Co-ops and the Internet: a Virtual Necessity

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


Source : Review of International Co-operation Vol.89, No
1/1996, 17-21.


          Co-ops and the Internet: A Virtual Necessity
                        by Mary Treacy
          ********************************************


("The Information age could be a golden era for the non-profit
sector. New information and communications technologies are
creating enormous opportunities for non-profit organisations
to increase their efficiency, improve the quality of the
services they provide, and influence policy-makers." - Benton
Foundation Communications Policy Project)

The 21st century is fast approaching and one of the forces
that will propel us there is the Internet.

The growth of the Net in recent years has been phenomenal,
rising from less than 5,000 to approximately 35 million people
in the past ten years and according to experts this is just
the beginning.

Obviously the Co-operative Movement should not rest on its
laurels when this new and relatively inexpensive means of
communicating with the masses is now available to us.

Through the Internet we can reach a wider audience than ever
possible before - the potential for spreading the co-operative
message via this media is therefore enormous and, as most of
the people using the Internet are young academic types, it
would be an ideal way of reaching the young hearts and minds
so necessary for the future development of our movement.

The following is a short overview of what is currently
available on Co-operatives and Co-operative issues.

Electronic Mail or E-mail
-------------------------
At the present time all of ICA offices have the possibility of
communicating by E-mail, in addition to 25 of the  ICA's 200+
member organisations,  and its specialised bodies for
Agriculture, Energy, Tourism, Insurance, Research,
Communications and Human Resource Development. These numbers
will undoubtedly increase dramatically within the next few
years.

In addition ICA receives electronic correspondence from
numerous researchers and students of Co-operation world-wide
as well as members of the general public, international
organisations and media people.

Newsgroup, Listservers and FAQs
-------------------------------
Newsgroups or electronic bulletin boards are electronic notice
boards where messages can be posted for those interested to
access.

There are several Newsgroups or bulletin boards available for
on-going discussion of co-op issues and exchange of
experience. 
For example, alt.co-ops is a newsgroup which provides
information about democratically run businesses including
worker co-ops, consumer co-ops, communities and communes. 

Listservers are mailing lists made up of people with similar
interests. If you post a message to the list, it is sent via
E-mail to all subscribers to the mailing list.

The Co-operative-bus Listserver,  which is moderated by the
University of Wisconsin Center for Co-operatives, has been
established to facilitate discussion about  strengths and
weaknesses of the co-operative form of business in  solving
people's economic and social needs. Topics of interest include 
co-operative business,  co-operative development, strategic
planning, capital formation, membership, and co-operative
governance etc.

This list already has 236 subscribers, mainly from
universities in the USA and Canada but also from educational
establishments in Europe and Asia and the Pacific,
international organisations such as the Food and Agricultural
Organisation of the UN (FAO), non-governmental organisations,
non-profit organisations, co-operatives, co-operative
federations and government departments such as the US
Department of Agriculture (USDA).
Since its inception over 800 messages have been exchanged
which have been archived by the University of Michigan.
Information on how to subscribe to the mailing list and access
the  archive is available on the ICA Web Pages.

Another example is the Listserver called Credit Union Talk,
which can  also be accessed via the ICA Web pages. This
service aims to promote open and friendly discussion among
senior and mid-level management who are engaged in the daily
operations of credit unions. Participation from the public,
and from the private and academic sectors is also welcome.

There are several other such services available which are of
interest to co-operators  including the Coalition for
Co-operative Community Economics' Listserver and a Discussion
Group on Enterprise Development in Developing Countries. The 
National Students' Co-operative  Association (NASCO) has also
recently opened a Listserver on co-op issues. 

Some of these discussion groups have a specific life span such
as the Discussion Group on Co-op Principles which was
initiated by the Canadian Co-operative Association to enable
people who could not attend the ICA Centennial in Manchester
to take part in the Principles Debate.

There are also a number of FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions -
and their answers)  available on-line including a FAQ on
Worker Co-ops compiled by the Ontario Worker Co-operative
Federation (Canada) and one on Credit Unions made available by
Credit Union National Association (CUNA) of the  USA.

All of the services mentioned here and much more can be
accessed via the ICA Web Site at http://www.coop.org

Gopher Server
-------------
The University of Wisconsin Center for Co-operatives and the
ICA have set up a Co-operative Gopher server which has reached
almost 5,000 'hits' a month, i.e. the number of times the
server is interrogated for information.

The ICA/UWCC Gopher Site houses a variety of text only files
on a range of co-operative issues from the history of the
movement to topical subjects of interest to co-operators and
information on a number of co-operative organisations,
projects and activities world-wide.

The information base is constantly growing and evolving and
all co-operatives world-wide are invited to participate by
contributing information which can be sent to the ICA Head
Office, preferably on diskette in IBM compatible or Macintosh
format. Access to the information on the gopher service is
free-of-charge.

