Editorial (1996)

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

     (Source: Review of International Co-operation, Vol.89,
      No.2/1996, p.3-6)


The papers in this special issue are all drawn from an
excellent IcA Research Committee Conference held in Manchester
to mark the ICA's 150th anniversary. It was the last
conference organised by Sven Ake Book and was a fitting
conclusion to many years hard work, by him and by Kai
Blomqvist and the others who ably assisted him. We would like
to thank them for their work, enthusiasm and for the friendly,
informal yet effective style with which they achieved so much.

I took over as Chair of the Research Committee in Manchester,
and together with Yohanan Stryjan of Stockholm Business
School, and Lou Hammond-Ketilson of Saskatchewan University
Co-operative Centre developed a two-pronged strategy to
increase the visibility of our research findings and to
strengthen our global organisation and activities. In
discussion with Mary Treacy, Communications Director of the
ICA, we decided to do a special issue of the Review to
disseminate findings from some of the best papers at the
Manchester Research Conference. This has not been an easy task,
partly because there were about 50 papers which had to be re}d
and re-read, and secondly because there were many good ones. I
have attempted to select a reasonable spread of papers across the
globe, across sectors and across issues.

I have also tried to pick papers which have a bearing on a
wider range of sectors and countries than the specific ones
immediately addressed i.e. they address important and general
issues. Thus the ten papers chosen reflect range and variety,
and this means, unfortunately that many good ones have had to
be left out.

Although the papers were selected partly to show the diversity
of research being undertaken, I have attempted to put them
together in some order, but there are many other ways they
could have been put together. The first three are concerned
with co-operative values and factors influencing them,
including the rights and position of women in co-operatives.
The next three examine on the one hand the changing role of
the state, through privatisation, less state intervention and
a more independent co-operative sector, and on the other the way
the co-operative movement responds, including an historical
analysis of the ICA's changing international role. The final
four papers develop analyses of strategic and structural

The recent international&debates and discussions on
co-operative values and principles have been essential to
sustain co-operation in a changing global context. But their
immediate impact has been on the most active and senior
co-operators who participate in regional and international
meetings. How is the new message of co-operation to be shared
with the ordinary member? 

Communication, education and training are clearly vital, and
the ICA and national federations are} very active through their
Communications activities and Human Resource Development
programme. Corporate Governance, a current priority with ICA
Europe also has an important role to play. But a
thorough-going review of effective co-operation would also
have to rethink the co-operative nature of regular exchange and
interaction by the member with the co-operative. This is where
the first paper by Gurli Jakobsen makes a contribution. It is
based on an extremely interesting case study in Argentina, a
country with extensive co-operative experience. It explores how
"co-operation" (or the idea of being a member) is created and
reproduced on a regular basis. The outcome is that it is not
just the formal aspects of co-operation that are important (as
embodied in the co-operative principles), though important
they undoubtedly are.  But of major importance is the way in
which through members regular transactions with the
co-operative, they play out these principles, by doing their
regular activities in a mutualistic, involving and
participative way. In addition the case shows that certain
activities may be structured in a way that strengthens this
sense of mutualism and association while being more
economically efficient. Although it may not be possible for
all co-operatives to substantially restructure their
activities along similar lines, this paper puts the emphasis
firmly on thinking about how co-operation is embodied in the
regular ordinary transactions that members make with their
co-operatives. The message is clear - if people do not
reproduce co-operation regularly at that time (i.e. conduct
their regular transactions in a way that in some sense is
distinctively co-operative), then their sense of being a
member will be hollow and meaningless.

The next paper by Calvin Kangara looks at problems of
development in Africa and the role of co-operatives. But its
relevance is much wider, to all regions and communities where
social and economic development are major goals. Kangara
focuses on the links between a co-operative and the community,
and restoring that positive dynamic, the virtual circle of
community benefits/ member participation. He also point to the
need to build on indigenous models and practices of mutualism
and co-operation, and hence a more flexible bottom up approach
to defining the basis of a co-operative (or pre-co-operative).

