Declaration Towards the 21st Century

    This document has been made available in electronic format
         by the International Co-operative Alliance ICA 
                         8 January 1996

This Statement was adopted at the 1995 Congress and General
Assembly of the International Co-operative Alliance, held in
Manchester to celebrate the Alliance's Centenary. Recommended
to the Congress by the ICA Board, the Statement was the
product of a lengthy process of consultation involving
thousands of co-operators around the world. The process was
chaired by Ian MacPherson of Canada, who prepared numerous
drafts of the Identity Statement and its Background Paper in
an effort to understand the state and needs of the
co-operative movement at the end of the twentieth century. He
was assisted by a Resource Group that included Raija Itkonen
from Finland, Hans Munkner from Germany, Yehudah Paz from
Israel, Masahiko Shiraishi from Japan, Hans-Detlef Wulker from
Germany and Bruce Thordarson, Director-General of the ICA.

                 Into the Twenty-First Century:
          Co-operatives Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow

People in nearly every country around the globe have benefited
from co-operatives.  They have done so under all kinds of
governments, within every kind of economy, and amid all the
divisions - gender, race, religion, politics, and culture -
that typify the human condition.

Indeed, there are few limits to what people can accomplish
when they work together for their mutual benefit.  The past
accomplishments of the international co-operative movement
demonstrate that simple truth.  The present strength of
co-operatives around the world further affirms it; the future
needs of the human family demand its reconfirmation.  

People Working Together -The Nineteenth Century
   People formed the first, continuous, organised,
co-operative traditions in Europe during the tumultuous 1840s
when industrial and urban change was radically transforming
how many people lived.   In the industrial cities people were
confronting social dislocation in slums that created living
conditions unlike any experienced by earlier generations. 
Workers were alienated from their work, family life was
disrupted, and the basic requirements of life - food, housing,
savings, employment - were continuously at risk.  At first,
only a few people could see how co-operatives could improve
such deplorable conditions; before the century ended, hundreds
of thousands had grasped the possibilities. 

In 1844, a group of workers in Rochdale organised a consumer
co-operative to provide "pure food" at "honest rates."  Their
efforts proved to be remarkably successful and led quickly to
the creation of hundreds of co-operatives in Great Britain;
they in turn joined together to form extensive co-operative
wholesaling systems in both England and Scotland.  In fact,
the wholesales became among the largest and most innovative
businesses in the United Kingdom as the century came to an
end.  They also sparked the formation of similar movements and
organisations among consumers in most other industrialized
countries in Europe. 
Also in the 1840s, French labourers organised some of the
first successful worker production co-operatives.  They sought
to substitute worker initiative and accountability for the
hierarchical management systems typical of the Industrial
Revolution.  Their approach spread quickly throughout
industrialised countries, carried by the trades union and
political movements of the working classes.  By 1900, it had
become well known in many of the countries of Europe and the
Americas; it was at once a successful participant in the
Industrial Revolution and a severe critic of its most
dehumanizing tendencies.

In the 1840s, but particularly the following decade, a diverse
group of people started co-operative banking, especially  in
the German states.  The earliest successful promoter of this
form of co-operation was Hermann Schultze-Delitsch, who worked
among artisans and small merchants.  He was soon joined by
Friedrich Raiffeisen, who encouraged co-operative banking
among rural people.  From Germany, the banking movement spread
to Italy and France; by 1900, it had been taken to Africa,
Asia, and the Americas. 

Moreover, as the century progressed, consumer and some
agricultural co-operatives developed wholly-owned banking
institutions to meet their own needs as well as those of their
members.  Many of them grew quickly, accumulating the savings
of tens of thousands of people and financing large economic
activities - from factories to plantations to marketing
companies.  By the end of the century, the co-operative
banking movement in its different forms was well-established
and flourishing.  

Meanwhile, much of rural Europe was being drained of its
population.  Young people moved to cities searching for work;
millions left to settle in new lands around the world.  For
those who remained on the farms, there was much to learn if
they were to survive.  They had to study new methods of
agricultural production; they had to understand how to manage
money; they had to purchase reliable supplies at the lowest
price; and they had to find out how to market their produce
effectively.  As the century wore on, an increasing number of
rural people found they could achieve all these objectives
most effectively through co-operative organisations.

Thus, in the 1880s, farming people, especially in Denmark,
Germany and Great Britain, started to form agricultural
production co-operatives.  Once begun, agricultural
co-operatives spread to many countries and to all kinds of
commodities.  It was an approach that simultaneously worked to
improve the quality of production, to stabilize the supply of
farm commodities, and to help ensure a better way of life for
farm families.  Indeed, it was an approach that could be - and
was - embraced by other primary producers, including fishing
people and woodcutters.

As the century came to an end, yet a fifth tradition of
co-operative action became evident in Europe and some other
parts of the world as well.  It consisted of people joining
together to provide themselves with different kinds of
services, such as insurance, housing, and child care.  There
seemed to be few limits to the possibilities of co-operative

These traditions grew out of rich intellectual sources in the
nineteenth century.  Co-operative thinkers addressed all the
great issues of the day and, indeed, many of the issues that
still preoccupy human beings:  What are the limits of
democracy?  How can men and women organise their societies so
that they treat each other more equitably?  How can the
economy be changed so that it will be both more efficient and
more ethical?   What are the fair claims of workers?  How much
should capital be paid?  How can the economy be organised to
produce sufficient consumer goods at fair prices and good
quality to meet the needs of everyone?  How can better
communities be built? 

The co-operative answers to these questions varied in emphasis
in Europe and co-operators in other parts of the world soon
would bring their own subtly different answers to these
questions.  The important thing, though, is that in the late
nineteenth century there was a large and significant group of
co-operative theorists who tried to answer such questions. 
They included: J.T.W. Mitchell, Charles Gide, George Holyoake,
Henry Woolf, Beatrice and Sydney Webb.  These theorists, many
of whom worked for co-operatives, created a rich body of
co-operative thought that provided a unique perspective on the
modern world.  Moreover, it was a body of thought capable of
speaking usefully to succeeding generations, including the one
entering the twenty-first century.

Because of these intellectual associations and because of the
deep involvement with economic and social changes, the
movement at the end of the nineteenth century possessed a
remarkable vitality.  In this regard, the work of the
Co-operative Women's Guild, organised in the United Kingdom in
1883, was particularly notable.  It promoted the causes of
female emancipation, along with self-help for the poor, with
great dedication and much enthusiasm.  In many ways, it was
the conscience of the national movement, the strongest early
manifestation of the need for co-operators to "care for
others".  It was a tradition that was carried into the
international movement by the International Co-operative
Women's Guild, organised in 1921.

Thus, as the twentieth century dawned, the co-operative
movement was thriving in many countries.  It possessed a
compelling, distinctive co-operative philosophy that
sustained five major co-operative traditions.  Those
traditions, in turn, provided varied perspectives on how best
to organise the movement -from the viewpoints of the consumer,
the industrial worker, the saver/borrower, the primary
producer, and the service provider.

Because of that diversity, the movement was more complex than
other ideologies: for example, those that would base social
relationships primarily on the needs of capital or the value
of labour.  It was not, therefore, a movement that could
easily be united; it was a movement whose subtle message could
not always easily be understood.

