Towards a common destiny with cooperative values and principles

22 Apr 2020

By Ariel Guarco, ICA President

Probably, the global order is going to change from now on. The deep health crisis, but also economic, financial, social and in many cases political, will lead to new paths for the development of our societies. The main debate that we must face now is how that development will be like.

Humanity is involved in a tremendous pandemic with a high cost of human lives. And it has come to this instance in conditions of extreme fragility due to the enormous prevailing inequality and the deep environmental imbalance that human action is causing.

A small number of people hold a patrimony equivalent to half of the world population. World debt (sovereign, household and corporate) is equivalent to more than three times the world gross product. A linear production and consumption mode, without brakes, will take us to points of no return in just a decade.

But the “discard culture” shows its limits today. The pandemic reveals our fragility, it indicates that we are still very far from the economic, social and environmentally sustainable development that we agreed to seek in the 2030 Agenda. The question is: How far will we be able to twist our course as a civilization?

On this planet, our common home, there are hundreds of thousands of experiences that show that there are other ways for development, that sustainable development is not a utopia. The cooperative economy, on a global scale, integrates more than a billion members and generates employment for 10% of the world's employed population. The turnover of the 300 largest cooperatives is comparable to the Gross Domestic Product of the sixth world economy.

The entire cooperative movement is actively involved in the collective effort that requires to answer to the health crisis that has rapidly turned into an economic and social crisis. This is as evident as it is natural. When it comes to cooperate, we people first appeal to institutions whose ordering principle is mutual aid. To institutions whose logic, precisely, is to make solidarity action more effective in responding to common problems.

Today we want to propose to the society that cooperation is not only for emergencies. Cooperation is the alternative way to build a fairer, more balanced and, fundamentally, less fragile economy in the face of global challenges such as the pandemic. Or, very little further on our horizon, climate change.

The competition paradigm tells us that to have goods and services at the lowest possible cost requires companies that have been forced to achieve the highest efficiency as a result of competition. And the ordering principle of this competition is the profit of the capitalist who organizes the company.

Cooperative members for almost two centuries have adopted an alternative path: the cooperation paradigm. We organize enterprises to satisfy our common needs, which ordering principle is not profit but mutual aid, and which efficiency is the result of the democratic control of its members, workers, consumers or producers.

The increasing adoption of this model of economic organization to effectively satisfy our common needs translates into greater social capital, in greater strength as a society to answer to any contingency, based on solid relations of reciprocity and cooperation. This is closely related to the need to strengthen civil society organizations.

In this hour, when the need for strong States in promoting the common good is so evident, some seem to believe that this is just the old state vs. market debate. They are wrong.

It is not about the Market as an empire of freedom vs. the State as an empire of equality. The point is our empowerment as citizens. The ability to guarantee that the State is at the service of our freedoms, and the ability to participate in Markets under equity conditions.

And citizen empowerment, in the vision of cooperativism, is largely based on the structures of civil society organizations. It is civil society, autonomous and democratically organized, which can add social coordination without the need for authoritarian control.

No surveillance system is useful if we do not have responsible and organized citizens who respond to the needs of each family, who control and democratize the exercise of public power. Nor does the functioning of the markets reach to guarantee freedom, if we do not have civil society organizations that democratize economic power.

This is the same thing that the Pope Francis has told us in his recent Easter Letter to the Popular Movements: "My hope is that governments understand that technocratic paradigms (whether state-centred or market-driven) are not enough to address this crisis or the other great problems affecting humankind. Now more than ever, persons, communities and peoples must be put at the center, united to heal, to care and to share."

As president of the International Cooperative Alliance, I had the opportunity to visit more than 50 countries in the past two years. I was able to confirm that, in different cultures, with different backgrounds, different political regimes and different socio-economic contexts, cooperative values ​​and principles are universal pillars that forge communities where democracy, social justice and environment care are put into practice.

This crisis confronts us with historical challenges. The mayor of all is to understand that no one can be saved alone from a global pandemic like that of Covid-19, but, moreover, that no one can be saved alone from a wandering destiny to which we are going as a civilization worldwide.

Solidarity serves to produce wealth, to innovate and to solve the needs of our peoples while respecting the environment. Cooperatives have demonstrated this for decades, in industry and utilities, agricultural production, housing, health and education, among other spheres.

The globalization models imposed in the last decades are falling apart, xenophobic nationalisms are exposed in their inability to give answers, and the financial system is once again creaking.

Those of us who daily build an economy based on democracy, solidarity and social justice, know that it is possible to generate development with social inclusion and care for the environment. Many global leaders share this vision. That is why I predict, despite the pain and uncertainty that are going through us today, that we will be able to forge a new global era, a common destiny with cooperative values ​​and principles.

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