Kathy Bardswick is participating in the International Summit of Cooperatives because…“It is a once in a lifetime opportunity, given this very special year, to bring best practices back to my co-operative to ensure a healthy and dynamic future for the co-operative form of business”.
As a member of the ICA's Board of Directors, we ask Kathy Bardswick* what the ICA intends to do to support the objectives of the Summit and about her perception of the cooperative movement in Canada.
While 2012 may mark the International Year of Cooperatives, everyone agrees that the task of raising the cooperative model's profile has only just begun. As a member of the ICA's Board of Directors, can you tell us what the ICA intends to do to support the objectives of the International Year of Cooperatives beyond 2012?
IYC 2012 will only be truly successful if the co-operative system worldwide uses this tremendous gift to increase the visibility and support of co-operatives long term. What this requires is the implementation of key initiatives during the year that will have lasting effect for decades to come resulting in the co-operative model of business becoming the fastest growing form of business by 2020. The ICA board has undertaken a number of board initiatives to support the achievement of this objective. First, it has implemented internal structural and organizational changes to ensure a strong and vibrant ICA organization. It has led the development of an international co-operative fund to provide support to worldwide co-operative development. It has established a number of key partnerships and alliances to advocate for stronger and more effective co-operative legislation around the world, and it has taken and will continue to take every opportunity it can to tell our story. Finally, and most importantly, it is currently engaging its membership to develop a strategy to be endorsed by the full delegation in the fall 2012 which will outline the key areas of strategy and focus for ICA in the coming years. This strategic framework will provide the key priorities for IYC to ensure we do achieve our long term objectives.
You are a prominent figure in English-speaking Canada's cooperative movement. Do you think there are any differences in the way cooperation is perceived in Western Canada compared to Eastern Canada, including Quebec? If yes, what might those differences be?
Canada is a wonderful country, one that has its citizens share common values and principles that are demonstrated in our commitment to national programs such as universal access to health care and commitment to education, and yet one where our citizens represent a diverse collection of cultures, experiences, and histories. Our country is large geographically as well representing vast beauty and a diverse reality related to living conditions, economic environments and opportunities. I don't see much difference when it comes to our co-operative system in Canada. We share our core principles. We share a desire to provide Canadian communities with alternative forms of business to meet their needs. Yet we have diverse backgrounds, histories, and environments within which we function. As a result, some areas of the country, Quebec in particular, enjoy stronger public and government support while other areas struggle more significantly. The credit union system in the west is generally much better known than that of Ontario as an example. No matter where you are in Canada though, what I have found is that, once people understand and experience co-operatives, they become positively oriented to continuing to do business with co-operatives.
How can cooperatives across Canada join forces to promote the development and influence of the cooperative model?
The three most significant initiatives we could all undertake as co-operatives to better promote ourselves would be to first, ensure that we spend the time necessary to educate our staff and members about who we are, secondly, to declare our co-operative nature in our public branding and communications, and finally to use and support each other's businesses. It seems to be that we have hidden our co-operative identities to our detriment over the years. We don't focus enough on our unique nature and hold that out publicly enough in our communications strategies. We don't support each other enough, promoting each others' products and services, and we certainly don't spend enough time making sure our staff truly understand our unique form of business. Too often even our managers don't really understand our unique nature. These are not new thoughts. I know we have often referenced these challenges.
As one of the outcomes of the International Summit of Cooperatives, participants will be asked to adopt a common declaration. What is the one key point you would like to see included?
A common declaration.....this is a tough question. I want us to become much more forceful and demanding of ourselves and our governments to hold up the co-operative model as a legitimate, proven and highly successful form of business that is desperately needed in our world., one that truly incorporates the concept of sustainable, responsible, ethical business practice in everything we do. I want us to be increasingly recognized as a critically important solution to the serious challenges facing humanity. I want all stakeholders to embrace us as part of the solution; our education systems, our political and legislative structures, our communities at large, media, and our own system. I truly look forward to a declaration that is passionate and energizing not only for those who are already committed to the co-operative form of enterprise but to those who are not yet.
*Kathy Bardswick is President and Chief Executive Officer of The Co-operators Group Limited in Guelph, Ontario, since 1978. She is also a board member of Addenda Capital Inc. and was a member of the executive committee of The Conference Board of Canada from 2004 to 2011. She serves as Chair of the International Cooperative and Mutual Insurance Federation and Vice-Chair of the University of Guelph's Board of Governors. She is currently a member of the ICMIF Executive. She is also a board member of the International Co-operative Alliance (ICA).