Indeed, one of the challenges that obviously flowed from the
emergence of these different traditions was how they could
most effectively be mingled together. It was a long-term
challenge taken up by the International Co-operative Alliance
when it was formed in 1895; in some ways, it still remains as
another century begins.

Much more importantly, though, those five traditions offered
multiple ways in which large numbers of people could use co-
operative organisations for their benefit.  They meant that
when one kind of co-operative encountered difficulties, others
could well be thriving.  Indeed, diversity of use and
perspective became one of the inherent advantages of the
co-operative movement.  It, along with examples of outstanding
successes and a rich intellectual tradition, are debts
co-operators a century later still owe to their nineteenth
century forebears. 

People Working Together - The Twentieth Century
Despite some setbacks and many continuing challenges, the
co-operative movement has flourished around the world during
the twentieth century.  In fact, the growth is so remarkable
that relatively few co-operators are aware of its extent,
complexity, and vitality.  Almost every country in the world
possesses co-operative organisations.  Moreover, human beings
have been incredibly creative in the range of co-operatives
they have formed; in the process, they have met co-operatively
virtually every human need from the cradle to the grave.

Much of the growth in the early part of the century was
possible because the movement was so adept in promoting its
own development.  On an international level, the International
Co-operative Alliance provided a forum for the exchange of
ideas, the promotion of existing and new co-operatives, and
the beginnings of international co-operative trade.  On a
national level, many movements supported extensive educational
activities by publishing newspapers, pamphlets, journals, and
books. They pioneered in adult education and life-long
learning; a few even built co-operative colleges to train the
movement's employees and elected leadership.  Some national
movements sponsored the production of films, while others
advertised themselves - and the movement - over radio as that
medium became more pervasive. In the process, they attracted
the support of many kindred organisations including farm
groups, churches, women's organisations, and trade unions; a
few became closely tied to political parties. 
The result was that co-operatives in nearly all the
democratic, industrialized countries of Europe made remarkable
progress.  There were problems, of course, as the century
progressed, such as takeovers of national movements by
communist governments, adversities during the Great
Depression, the closure of co-operatives by fascist regimes,
and vigorous competition from multinational firms,
particularly after 1945.  But these were more than offset by
the remarkable growth achieved by all kinds of co-operatives. 
Their accomplishments were marked by the large co-operative
buildings they constructed, the impressive market shares they
achieved, and the influence they wielded within the
International Co-operative Alliance. 

Co-operative movements outside of Europe, however, ultimately
made even more dramatic progress.  A few of them were largely
started by immigrants from Europe, women and men  who brought
with them a deep understanding of the possibilities of
co-operative action.  In particular, settlers  on the
frontiers of North and South America, as well as Australasia
and parts of Africa, embraced co-operatives as effective ways
to help each other and to maximize their influence on
international markets.  Indeed, many of the largest
co-operatives of the late twentieth century had their roots in
this settlement experience.

More commonly, though, organised co-operative movements
outside Europe were started through the direct action of
imperial and colonial governments.  Such imperial powers as
the United Kingdom, France, and Germany generally encouraged
the formation of co-operatives for many reasons.  In some
instances, they wanted to develop colonial economies,
especially for the export of staple commodities, like sugar,
tea, cacao, and grains: creating marketing co-operatives was
often a very useful way to do so.  In other instances, they
wanted to undermine the power of money lenders, especially
among farm people attempting to grow products for sale at home
or overseas.  In yet other situations, they were responding to
public servants and missionaries who promoted co-operatives as
ideal ways to encourage democratic practices. 

For whatever reasons, most of the European imperial powers
encouraged the development of co-operatives.  In all too many
instances, though, they fostered movements that tended to be
organised "from the top down" in order to meet government or
business needs.  The result was a legacy of paternalistic
government involvement in co-operatives throughout many
parts of the world; it is a legacy that is still of concern in
some parts of the globe.

Nevertheless, co-operatives outside of Europe must not be seen
as mere extensions of the European movements.  Co-operatives
ultimately survive because they effectively meet economic
needs and because people support them for their own reasons. 
Moreover, co-operatives possess the wonderful capacity to be
absorbed into dramatically diverse cultures, to reflect
ultimately different motivations, and to flourish under widely
varying circumstances.  Thus, though some co-operatives in
economically-developing countries were started by imperial
governments, they thrived only if the indigenous or colonial
peoples absorbed them into their own traditions.

Moreover, co-operatives could often be seen as being modern,
legal forms of the spontaneous co-operative activities to be
found among apparently all peoples.  In fact, virtually all
peoples around the world, through their family, clan and
cultural associations, have instinctively practised mutual

It is not surprising, therefore, that many of the governments
of southern countries, as they broke away from the European
empires, encouraged the further development of co-operatives
for their own reasons and in their own ways.  Some of the most
prominent of the independence leaders, such as Nehru and
Kenyatta, were staunch supporters of co-operatives.  Many of
the former colonies that emerged as proud, independent states
after 1945, therefore, such as India, Sri Lanka, and Kenya,
were able to foster strong co-operative movements.  The Indian
movement, in particular, became one of the largest, most
dynamic and most sophisticated in the world.

In the course of the twentieth century, too, many other
countries embraced co-operative forms of organisation as they
industrialized and entered more fully into international
markets.  Nowhere was this trend more obvious than in Asia. 
Co-operatives were particularly significant participants in
the economic recovery of Japan after 1945, where they were
central to the reorganisation of agriculture and fishing
industries as well as the retail trades. In other parts of
Asia, too, such as Korea and Indonesia, financial,
agricultural and worker co-operatives made  substantial

Understandably, as Asian co-operative organisations emerged,
they were significantly different from their European
counterparts.  Invariably, they drew upon their own rich
political, economic and social experiences, religious beliefs
and social thought.  Asian co-operative thinkers as profound
as the European intellectual founders of the previous century
appeared; Asian co-operators, with their own flexible
approaches to organisational structures and commitment to
communities, shaped their own kinds of co-operatives.

Many of the Asian co-operatives were also successful: in fact,
their expansion during the last half of the twentieth century
rivalled the expansion in Europe in the late nineteenth and
early twentieth centuries.  Indeed, as the twenty-first
century opens, some of the most successful and dynamic
co-operatives fortunately are found in Asia, the part of the
world that promises to be the most dynamic area in the world
during the century that is beginning.

Similarly, in Latin America the co-operative movement, from
modest beginnings in the nineteenth century, has expanded
steadily.  It, too, draws upon indigenous traditions of
spontaneous co-operation; it, too, has been shaped by the
desire to market agricultural and fishing products in as
effective a way as possible; it, too, carries a social concern
about how to improve the lot of the common people.