The gopher server is  available to everyone with full Internet
access as well as to organisations who do not have  browser
software. The address is :
gopher://wiscinfo.wisc.edu:70/11/.info-source/.coop

World Wide Web 
--------------
A number of co-operative organisations, including the ICA,
have recently set up Web Sites and the information base is
constantly growing.

The ICA Web Site aims to give a single logical point of entry
into the ICA information environment and also endeavours to
provide a uniform mechanism for identifying and accessing
sources of co-operative information world-wide.

The Web Pages incorporate links to the ICA/UWCC gopher and
other related sites and pages of interest. 

The information is divided in the following manner. 

Co-operative Information
------------------------
*    Information on the ICA and its Specialised Bodies
     (sectorial committees)
*    Co-operatives Definition/History/General Information
*    Information on Co-operatives by Region
*    Co-operatives Information by Economic Sector
*    Co-operative Issues
*    Co-operative Events
*    Publications on Co-operation
*    Co-operatives and the Internet (includes information on
     how to create web pages, etc.)
*    Newsgroups, Conferences and FAQs on Co-ops

Non Co-operative Information
----------------------------
*    International Organisations on the Web
*    Useful Business Information Sites

There is also a special entry point into the Co-operative
Gopher and the University of Wisconsin Center for
Co-operatives Web Site.

The ICA Site is currently in English but pages in French,
Spanish and German will soon be available.

The current pages were partially funded by the New South Wales
Registry of Co-operatives who expect  the ICA Electronic
Project will improve communication and provide further access
to resources on co-ops in their region as well as increasing
contacts with co-op organisations world-wide.

Future Projects
----------------
The ICA has plans to further its collaboration with the
University of Wisconsin Center for Co-operatives to make
various data-bases, bibliographies and library catalogues
available on-line.

We have already identified a number of data-bases to be made
available on the University Gopher Server, including the ICA
membership data-base, which is currently being set up by the
ICA Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific, the Research
Register which will be compiled by the Society for
Co-operative Studies (UK) and an HRD data-base which the ICA
Regional Office in Costa Rica will be compiling. Aline
Pawlowska, Documentation Officer at the ICA Office in Geneva,
will be co-ordinating this project and would be interested in
hearing from organisations wishing to contribute.

Besides our Web Server in Geneva, we have the offer of a Web
Site in Manchester based at the CWS offices and we hope
eventually to set up an on-line phototeque in collaboration
with  ICA members. 

We are also discussing collaboration with the University of
Leicester offering our support in advertising and making
available on the Internet their MBA (Master of Business
Administration) Distance Learning Programme in Co-op
Management. The Programme will use ICA materials when relevant
and the revenue this generates will be used to fund the
publication of research materials produced by the ICA's
Research Committee. 

ICA's European Region collaborates closely with ARIES, an
on-line information service and network for co-operatives,
mutual organisations and foundations and non-profit
organisations in Europe. ICA Europe has recently applied for
European Union funding for a project to gather statistics on
co-ops in the region which it intends to make available via
the Co-operative Gopher.

The Internet and its fast growing audience poses several
questions for organisations with a social conscience. For
example, is the Internet relevant to the poor or will it
merely increase the information gap between countries in the
North and the South?

The ICA is encouraging its regional and project offices in
Asia, Latin America and Africa to use the new technology and a
component of the ICA project aims to provide training and cost
subsidies for the ICA offices in the regions.

Our Regional Office in New Delhi will shortly have full
Internet Access (at present it has only access to E-mail) and
both this office and our regional office in Costa Rica will
start to contribute information to the Co-operative Gopher and
International Web Site in 1996. 

The office in Costa Rica is assisting in the  development of
ICA Web Pages to include information about regional projects
in Spanish and English  and possibly Portuguese, and  also
plans to create a Latin American Network of HRD experts to
help develop the HRD Strategy for Co-operatives in the
Americas. The office can provide space and assistance for
regional co-operatives which wish to obtain a presence on the
Internet. Please contact Vidal Quiros at
alianza@sol.racsa.co.cr

ICA members who wish to include a link to their own Web Pages
from the ICA Web Site should send a message to
treacy@coop.org. ICA members who wish to contribute
information to the Co-operative Gopher or to include a web
page on their organisation in the ICA Site should contact the 
ICA Communications Department.

Co-op organisations should take the necessary measures to
adapt to the new  information technology so as not to be left
behind in the newinformation age and we feel that this is an
area where we can be of service to our membership.

We fully believe that the Information Superhighway will give
organisations like ICA and its members, which have limited
resources, the means to reach a wider audience at relatively
low cost.

("In terms of global communications we now contemplate a leap
into the future. This is likely to be as great as the changes
brought about by the development of printing, the internal
combustion engine and powered flight. But it will take place
over a much shorter timescale." "We will all need a new kind
of literacy - network literacy"- Superhighway for Education, a
consultative paper on broadband  Communications HMSO (United
Kingdom)