Could you tell us a bit about your co-operative journey? When did it start?
Ariel Guarco: Basically since being born I have been bound to co-operatives given that my mother was working for our village’s electric co-op, Coronel Pringles. From an early age I got acquainted with the philosophy, values and actions driving this enterprise model. I started engaging in the co-op when I was very young and continued to do so as I was growing up. I understood that being a co-operator was a way of life and I understood that in this activity there is a passion to serve, to develop opportunities that ensure that there are concrete results every day in our communities. Advancing from low-level positions through to various leadership roles, I ended up having the honour of being elected president of the co-operative, around the age of 30.
Afterwards, the desire to participate, get involved and learn took me to the leadership of the federation of public service co-operatives of Buenos Aires (Fedecoba), and, later on, the Co-operative Federation of Argentina (Cooperar).
This institution has been working at international level for a long time, taking up an historic mandate of century principles with the incorporation of El Hogar Obrero - a pioneer in consumer and housing co-ops in our country and across the continent – to the International Co-operative Alliance.
Since becoming president of Cooperar, I understood that it was necessary to deepen this affiliation given that our movement requires a closer relation and participation of its bases, in a problematic context that also calls for solidarity proposals.
Are there are key projects that you have developed at Cooperar that could serve as a valuable experience for the Alliance? What are the key challenges for co-ops in Argentina?
Ariel Guarco: Cooperar is a heterogeneous organisation, which makes its work with its 72 federations members complex and sometimes enriching. Integration is the main aim that we set out in the Administrative Council, which represents all federations making decisions taken representative and consistent. Promoting the participation and integration between various sectors and regions is fundamental. In Argentina we count on experiences of wide reach with the capacity of integrating into competitive and big scale markets. But we also have small producers who, by associating are revitalising regional economies, workers who recover bankrupt enterprises and middle sectors of the population that are able to access services such as housing, credit and tourism through the co-operative model. This impetus towards integration was manifested, for example, in a shopping centre where consumer and producer co-ops make efforts to offer better conditions on both sides of the counter. Another aim is making ties with the public and private sectors. We believe that co-operativism can reach its whole potential when it creates strategic alliances with the government and other entities such as mutual, trade unions, cults, universities and SMEs.
What is your main motivation? Why did you decide to stand for election of president of the Alliance?
Ariel Guarco: I believe the global context requires us to go out on the pitch wearing the co-operative shirt and confront warmongering, speculators and those controlling the economy, who are taking humanity on a road without return, with our coherence, trajectory and diversity.
There are one billion people across the world who are part of the co-operative system. Only as the Alliance can we lead this process and I think am up to the challenge. The conversations I have been having for a while and during these past weeks, face-to-face, with colleagues from Europe, Africa and Asia, prove me that it is not just my idea but that there is a strong commitment and support for this proposal.
The alliance needs to have leaders who lead a co-op life and show commitment to co-operation and envision the development of society through the co-op model, which is a different economic model characterised by with companies that are econ viable and socially responsible. This makes these enterprises difficult to manage and understand and the person who leads the represents these companies across the world needs to understand that we are social responsibly converted into companies and not companies which do social responsibility to cover their problems. Showing leadership with commitment and a co-op life trajectory is, I think, important and is what determined me to stand. Having talked with various directors and members of co-ops I learnt they understand there is a need for change which would give the Alliance more chances to participate in decision making at global level.
What is your vision for the Alliance? As president, what would be your key priorities? What would be the main projects you would be looking to develop?
Ariel Guarco: The Alliance needs to be the lighthouse that guides these one billion co-operators but it shouldn’t be a lighthouse in the distance, isolated with a light that barely shines. We need to deepen the interactions with regions, integrate the sector and consolidate youth and gender spaces. Umbrella organisations in each country need to be promoted and everyone’s participation in the Alliance needs to be facilitated. On the other hand, we want to build an executive committee that comprises the president, the vice presidents, the general director, the regional and sectoral directors and which is in charge of the coordination of the policy that is discussed and approved in the board meetings and is the direct contact line between the board and the working team. We also aim to improve the quality and quantity of information given to members on income, balance sheets, projects, and by doing so empower organisations when it comes to decision-making. This and other proposals are included in our platform, which can be read and analysed, bringing contributions, on the website in Spanish www.arielguarco.coop or the English version eng.arielguarco.coop.