Indeed, by the end of the twentieth century co-operatives
could be found in most parts of Latin America: the hills of
Peru, the urban sprawl of Sao Paulo, the coastal villages of
Colombia, the rural areas of Mexico, and the plains of
Argentina.  Strong agricultural co-operatives have been
developed in most Latin American nations; powerful financial
co-operatives have been organised in countries like Brazil and
Argentina.  Consumer co-operatives have been developed in
several Latin American countries, and some of the largest
health co-operatives in the world have been created. 
During the twentieth century, therefore, the co-operative
movement has enjoyed significant success.  The five traditions
that began in the previous century have expanded around the
globe.  Human beings in remarkably diverse circumstances have
found countless reasons to organise co-operatives.  They have
learned how to manage them effectively amid all kinds of
political and economic systems.  In numerous instances, they
have demonstrated remarkable entrepreneurial skills, adapting
to changed circumstances, seizing new opportunities, and
diversifying  business activities.  The experience of the
century has shown that there are few geographic, social, and
economic barriers that can prevent the spread of organised
co-operatives once people have understood their potential. 

Co-operatives Everywhere - The Grassroots
Co-operatives, however, are not best understood in terms of
statistics and trends.  They take on their deepest meaning
only when they are seen in the context of people's lives.  And
one can find that meaning virtually everywhere around the
In Japan, babies are born in co-operative hospitals.  In
Colombia, young children learn about computers in special
schools run by an agricultural co-operative.  In Sweden,
families live in housing co-operatives.  In Dortmund, Germany,
people can buy their supplies in co-operative stores, one of
the most impressive chain store systems in Europe.  In New
Delhi, consumers buy milk from machines that are supplied by
rural women organised into a powerful dairy co-operative.  In
Great Britain, consumers can purchase their insurance through
CIS, one of the country's largest insurance companies; it is
owned by the Co-operative Wholesale Society.  The people of
Cape Dorset, an Inuit community in the Canadian Arctic, depend
largely for their income on the handicrafts they sell through
their co-operative.  The workers of Mondragon in Spain
organise much of their lives through an interrelated series of
co-operatives embracing a wide range of economic activities. 
In Belize, fishing people sell their products from the sea
through a powerful, successful co-operative.  Rural families
on the Great Plains of the United States purchase their
electricity from electric co-operatives.  When representatives
from Thrift and Savings Co-operatives gather annually in Sri
Lanka, they need a field to hold 100,000 people.  In Portage
la Prairie, Manitoba, Canada, members receive their last rites
through their own burial co-operative. 
The list is endless: co-operators around the world have found
hundreds of reasons for organising co-operatives; they will
find a multitude of other reasons for doing so in the coming
Going Forward - Some Threats
Nevertheless, as the twenty-first century dawns, the
international movement confronts some of the most difficult
challenges in its history.  Two of the most difficult emanate
from the changes that are transforming capitalist firms and
altering the roles of governments at all levels.

The last quarter century of the twentieth century has
witnessed an extensive restructuring of the world economy, one
feature of which was the way in which capitalist firms were
able to move around the world.  Many capitalist firms had
shown that ability in the past, but never before had so many
been able to move resources so far, so fast, and so freely. 
In fact, encouraged by governments, many capitalist firms
began to roam the world, searching out the best financial
opportunities and, often enough, virtually dictating the terms
under which they will agree to operate.

At the same time, in the old and new industrialized areas of
the world, communication changes and managerial theory
revolutionized the work place.  The Industrial Revolution,
which went through various stages from the eighteenth century
to recent times, emphasized large scale production, massive
(often well- paid) work forces, and hierarchical management
teams, including large numbers of middle managers and
associated professional groups.  The emerging new economies,
largely because of remarkably improved communication systems
and the easy movement of goods around the world, emphasize
flexible systems of production, specialized work forces
dependent upon inexpensive supplies of resources, and
streamlined, less bureaucratic management structures.  The
social costs of this transformation are not yet fully clear. 
What is clear, though, is that the economic change has
triggered a widespread belief in many countries that the
future belongs exclusively to a capitalist economy.  It is a
perspective that provides both a threat and an opportunity for
those who believe in the value of co-operative enterprise.

This global restructuring coincides with complex and diverse
changes in the role that governments play around the world. 
The most dramatic change, of course, unfolded in Central and
Eastern Europe from the middle of the 1980s onwards.  The
abrupt termination of centrally-planned economies in several
countries meant the virtual end of co-operatives that had
existed (often in name only) under authoritarian regimes. 
Recreating the co-operative experiment in those countries - an
experiment that in many instances has over a century of
history - is an immense task, but it has begun.  If the
recreation is to be done properly, though, it must be done
with a clear understanding of why co-operatives are important
and how they are distinct: that is a challenge that the
international co-operative movement has to meet.  Indeed, it
is one that it has already started to meet. 

Government roles are changing in other parts of the world as
well. In many southern countries, particularly in Africa and
South America, dramatic economic fluctuations have forced the
restructuring of many national economies, often with
disastrous social consequences, at least in the short term. 
Governments have been forced to reduce their role in their
national economies, meaning that they no longer provide the
assistance to co-operatives that they once did.  Many
co-operatives have adjusted to that change, but others have
not and thus some wonder about the movement's future.  As in
the case of Eastern and Central European countries, the
essential challenge is to build the emerging co-operatives on
a clear vision of the co-operative identity and the basic
purposes of the co-operative movement.

Similarly, in many of the older, more industrialized countries
the movement cannot rely upon the kind of political support it
once enjoyed.   Governments are increasingly less able and
less willing to influence the economic, social and legal
frameworks within which their citizens live; indeed, in many
countries, people apparently do not want them to do so.  The
result is that many co-operatives that relied upon extensive
government support for their activities can no longer do so;
they must be more independent than ever before.  No less than
their counterparts in other parts of the world, the movements
in the older industrialized countries have been challenged to
reconsider their reason for being, to rethink how they should
relate to governments.

New Unity, Renewed Commitment
As the twentieth century came to an end, the changing market
place and changing government roles created some bewildering
challenges for co-operatives; they also produced some
immediate, positive results.  Everywhere, co-operatives have
been forced to re-examine what they are doing and why they are
doing it.  They sought for new ways to attract capital.  They
reorganised so they could serve their members more
efficiently.  They developed new approaches to marketing.  
Many of them entered into joint ventures, often with other
co-operatives.  They searched for new economic activities, in
some instances even outside their national borders.       

Put simply, though, the greatest challenge confronting
co-operatives did not come from the outside world.  As in the
past (and as it will be in the future), the most serious
threat was not the competition.  It was not even the altered
political order.  It was in the hearts of discouraged
co-operators.  It is was a matter of resolve, an uncertainty
as to what the movement could offer the contemporary world.  
Such uncertainties demanded a reconsideration of the
contemporary role of co-operatives and an understanding of
what the movement should attempt to do.  By the time of the
Manchester Congress, that process of renewal and recommitment
was well underway.  In reaction to all the accumulating
pressures of the 1980s and 1990s, many local co-operatives had
re-examined their basic reasons for existence.  Several
national movements had reorganised their apex organisations to
make them more responsive to the kinds of pressures
co-operatives were experiencing.  On an international level,
the International Co-operative Alliance had undertaken a
complete review of the values and principles that characterize
co-operative movements around the world; a process that
culminates in Manchester.  Out of all these activities emerged
a new understanding of the unique qualities of co-operative

In short, despite the adversity of the 1980s and early 1990s,
co-operatives at the end of the century are well situated to
face future challenges.  They have a rich tradition of
co-operative versatility stretching back over more than 150
years.  They have an amazingly broad range of experiences in
the twentieth century upon which to draw, experiences that are
evident everywhere around the world.  Moreover, because of
recent adversities, they are better managed than they have
ever been; because of recent soul-searching, they have a
clearer vision of what makes the co-operative approach
different.  They are ready for the twenty-first century.