Gender issues are becoming increasingly important within and
outside the co-operative movement, largely because of turning
democratic values into practice, but also because many people
believe that a more equal workplace} might be a better
workplace.  The paper by Lou Hammond-Ketilson is based on an
empirical study of different approaches to the involvement and
participation of women in Canada. It outlines many ways of
improving the way co-operatives respond to this important

The collapse of state-run communism in Eastern and Central
Europe, with consequent privatisation and marketisation of the
economy has dramatically changed the co-operative landscape. 
Adam Piechowski and Marian Brodzinski examine the
restructuring of Polish co-operatives which has parallels in
many Eastern European and ex Soviet bloc countries. Similar
forces are being felt, though less drastically, in most parts
of the world. An associated effect has been the
internationalisation and deregulation of markets which has led
to a reconsideration of the role of the state in the
development process. We can see this in the growth in
importance of NGOs (non-governmental organisations) and in the
state withdrawing (at least officially) from a controlling
role in many economic areas. Co-operatives in many 3rd world
countries have suffered from the heavy hand of the state,
which has often left members without much sense that they
control their own co-operatives. This paper by Krishan Taimni
address some of these issues in South Asia, by considering how
the role of the registrar of co-operatives can be adjusted to
a more limited position so that it does not hinder the
development and independence of co-operatives.

All players in a market have to adjust to or reach an
accommodation with the state (and many large players in the
private sector often appear to do rather well), but national
and international co-operative federations play a vital role

The paper by Rita Rhodes examines the historical role of the
ICA, bringing out some of the major points in her recent book
about the ICA between 1910 and 1950.

Economic power and possibly size appear important in meeting
the challenge of globalisation of markets and competition. Yet
co-operatives do not appear to engage in the same level of
merger, and take-over activity as in the private sector
(certainly as compared with the Anglo-Saxon business
world). Fortunately flexibility and partnership also have
important strategic roles in today's rapidly changing markets,
and co-operatives appear to have competitive advantages here.
Peter Normark draws on experience in Scandinavia to examine
the importance of strategic alliances and transnational
co-operation.  And Robert Schediwy documents the lessons to be
learned from the merger and collapse of Austria Konsum. 

Restructuring is one of the dominant themes of the last 10
years, and it is becoming a permanent feature of corporate
business life, partly as a response to the issues outlined
above and the increasing deregulation and reduction of
protectionism in markets. The paper by Akira Kurimoto, which
bears comparison with that of Normark, outlines the strategies
employed by consumer co-operatives in Japan, but it has
parallels in many other countries.

Yohanan Stryjan, in a thoughtful paper which draws parallels
with Apple Computers vs IBM and Microsoft, compares different
strategic models for the development of co-operatives - by
extension (developing new branches) or by proliferation
(founding new co-operatives). He argues that this also
requires consideration of the new markets where co-operatives
might flourish much more strongly if "the movement" were in a
position to reallocate resources to stimulate such
developments e.g. in the health and social care sectors (one
positive step in this direction is the new committee being
formed by the ICA in this area).

Several other important themes emerged at the Manchester
Research Conference including social audit as a way of
ensuring that progress towards co-operative goals and 
principles are regularly reviewed, both from the point of view
of providing the basis for marketing a positive image, and
from the basis of organisational learning and strategy. 
Social balance sheets have been used in France and Italy for
years but approaches are now becoming more developed towards
fuller audits of social and economic performance.

The Research Committee's next conferences are in Tartu,
Estonia and Budapest, Hungary, in September and October
respectively.  We hope these conferences will be as lively and
stimulating as usual, and welcome all new participants. We are
strengthening our committee with a new Japanese member and in
future we hope to develop regular research events globally and
regionally, that continue to address issues of concern to
members and managers.

Finally as all papers were shortened by their authors for this
special issue, I would like to thank them for their research
and for writing both papers! I would also like to thank Mary
Treacy, ICA Communications Director, for editing the papers
and putting this Special Issue together. 

Roger Spear
Chair, ICA Research Committee