 million co-operatives. But we have to reinforce the identity that emerged with the Rochdale Pioneers, because our values have not changed and it is extremely important to put them in action in these times. 

Finally, we should highlight what Gro Harlem Brundtland said about sustainable development, in a world with great inequality and problems that require immediate action. This challenges us from the human rights perspective and means we need to think in a more holistic manner.

One billion people across the world are co-operators. How can they be integrated into the development of the International Co-operative Alliance? 

Ariel Guarco: The International Co-operative Alliance must focus a great part of its efforts on improving ways for all its members to participate. It needs to support them and strengthen their actions in each territory, to help bring them together. If we can enable them to communicate our co-operative message, we will reach more and more people. The best way to communicate this message is by showing our economic and institutional strength, by offering quality products and services and being open to dialogue with the rest of society. 

This task is an essential one. We want a co-operative movement that is welcoming and which places value on the trajectory set out by its base organisations, benefits from new experiences, and makes alliances with other actors in society which are guided by values and principles similar to our own. 

Taking into account the last few years, how can co-operatives bring stability in a world that faces economic, political and demographic changes?

Ariel Guarco: As shown in various studies and reports, co-operatives are more resilient than other business models when faced by the systemic crises that shake economies on a recurring basis. It is also worth highlighting one of the features of co-operative employment – a sense of identification and belonging, which brings labour security and stability.   

In times of crisis, co-operatives offer sustainable alternatives based on their values and principles. Co-operative economic development, characterised by the search for means of production and efficient exchanges based on co-operation, is not aimed at an unlimited accumulation of wealth; it is there to improve people’s lives and look after the environment. It is clear that the actions and messages of co-operatives favour peace, social inclusion for all people and democratising the various spheres of life, culture and economic resources.

How can co-operatives be at the centre of the debates of ideas of international organisations and governments, and demonstrate their achievements in dealing with challenges related to the environment, gender, inequality and employment?

Ariel Guarco: It is necessary to deepen the impact of the co-operative movement on a global scale, working with international organisations from the public and private sector. We know we have something that distinguishes us. This means we can contribute concepts and practical tools to organisations and governments to reduce inequalities, create decent work, build gender equality, care for the environment and ensure peace, among other issues.

Co-operation among co-operatives: how can one reinforce co-operation to improve the products and services offered by co-operatives?

Ariel Guarco: The number of people concerned about the sustainability of our planet and the quality of the food we consume is increasing, as is the conviction that we need to change the way we produce and consume. This requires business models that respond to the new priorities and needs of the population. Co-operatives are in an excellent position to provide an answer, if they know how to take advantage of the possibilities of inter co-operation. To guarantee a product or service that is healthy and respectful of the environment, it is necessary to develop production and consumption chains with social responsibility. And there is where the co-operatives must be, guaranteeing sustainability based on the integration and participation of consumers, workers and producers. It is not just about inter co-operating to lower costs. It is about inter co-operating so we can meet our commitment to the future of our planet.

What are the biggest challenges facing the Alliance and how are you going to address these as President?

Ariel Guarco: I prefer to think in terms of opportunities rather than obstacles. I always think we should feel joy and enthusiasm about the chance to work in a movement that, because it builds an economy that works for the community, can change the course that leads to exclusion and environmental deterioration – which is a product of economic concentration and the excessive desire for profit. This enthusiasm means we can mobilise the co-operative movement on a global agenda that gives priority to the Sustainable Development Goals set out by the United Nations. For that, it will be necessary to renew and expand the participation mechanisms across the entire movement that comes together within the Alliance. Each co-operative must feel that it is contributing to building another economy, and that the Alliance is doing everything possible so that its effort is part of a common project.

Photo: Ariel Guarco addressing the Global Conference and General Assembly

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