People Working Together - The Future
Co-operatives are practical organisations; most co-operators
are primarily concerned about meeting immediate needs.  The
co-operative movement, therefore, does not look forward easily

into the future.  Rather, it instinctively prefers to evolve
pragmatically, responding to opportunities and adapting to
changes as they occur.

And yet there is value in looking ahead, even if the future
seems to be particularly difficult to predict.  It is
important to try to prepare for the kinds of challenges that
seem likely to appear.  It is useful to try to anticipate the
opportunities awaiting existing co-operatives or inviting the
formation of new co-operatives.  It is valuable to comprehend
how people might band together to help themselves in ways
perhaps never before contemplated.  It is necessary to examine
the strengths and weaknesses of co-operatives in light of what
the future appears to hold.  Perhaps, above all, it is
essential to dream of what might be if the movement is to
attract the interest and the commitment of those who are

And yet, even amid the rapid change some general possibilities
are clearly evident.  The restructuring of the global economy,
for example, creates immense possibilities for an assertive,
confident co-operative movement.  Some co-operatives, perhaps
most obviously in the food production and distribution systems
and in the financial services industries, are sufficiently
large and sophisticated enough to play significant roles in
that transformation.  In fact, their involvement could be
particularly valuable for people around the world: in addition
to serving their members well, they could provide efficient
and ethical models that could monitor those two
vitally-important sets of economic activities in the public
The economic restructuring also creates possibilities simply
because of the social change it is creating around the world. 
Thus, while it creates new pockets of prosperity, the economic
restructuring also undermines the prosperity of other people
and, in far too many places, makes the already poor desperate.

All too often, it increases the discrepancy between the rich
and the poor - whether one considers the human condition in
terms of individuals, classes, or nations.  As with all great
social and economic changes, the current restructuring of the
global economy exacts a heavy price; co-operatives can help
demonstrate that cost and show how a better way to embrace the
future can be found.

In such circumstances, co-operatives offer their historic
capacity to reduce social and economic divisions in an
equitable manner, at least for those who have some capacity to
control their lives.  As they have always done in the past,
co-operatives offer opportunities for people to help
themselves; that promise has never been more meaningful or
necessary to more people around the world. 

In a time, too, when governments are withdrawing from
protecting and enhancing their citizens, co-operatives offer a
way in which people can retain control over their own lives
and their own communities.  In a time when the problems over
the production and distribution of necessities - food,
financial services, industrial goods - are growing,
co-operatives can help meet such needs in a fair and reliable
manner.  In an era when people want more control over their
work-place, co-operatives can offer them that opportunity.  In
short, there has never been a time when co-operative
self-reliance has more potential, more meaning.

If the movement is to respond effectively to the challenges
and seize the opportunities, however, it must project a clear
sense of its distinctiveness; it must demonstrate its
capacities to mobilize people and communities, and it must
prove its abilities to be an efficient supplier of goods and
services.  To do so, though, it must realize the promise of
its historical mission and capitalize on the strength of its
contemporary accomplishments. 

In the final analysis, the movement's future will be defined
by how co-operators understand their mission and how
co-operatives seek out their opportunities.

Generally, co-operatives have always had to confront two main
kinds of challenges.  How do they become increasingly more
effective?  How do they  respond to social and economic
changes?  These are not new questions.  Rather, they are the
ones members, elected leaders, managers and employees have
always asked when they have seriously pondered their
movement's possibilities.  They are the questions that must be
addressed as a new century opens.

The First Challenge: Increasing Co-operative Effectiveness
Virtually all co-operatives must function within the market
place.  Consequently, they must measure their effectiveness in
part by how well they do in that context.  Like firms owned on
the basis of investment they must manage their resources -
financial, productive, and human - in such a way that they
create surpluses or profits.  Like private entrepreneurs, too,
they must understand thoroughly the kinds of business they
operate.  They  must function within the legislative and
competitive environments that prevail, even as they might try
to change those environments.
Co-operatives, therefore, can learn from investor-controlled
enterprise; indeed, they have often done so in the past.  They
can study and selectively adapt some of the technological
changes, organisational structures, resource utilisation and
capital accumulation techniques used by private enterprise
firms.  They will also be able selectively to utilize
marketing approaches and communication strategies used by
their main competitors.  They may find it useful to
investigate how private firms relate to governments and gain
special privileges.  They may want to imitate how private
firms influence educational systems and create educational
environments sympathetic to their development. It would be
tragic, however, if co-operators assumed that imitating the
private sector was all that was necessary; if that were true
there would be no reason for co-operatives to exist. 

The ultimate necessity is to adapt what is useful and
acceptable from capitalist firms to the distinctively
co-operative way in order to build effective organisations. 
It is a daunting but challenging task that should attract the
best young minds among our younger generations; it is a task
that previous generations carried out with zeal and ingenuity.

There are also lessons to be learned in studying the ways in
which public servants carry out their tasks.  In the recent
dismantling of many state enterprises, it has become
fashionable in many countries to undervalue, even scorn the
work of public servants.  The cost, measured in the decline of
social safety nets and basic communal infrastructures - from
roads to schools - has yet to be measured.  The point, though,
is that the public service has contributed significantly to
the development of many countries; co-operators could do worse
than understand the tradition of public service, social
concern, and long-term planning that made the best of those
contributions possible in many countries around the world. 

Ultimately, however, efficiency with co-operatives is derived
from the careful application of the values and principles that
make co-operatives unique.  In the final analysis,
co-operatives carry within themselves - in their basic
structures and ideology - the keys to their own success.  The
application varies with time and type of enterprise, but the
formula for success is always the same.

Stressing the Membership Advantage
The central focus of the co-operative movement must always be
the best interests of members in both the short and long term.

Co-operatives exist primarily to serve them, and any measure
of their effectiveness must be based on how well those needs
are served.  Moreover, it is by deepening that relationship
that co-operatives will find the best way to grow in the
future, the way that most clearly is in keeping with their
distinctive quality and their historic advantage.

In many parts of the world, encouraging greater member
involvement will not be easy.  In countries where
co-operatives were started from "the top down" the task will
be particularly difficult.  In other countries, all too often,
co-operative leaders - and members - have allowed the practice
of membership to decline.  Often, this was just a consequence
of rapid growth.  When memberships are large, when attracting
new members is easy, it is natural to become passive suppliers
of goods and services.  In contrast, it requires effort,
resources, and commitment to foster a growing relationship
with members.  And yet, in the final analysis, it is in the
expansion of that relationship that co- operatives ensure
their most stable growth and their long-term permanence.

Effective member involvement, of course, does not mean the
same thing in all co-operatives.  Members who rely on a
co-operative for most of their income, for example in a worker
co-operative, will normally be more involved than will members
of a co-operative which provides only an occasional service,
such as insurance.  Nevertheless, all co-operatives have the
capacity to expand member relationships; most of the
successful co-operatives of the future will be the ones that
do it best.

