This document has been made available in electronic format by the International Co-operative Alliance (ICA) 

Principles to Practice : From Manchester to Seoul through Jaipur (1998)
 

Dec., 1998
(Source: Co-op Dialogue, Vol. 8, No. 3, Oct.-Dec., 1998, pp. 17-20)
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The Asia Pacific region of the ICA confronts the challenge of how to apply the values, concepts and principles of the ICA Identity Statement to the every-day activities of the regionís co-operatives. Having participated in two other meetings concerned generally with the issue in this region, I want to say how much I have learned from the discussions. As you will see, it has profoundly affected how I think about the subject, and for that I am most grateful.

I will begin by making a few observations about the context of our discussions as I view it. The Identity Statement was a necessary step so that the international movement could clearly establish its unique role.

Broadly speaking, that was necessary for three reasons. First, the need to project, not least to co-operative leaders and members but also others, most particularly government officials, a clear understanding of the nature of co-operative uniqueness. Second, it was necessary to distinguish co-operatives clearly from the private sector. Third, it was important that co-operatives have a clear understanding of their uniqueness so they could broaden out or leverage their influence, not only with each other, but also, with appropriate safeguards, with other organisations, public and private.

As the process for creating the Identity Statement gathered momentum, it was recognized that it was only a step. The next step would be to consider what the implications were for organisations that took seriously the mandate inherent in the Statement. Originally, it was envisioned that that step would be taken through the development of statements of operating principles for the various sectors. That was the way in which it was originally conceived co-operatives could move from principles to practice. A few sectors, most notably the co-operative housing sector, did develop such principles, but the majority did not, meaning that discussions about the appropriate operation of co-operatives in light of the Identity Statement have developed in various ways around the movement.

One can carry out those discussions using one of several vantage points, such as members, government relations and capital formation. In the Asia Pacific Region, the starting point for the development of appropriate practice has become concentrated upon the importance of values-based professional management. This is an understandable and important focus, given the perennial and immediate challenges confronting co-operatives.

The contemporary economic stresses impose major challenges upon the co-operatives in this region as in other regions. The increasing competition from the private sector and the liberalisation of government economic policies affect the ways in which co-operatives carry out their businesses; as a result, the need for stronger, more effective, management is abundantly clear. It is an appropriate emphasis deserving of widespread support.

I will, therefore, do my best, to describe what I think values-based professional management entails. In doing so, I will be building upon the discussion which began in Jaipur and from which I have gleaned so much.

At Jaipur I proposed that, as part of a broader understanding of the dynamics typical of co-operative organisations, that co-operatives, in general, carried out their activities primarily in certain spheres of activity over which they had considerable control. At that time, I thought there were three spheres, but I came to realize from the discussions that we had and from other conversations since, that there really are five that deserve to be emphasized. They are: member relations, community, state, structure and management.

For me, 'co-op managementí as a field of practice should refer to the overall co-ordination of initiatives in all five of these spheres, but, at that level, it is a subtle and complex form of activity involving not only professional managers but also the entire control structure of the co-op: in other words, the elected leadership, members and employees all of whom should play important roles in contributing to the health of the organisation. It is in this broad realm of management that the most obvious questions related to co-operative values most readily appear. I will return to this broader notion of management later.

The other dimension of management consists of the mobilisation of resources so that a co-op can be a steadily improving warrior in what the ICA President, Roberto Rodriques, refers to as the Third World War, the unfolding war for markets.

This is a war co-ops must win in their own special way; this is the war in which the professionalism of co-op managers will be most seriously tested and most urgently required.

I would hasten to add, however, that a mere replication of professional management in the private sector will not ultimately meet all the tests: perhaps ultimately what we need to fashion is a kind of professional co-op manager.

In fact, to put the point another way, I think it is important for the movement - and I have already heard some discussion of it - to consider the three dimensions of the focus in this region: ëvalues-basedí, ëprofessionalí and management. None is as easily defined as one might at first think; each is susceptible to narrow and narrowing definitions. It would be unfortunate if all three were not considered within co-operative ways of knowing, if they became little more than echoes of what is the conventional wisdom of our main competitors.

Let me turn, then, to a few thoughts upon how to move from principles to practice. It seems to me that there are some best practices by which to make that journey. They are as follows.

Move from the Identity Statement to practice, not the easiest route, but the one that best ensures a seamless garment stretching over the essential co-operative body of linking thought with action.

Recognize the inherent strength of the principles: they are guides as well as measuring sticks.

Recognize that the Identity Page really affirms the validity of ësituationalí as well as absolute objectives. For me the most important point is that co-operatives are ultimately pragmatic organisations in which the normal process is to identify where you are, compare that with where you want to be, and then take steps to achieve your goals in a organized, deliberate fashion. That approach has particular applicability when co-operatives are attempting to become more professional in their operations and attempt to apply systematically the values basic to the movement.

Adapt what you can from the private and the public sector but always within the mindset and outlooks typical of co-operative organisations.

Turning now to each of the spheres, I would like to highlight what I think are best practices. You will appreciate that the ideas I put forward are general.

It is my hope that they will be useful to you as you consider how your organisation and movement seek to implement the directions indicated by the Identity Statement.

Members
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Community
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State
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Structure
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The structures we create to serve members directly or co-operatives generally are means; they are not ends. It is inevitable and usually healthy when co-operatives reorganize so as to meet needs in a better way. Communication revolutions, better managerial practice, population shifts, technological innovation, rationalisation of services - these and so many other factors make it necessary to reorganize co-operative structures. We should not shrink from these changes if the result is a better organisation, better able to serve its members and with a better chance of a more promising future.