03 Apr 2018
The Co-operative Insider had a tête-à-tête with Charles Gould as he retired from his position of Director General of the International Co-operative Alliance this month. Mr Gould has been with the Alliance since 2010, having worked with the board of directors on developing its Blueprint for a Co-operative Decade andincreasing its influence with global policy-making bodies. He has seen the Alliance through the launch of the World Co-operative Monitor, a report mapping the global co-operative sector, which includes statistics and comparative data. Bruno Roelants took over as new Director-General on 2 April.
You took over the Alliance’s general directorship in 2010. What are the key areas of action you have focused on since then?
Charles Gould: When I started, the UN had just decided the International Day of Cooperatives would be settled in 2012. We were wondering how to best use the International Year and to draft a plan for the future. Many of the activities were focused on this and the decision was to not focus on a one-year planning but to make a co-operative decade. You all know the story now: this lead to the co-operative decade, a plan of action of five areas for the co-operative model to become the fastest-growing business model by 2020.
The blueprint for a co-operative decade comes to an end in 2020. What has been achieved and what comes next?
Charles Gould: When I look back to see what has been achieved in the Blueprint… I see Identity as a big progress. We launched a co-operative marque, an image co-operatives can use to show they are part of a values-based organisation. This has been a real success, and this is a long-term strategy together with “.coop”. As the world communicates more on the internet, this is a very important and immediate way for co-ops to identify themselves. Public policy work has been redefined. We realised that policy changes and that we need to be a voice in the B20, rethink the business development and reposition our work. We were shaping the conversation and participating in the B20 was crucial for that. If you are not there you won’t be influential. We had a very influential impact on business strategies.
During the past couple of years, the Alliance has been raising its profile at global level participating in UN high-level events, B20 meetings and ILO conferences. What have been the key wins from this engagement?
Charles Gould: It has been significant in a couple of ways. In a strategic way, to decide what do we want: we want co-ops to be included in the reports discussed at the UN, eg in the SDG documents: co-operatives are there in meaningful ways. B20 was new for us, their positions now are more respectful and inclusive. And we were influential in that. Step by step, being strategic and respectful, we have got to the point that we are now invited to the important events – people expect us. People are waiting for us.
The fourth industrial revolution is likely to bring new challenges to the world of work. We know from CICOPA’s report “Cooperatives and employment” that three million co-ops employ almost 10% of the working population. What is the sector’s role in tackling these challenges?
Charles Gould: It is a fascinating theme, as the sharing economy and platform co-ops are related. The challenge for co-ops is to define how to be positioned at the centre of that. How to make people understand that they can benefit themselves. How can they create this wealth themselves and share more the economic benefit? We should find the way to connect to the way people talk now, to show we are at the centre of this movement. Co-ops have this dynamic now and here.
What is the best memory you will be taking away from eight years with the Alliance?
Charles Gould: The people I have worked with. I have been everywhere meeting decent human beings. They think about how the world should function. The people from the co-operative movement are progressive in how the world should work, how to succeed. In my travels, I met people putting co-operative values into practice, making me think that this makes so much sense. Co-operatives were love at first sight: this is for me and this is what I like to do. It is encouraging when you read the newspapers: co-operatives work with the understanding that the world does not need to be the way it is.
Do you have a message for co-operators across the world?
Charles Gould: Do not lose faith!We are part of a movement that has a strong history. We have been on the right side of history: labour movement, peace movement, sustainability movement... The impact that we have to be able to work in so many countries. Co-operatives make this change. It does really make a difference over time.
It has been a reaffirming time for me. I wish everybody well!