One way to understand the possibilities of membership is to
understand that the members of most co-operatives relate to
their organisation in three ways.  First, they are owners:
they should attend meetings, vote in elections, make decisions
on matters referred to them by the board, and assist in the
promotion of their organisation.  Second, they are users who
patronize their co-operative, constructively suggest how it
might be improved, and appreciate the benefits that patronage
brings.  Third, they are investors, minimally if that is all
that is required, more significantly if there is a need.  All
three of these kinds of relationships should be fostered; each
has its own responsibilities, each its own rewards.

Membership also implies a subtle relationship traditionally
called education.  But co-operative education is not just
about the distribution of information by co-operatives to
their members, though it certainly includes that.  It is
essentially about the exchange of understandings: the
co-operative showing members why the co-operative approach is
a "better way", the member constructively communicating about
her or his needs while posing the challenge about how they
might best be met.  In large co-operatives, this kind of
communication becomes more difficult but the resources and the
methods of communication are often more readily at hand, if
there is a will to use them.  Indeed, some
of the largest co-operatives in the world have developed some
of the best ways to reach their memberships. 

In reality, the most obvious advantage co-operatives have in
increasing their effectiveness lies in deepening their
relationships with their members.  It is an advantage that
requires constant attention and careful cultivation; if it is
strong and management is prudently ambitious, co-operatives
can rarely fail, and co-operators will not have to doubt the
capacity of their movement to contribute bountifully to people
in the next century. 

Celebrating Co-operative Distinctiveness
People who are proud of who they are and what they do usually
are more effective as human beings and more capable of
accepting greater responsibilities; they also attract the
support and assistance of others more readily.  It is a simple
homily, but it is important for co-operatives, especially in
an age when an alternative economic system seems to be the
much preferred method of organised economic activity.

Co-operatives and co-operators generally need to be prouder of
who they are and what they do.  Co-operative organisations in
their communications to members and their relations with the
public should demonstrate consistently their belief in
co-operative structures and values.  Concern about members,
democratic values, equitable financial structures, after all,
are very positive messages; they deserve to be emphasized, not
just timidly - if not apologetically - acknowledged once a

Co-operatives, particularly local co-operatives, have an
obligation - and a subtle, long-term advantage - in
demonstrating that they are parts of larger systems.  Members
benefit and their communities develop through the efforts of
their local co-operatives, but the greater benefits occur only
when many co-operatives join together to better serve members,
to maximize their power, and to build upon their common
resources.  That is a part of the co-operative distinctiveness
that needs to be understood more widely and appreciated more

Co-operatives will not play a significant role in the future
generally if they do not celebrate their distinctiveness.  If
they do not consciously and proudly proclaim who they are and
why they act as they do, who will do it for them?  How will
people in the coming century have any understanding of what
they could accomplish if they worked together? 

Empowering People
Co-operatives become more effective when they give people more
control over their lives.  Traditionally and most importantly,
co-operatives give members the opportunity to consume more
wisely and inexpensively; when they give producers the
opportunity to control more completely the production and
distribution of their wares; when they give all kinds of
people the chance to save, invest, and borrow money in honest,
secure and competitive financial institutions; when they allow
people to control their own housing; and when they encourage
people to create their own health care.   There is an
important kind of dignity in enlarging such kinds of
empowerment.  It is the most noble activity in which
co-operatives are engaged.

Empowerment is also about knowledge; indeed, in the
"information age" that is the most important kind of power. 
Consequently, when co-operatives provide their memberships
with accurate, honest information they are empowering them, be
information about consumer goods, appropriate pesticides, the
level of fish stocks, or the fine print in a loan application.

But empowerment within a co-operative is not just concerned
about the specific economic relationships it has with its
members.  It should be expanded to include all the human
resources associated with the organisation.  Indeed, it is
regrettably all too true that the greatest underutilized
assets within many co-operatives are their human resources. 
Too many co-operatives generally ask too little of their
members, expect too little of their employees, undervalue the
contributions of their managers, and inadequately prepare
their elected leaders.  

There are untapped resources in many memberships, especially
among women and young people.  Much of the future success of
the co-operative movement will depend upon a willingness to
recognize true equality between women and men in the
deliberations of co-operative organisations; much of the
vitality will come from the involvement of young people.  Many
employees should be given more responsibilities and made aware
of the fact that, in most co-operative structures, they are
the most prominent faces, the most important representatives. 
Managers need to be recognized for their successes in carrying
out the demanding work required to make any co-operative
successful; in many ways, the managing of a co-operative is
the supreme test of management skills, and it should be
recognized as such.  Directors need to be given the depth and
breadth of understanding so that their stewardship of
co-operatives is meaningful, rewarding and expanding. 
Considering such matters systematically and regularly in any
co-operative would inevitably bear dividends - in all senses
of the word.

"People are our most important resource" is a trite saying,
but it speaks to a particular truth within co-operatives.   It
is unfortunate that there is no way to recognize on a balance
sheet how much the people associated with a given co-operative
have grown within a year: in the final analysis, it would be
among the most important tests of co-operative effectiveness,
one of the best indicators of what the future likely holds.

Combining Resources Prudently
It is easy to understand the value of a well-run local
co-operative.  The benefits are evident in each visit; the
annual statement shows the financial contribution
specifically; the friends and neighbours involved in it attest
to its stability.  It is equally possible to appreciate the
larger co-operatives that provide a member with most of his or
her income, as for example in a farmer's marketing
co-operative.  It is less easy to relate to second or third
tier co-operatives that provide insurance, finance, or
wholesaling services.  They are more remote, somehow less
personal; some people could even imagine prospering without

The future for co-operatives, however, lies with both types of
organisations.  Co-operators must always work to ensure the
strength of their local organisations. They must also find
more ways to combine their local power into integrated systems
that can wield influence on national, regional and even
international levels.  Doing so will require vision and a
capacity to make difficult decisions.  In rare instances, it
may even require foregoing local possibilities in favour of
the common good.  "Acting locally, working globally" became a
cliche in the later decades of the twentieth century.  Within
co-operatives, it must become a reality if full effectiveness
is to be achieved.

The need for the prudent combination of resources is fairly
evident.  For example, technological change is inevitable, but
it is costly.  If co-operatives are to ensure their
independence amid the integrating bonds of the new machines,
they will need to examine how they can jointly invest so all
can benefit.  Another obvious example is the opportunity for
different kinds of co-operatives to invest in joint ventures,
such as agricultural and consumer co-operatives uniting to
build a food-processing plant.

Inevitably and properly, most of the possibilities for pooling
resources occur first at the local or national level.  To be
done properly, such activities need to be carried out with
vigilant business discipline; they should not be done as "a
good thing" or as an act of charity on the part of one party
or the other.  The important point, though, is that
co-operatives need to consider more carefully how they might
better pool their resources, to make the best use of their
members' money.

The same is true at the international level.  If co-operatives
are to grow as a global force, they need to consider more
joint ventures within given sectors or across complementary
sectors.  They need to examine more carefully how they might
join forces across national boundaries.  So many questions
flow from imagining how co-operatives might pool resources in
these ways - questions that will need to be considered not too
far into the next century.  Should producers of the same
commodities in different parts of the world not investigate
more carefully how they might combine to gain more control of
the processing of their products?  Do they have to leave that
part of the global economy in the hands of a decreasing number
of multinational firms?  Should co-operative financial
institutions not devote more thought to how an international
co-operative financial system might be created?  Is there not
more scope for pragmatic, mutually-beneficial relationships
between producer and consumer co-operatives around the world? 
Why is it that the international movement has, on the one
hand, savers who want to lend and, on the other, deserving
people who want to borrow? Savers who want to invest,
producers who want to grow?  Can there not be ways to bring
these people together in a mutually-beneficial, business-like

Becoming more effective in the future will require more
co-operatives working together, more co-operative leaders
understanding what forms of local control are essential, what
activities might be better carried on jointly.  To do well at
home will not be nearly enough.

Creating Financial Strength
Co-operative leaders and members of co-operatives can easily
be lulled into thinking that reasonably good results on an
annual basis are sufficient security for the long-term
viability of their organisation.  It is an unfortunate
situation when it occurs.  

The first responsibility of a co-operative is to ensure its
capacity to continue serving its members.  Thus co-operatives,
at local and other levels, must provide adequate reserves for
their future and make sure that members understand that they
share some responsibility for the financial health of their
organisations.  Co-operatives also must provide their share of
support for the associated co-operative organisations upon
which they depend.  Once that stability is assured,
co-operatives can then consider extending benefits to their
members.  And after that, members may consider what
contributions their organisations should make to the general
development of the co-operative movement, the general benefit
of the memberships, or the enhancement of their communities.

Because of the growing needs for capital in many kinds of
co-operatives, the allocation of funds from annual surpluses
or profits will often be insufficient.  Even more than in the
past, co-operatives will have to explore innovative ways to
raise more funds, and they should look first to members.  In
general, co- operatives have been remiss in not using the
member advantage to raise capital.  It is not unreasonable for
members to expect that they will have to make regular
investments in their co-operatives, and it is reasonable for
them to expect a return, perhaps a delayed return, on the
investments they make in their co-operative.

Co-operatives will also likely have to explore joint
endeavours with private firms and governments in order to
raise the funds they require for new initiatives or to
increase their influence in a given industry.  Those kind of
arrangements, like any other arrangement that would bring
"outside" capital into the co-operative, must not be at the
cost of sacrificing any of the co-operative's autonomy or the
capacity of its members to control their own organisation in a
democratic manner.

Co-operators should also devote more time to consider how they
might create larger pools of prudently-operated funds for the
development of existing and, in particular, new co-operatives.

It is not an easy task.  It is a distinct kind of lending that
requires its own discipline and rules of behaviour; it is not
charity and it must be conducted prudently.  It is
nevertheless a task that is essential if the co-operative
movement is to become truly effective in the twenty-first

Thinking Strategically
Pooling resources and creating financial strength implies a
commitment to long-term strategies.  They suggest a kind of
discipline that will not be achieved easily.  And, in fact,
they are not the only elements involved in thinking

Co-operators working through their co-operatives have always
to consider how they can best ensure not only the survival but
also the expansion of their organisations.  That means
collaborating effectively to ensure that the co-operative
movement generally, as well as their part of the co-operative
movement, is treated fairly by governments.  For, even though
the roles of government may be declining for the foreseeable
future, it would be a mistake to underestimate the importance
of government legislation and policies in determining the fate
of co-operative organisations.  In the contemporary world, it
also means resisting the attempts of some regulators to want
to lump co-operatives together with capitalist firms when they
create governing legislation.

Thinking strategically also means making sure that the apex 
organisations that serve co-operatives as their voices are
given the attention they deserve and the resources they
require.  Too many co-operatives support such organisations
through financial contributions but do not integrate the wider
perspectives such organisations afford into their own
planning, their own core activities.  It is a mistake that
means that the money spent is not as effectively used as it
might be.

But above all, thinking strategically means considering how
the membership advantage, the co-operative distinctiveness,
the empowerment of people, the combination of resources and
the pools of accumulated capital can be most effectively
deployed.  It is envisioning what can be prudently attempted
and collectively accomplished. 

Facing the Future
The co-operative movement has two faces.  One is the face that
looks sternly, even harshly, inward, concerned about how co-
operatives can become increasingly more effective: that is the
view we have been considering.  The second face looks
thoughtfully  outward, interested in how more people might
learn about the benefits of co-operative activities. This face
does not believe in charitable hand-outs; rather, it is
concerned that as many people as possible help themselves and
not be helped into some form of dependency.  It is a face that
has a particularly large vista to consider as the twenty-first
century opens.

Five trends are particularly obvious.  The first is the
incredible growth of the human family.  At the turn of the
twentieth century, there were less than 2,000,000,000 people
on Earth; as the century closes, there are nearly
6,000,000,000; by 2050 it is estimated there will be
10,000,000,000.  The demand for basic requirements, food,
housing, work and health facilities needed by this expanding
population will test human ingenuity in science and
technology; even more, it will challenge us to organise our
economic, social and political relationships so that people
will have the resources to purchase or collectively produce
what they require.
The second is the already-mentioned concentration of economic
power in the hands of the very wealthy around the world, a
trend that magnifies a growing international problem with
poverty -- in all countries around the world.  The capacity of
individuals, even groups, communities and nations, to
influence the economic changes affecting them, is declining;
the gap between the very rich and the poor in most countries
is widening.  The growing masses of tragically impoverished
peoples in many southern countries will demand a fairer share
of the world's resources, as will the expanding ranks of the
very poor in industrialized societies.  Moreover, the middle
class in the industrialized societies
is shrinking; the security once afforded to them by
professional associations and trade unions is no longer as
certain as it once was.  
The pressures of population, the increasingly uncontrolled
movement of capital and production around the globe, the
misuse of science and technology, and the drive to produce
more goods regardless of consequences, has created the third
major trend: a crisis in how people treat their environment. 
Securing supplies of good water is becoming a disturbing
problem; the deterioration in the ozone layer must alarm us
all; many of the foods consumed daily around the world are
contaminated; fish stocks that once seemed inexhaustible no
longer support fishing fleets; and timber stands upon which
people have relied for centuries have been disastrously

Fourthly, communities around the world are confronting
increasingly complex difficulties.  In southern cities high
birth rates and migration from the countryside strain precious
resources, create large slums, and lead to the underemployment
of younger generations.  Food distribution systems are
inadequate, while medical, water, education, and sewage
systems are strained to their limits.  In the more
industrialized parts of the world urban infrastructures -
schools, roads, police - are declining, while impoverished
ghettos are growing.  In too many places  the "civil society "
- the society based on tolerance, order in the streets, and
community responsibility  - is in question.

Finally, there are complex issues of social justice, many of
which co-operatives have historically tried to address; it is
as important as ever before that they continue to do so.  One
of them concerns the unequal position of women around the
world.  Women are disproportionately evident among the poor;
they provide  more than their share of labour, paid and
unpaid, in most economies; their capacity to control their own
lives is often restricted.
Another concerns young people.  In many southern countries
there is a surplus of young men and women looking for
employment and concerned about how they will manage their
lives.  In most northern countries, the opportunities for
full, satisfying employment, for the first time in
generations, are declining in number; many young people are
consequently facing impoverished futures and limited

Yet another concerns aboriginal or first peoples.  Scattered
around the world, often living in the precarious places left
to them by the vagaries of history, they typically have few
resources and limited institutional capacity to improve their

People Working Together -The Twenty-first Century
By themselves, co-operatives and co-operators cannot resolve
all these great issues, but they can significantly help to do
so.  They can do so partly in the kinds of growth they foster
within their organisations and partly in the ways in which
they conduct their affairs. 
The most obvious ways in which they can contribute is through
expanding in the kinds of endeavour they already do well.  For
example, co-operatives of various kinds already play
significant roles in the production, processing, and
distribution of food.  Agricultural co-operatives are common
around the world; they have served, and continue to serve,
farming people effectively while they provide large quantities
of high quality products for their customers.  They are also
bastions of rural communities, in particular by providing
stability for smaller producers.  Many agricultural
co-operatives are also in the forefront of technological
change, pace-setters in the processing and distribution of
food and other consumer goods.

As trade barriers decline around the globe, agricultural
co-operatives face increased competition from the already
small number of firms that increasingly dominate the world's
agro-food industries.  Co-operatives will have to increase
their capacity to survive amid such competition, either by
concentrating upon the particular kinds of production at which
they excel or by marshalling financial and productive capacity
in unprecedented quantities.  In the latter case, in
particular, they must reach out to unite with other
co-operatives, be they agricultural, consumer or financial. 
They must also extend their influence across national
boundaries if they are to withstand the competition they face;
as never before, co-operatives achieve only part of their
potential if they are exclusively concerned with responding to
member needs through local action.  Doing well in a local
community is good, but it is not enough. 

Because they are normally based on family farm operations,
agricultural co-operatives are particularly concerned about
perpetuating rural communities and sustaining their economic
growth and social stability.  They should, therefore, be among
the leaders in steadily improving how rural people deal with
their environment.  This is not an easy issue since it
involves reconsidering methods and techniques that have become
ingrained in agricultural practice, particularly in the last
fifty years, but it is an issue that co-operatives can embrace
realistically: their systems of member communications and
their commitment to rural communities afford them advantages
and insights others do not possess.

Similarly, fishing co-operatives, which can be found in many
parts of the world, have a deep commitment to their
communities; indeed, some of them are the inheritors of
centuries of fishing traditions.  They are now involved in an
industry that is increasingly important because of the rising
global demand for the products of the sea; it is also an
industry in which technological advances have encouraged
exploitation beyond sustainable capacity in many parts of the
world.  Fishing co-operatives, in the interests of their
members and their communities, can be leading voices for the
rational use of what are currently dwindling resources.  
The co-operative movement, in its entirety, possesses many of
the elements that could allow it to become a determining
factor in the international agro-food industries.  It has a
powerful base in rural and fishing communities.  It has some
capacity in the food processing industries through the
activities of some producer and some wholesale co-operatives. 
It has the nucleus of a consumer co-operative distribution
system in several countries.  It has significant financial
resources within the co-operative banking sector.  

The needs are also becoming clearer.  With a rapidly growing
global population, the issues associated with the production
and distribution of food and other consumer goods are becoming
more strategically important.  By some time early in the next
century, as the global population reaches 10,000,000,000, they
will be clearly among the most contentious issues confronting
the human family; in some ways, with the often acrimonious
debates over international agricultural tariffs, that process
has already begun.  The challenge for all kinds of co-
operatives associated with food production and distribution,
in particular, is to lever the power they already possess so
that they can assume an even greater role.  That will mean
more joint endeavours and  more linkages across national and
regional boundaries.  It will also mean raising more capital,
but, over the long term, there can be few better options
either financially or idealistically in which to make

The potential role of consumer co-operatives, as the provision
of food and consumer goods becomes increasingly problematic,
is challenging, even intimidating.  While there are
exceptions, most national consumer co-operative movements have
declined in recent years; a few have even disappeared.  Many
consumer co-operatives have found it difficult to adjust to
modern retailing systems.  Many have found it challenging to
mobilize the necessary resources to compete effectively in
industries characterized by the extensive integration of
wholesaling and retailing activities, the expansion of large
shopping centres, the financing of relentless advertising
campaigns, and the growing power afforded by transnational

The future, however, can only be promising.  As people in the
industrialized world start to spend similar proportions of
their income on food as do people in the developing countries,
they will seek opportunities to influence food distribution
and pricing power  through organisations they own and can
trust.  If consumer co-operatives can build upon that urge
through local co-operatives and harness the cumulative
potential in national, regional and international
organisations and agreements, then they can only prosper. 
They cannot fail if their members understand what is at stake
and if the stores are managed prudently.

As the global population increases, another very difficult
problem will be finding adequate housing in caring
communities.  Co-operative housing can help meet this need. 
It has a history of accomplishment in many industrialized
countries stretching over a century.  It has a promising future
in Central and Eastern Europe where strong traditions exist, but
the housing legislation that emerges will have to provide
appropriate frameworks.  Similarly, in many
economically-developing countries, co-operative housing has
considerable potential, meeting the needs of burgeoning
populations increasingly clustered around major cities.

Co-operative housing has many advantages, although its
financial structures, legislative requirements, and cultural
characteristics vary considerably around the world.  It
permits the maximum development of land with whatever funds
are available, whether those funds come from private or public
sources.  It encourages the formation of communities, at its
best escaping the ghettoization typical of many forms of
social housing.  It allows people to pool resources to reduce
maintenance costs while it encourages the sharing of communal
responsibilities.  In a world where alienation is becoming
commonplace, where neighbourhoods are losing cohesiveness, co-
operative housing is a positive alternative.

In recent years, some of the most dynamic parts of the
international co-operative movement have been the financial
co-operatives.  They are organised in many different ways,
reflecting different origins, priorities, associations, and
legislative frameworks; they vary significantly in size and
levels of sophistication.  Nevertheless, as a group they are
different from other banking organisations in their ownership
structures and often in their commitments.  In many countries
they are closely tied to agriculture and rural communities; in
others they have become particularly successful in specialized
activities, such as the  financing of housing or consumer

All of them, however, are confronting the virtual certainty of
significant change.  Few other kinds of economic activity have
been as dramatically altered by technological evolution as has
banking.  The main reason is obvious: in its essence, banking
is an information industry that has been profoundly altered by
its adaptations of computing technology.  What was once a
rather rigid industry has become remarkably flexible; what
were once clear divisions among banking, insurance,
investment, and fiduciary  companies have virtually
disappeared; what were once significant barriers, national
boundaries, have started to disappear.  In the process,  the
regulation of the industry by governments has been rapidly
transformed as national priorities have given way before
international banking standards. 
All of these changes affect co-operative banking circles, in
some ways more than their competitors.  Within decentralized
co- operative banking systems, for example, deciding upon
uniform technological systems can be difficult; and, in some
instances where agreements are possible, the costs are
prohibitive.  In countries where governments used co-operative
banks for regional and local economic programmes, the turn to
greater acceptance of the market place for economic growth has
created problems of adjustment.   In many instances, too, the
challenge of raising capital, when capital is often scarce, is
intimidating, sometimes nearly impossible.

Yet, there can be no doubt that the future of the co-operative
banking sector is bright.  Many co-operative banking systems
are among the most innovative in the industry.  The European
banks have made remarkable adjustments as Europe enters into a
new and dramatically different era.  The older banks of India
remain powerful institutions in the national economy despite
the changes underway.  If organisers can move quickly and the
evolving legislation is favourable, the possibilities for co-
operative banking in Central and Eastern Europe are
remarkable, as it is in China.   The record of caisses
populaires/credit unions in North America is outstanding, and
their accomplishments in many developing parts of the world
are truly inspiring. 

The future for co-operative banking will require successful
adaptation on several fronts.  Like all banks they will have
to continue to adjust to the changing international financial
market-place.  This will mean becoming even more integrated
into national and international technological systems, despite
the threats of homogenization that this entails, both from the
ways in which such systems operate and the manner in which
they are regulated.  

They will also have to emphasize the connections they have
with local communities and groups of people, a task made
easier by their co-operative roots.  Most co-operative banks
have a remarkable advantage in their ability to develop deep
relationships with their members, the members of the co-
operatives they serve, or the particular segments of the
general population they seek to attract.  This capacity to
build on what can be very meaningful relationships is perhaps
the greatest structural advantage which they enjoy over their

In recent years, too, some of them have been very successful
in stressing ethical practices in investment activities and
the ways in which they conduct their business: it is an
approach that benefits society at large and that emanates
logically from their co-operative heritage.  It stands out in
age when many economic organisations do not always adhere to
elemental ethical standards.

The financial co-operatives also possess within their various
kinds of structures one of the first really successful
international efforts at collaboration by co-operative
organisations: insurance.  By its very nature, evident since
at least the sixteenth century and arguably since the days of
the Roman Empire, insurance invites co-operative forms of
organisation: there is an obvious benefit for people combining
resources in order to withstand adversity.  Moreover,
insurance that is provided through formally-structured co-
operatives should possess the openness and transparent
accountability that assures policyholders of reliable service
and fair treatment.

Worker co-operatives are another rapidly growing component of
the international movement; there is every reason to believe
their growth in the future will be equally impressive.  They
carry within their structures and philosophies some of the
most persuasive answers to one of the great questions raised
by industrialization: how to ensure that workers enjoy the
dignity to which their labour should entitle them.  Worker co-
operatives have successfully managed large manufacturing
concerns; they have also operated the kinds of smaller,
flexible enterprises that arguably will become even more
important in the evolving economy.  In several cases, such as
Mondragon, they have demonstrated how workers can pool their
resources to build extensive communities based on rewarding
labour and social responsibility.

The worker co-operative perspective also encourages other
kinds of co-operatives to consider more carefully how they
view and treat their employees.  It suggests the need to
empower employees in ways that are acceptable within existing
co-operatives, to give them more responsibilities, to listen
more carefully to what they suggest, to reward them
appropriately, and to find ways in which they might invest in
their co-operatives.  It suggests the need to reconsider the
styles of management within many co-operatives, styles which
usually borrowed uncritically from capitalist enterprise; it
invites other co-operatives to consider how they can best
empower their employees, increasingly a determinant of
economic success.

Similarly, the simple idea of people joining together to
provide themselves with health care will have increasing
vitality in the years ahead.  In many populous parts of the
world, health care is deficient; as the population grows, the
tragedy of poor national and regional decisions on how to
provide health care will become even more obvious, the
inappropriateness of making health care largely dependent upon
income increasingly more unacceptable.    Co-operative health
care, by distributing costs fairly and by placing greater onus
on members for their own health, will assuredly be one of the
best alternatives available.  Co-operative health care, too,
typically is concerned about preventative approaches to
medicine and it could be structured so that it can foster
exchanges among the different kinds of medical practice to be
found around the world.  Few kinds of co-operative endeavour
have a more promising future or offer a more obvious benefit
in the unfolding world than co-operative health care.

In embracing these challenges co-operatives will benefit if
they ensure that doors are open to women as members, elected
leaders, staff and managers.  Doing so will be good business
because of the economic power women represent, even though
they own less than their numbers and labour should warrant. 
More fundamentally and importantly, though, doing so is simple
justice in keeping with the basic commitments obvious in co-
operative circles from their beginnings.

Similarly, for reasons of both economy and justice, co-
operatives have an obligation to reach out consciously and
continuously to young people.   In a trite, but also in a
meaningful way, the movement's future lies with youth.  The
rich and diverse traditions of the movement, the subtleties
and potential of its philosophies, need to be reconsidered and
reapplied by each generation.  The sooner young people are
involved, the sooner they begin to consider for themselves how
the co-operative movement should be adjusted for their times,
the better it will be for all.  The dialogue across
generations of co-operators is a fundamental requirement for
continuing success.

There is also a particularly significant opportunity to make
co-operative alternatives better known among indigenous
people, one of the fastest growing segments of the global
population.  In some instances, doing so will be easy in that
it will be simply an extension of the way they have
traditionally conducted their affairs.  In other instances,
where more hierarchical political and economic structures have
prevailed, it will be more difficult.  Given their population
size, the quantity of land they possess or soon will possess,
and the kinds of economic activity in which they are engaged
or expect to be engaged, the potential for them -- and their
neighbours of co-operative enterprise - is remarkably

The Promise
The co-operative movement is a movement of perpetual promise,
a movement of becoming, not of ending.  It never achieves a
state of perfection; it never rests satisfied with what it has
accomplished.  It is a movement that is always torn between
what its philosophy suggests and the contemporary world
requires.  It is a movement that fails unless committed,
pragmatic co-operators continuously consider the choices their
co-operatives must make in responding to  member needs, in
achieving broader goals, and in adhering to co-operative
principles in their daily activities.  They are choices that
are never finally made; there are no decisions that are
completely perfect.

Co-operators make choices for each co-operative within two
broadly-related yet somewhat distinct contexts.  The first
applies to the internal operations of the co-operative: the
concerns are that the co-operative be efficient, that it meet
member needs, that it conform appropriately with co-operative
practice.  The second refers to how the co-operative relates
to the rest of the co-operative world and to its community:
the concerns are about the effectiveness of relationships with
other co-operatives, the expansion of the movement generally,
and the movement's social obligations.  Only the members of
the co-operatives, directly or indirectly through their
elected leadership and management structures, can make
decisions about such difficult issues.  In either event, the
decisions will seldom be easy and they will vary over time.

It is in making those decisions, though, that the co-operative
promise is fulfilled.  It is in struggling to understand how
the range of possible action implicit in co-operative thought,
principles, and practice should be applied in the contemporary
experience that co-operators make their contribution.  It is
in accepting the necessity for addressing the need to think
about those choices that co-operative organisations achieve
their highest purposes.  In the final analysis, the co-
operative promise is that it is possible and ultimately
necessary that economic and social affairs be conducted
democratically and responsibly for the present and long-term
benefits of the members and their communities; it is neither
easy nor simple, but it can be the best alternative.