The participants range from university professors to co-op developers; the topics from co-op governance and sustainability reporting to the integration of co-op education into the curriculum of business schools. Although Canadians and Americans make up the bulk of the people who are gathering in Montreal this week to attend the Co-operating for Change in the International Year of Co-operatives conference, others come from as far away as Italy, the U.K., Israel, Korea and Thailand. A special guest at the conference is ICA director-general Charles Gould, who will be part of a public policy panel on Wednesday and a speaker at the conference's closing reception at Montreal City Hall that evening.
While the attendance list is diverse, the message is clear: there needs to be more research and education about co-ops. And what better time to talk about this than the International Year of Co-operatives.
The Montreal conference is the result of the coming together of a number of organizations dedicated to co-operative education and research: the Canadian Association for Studies in Co-operative (CASC), the U.S.-based Association of Co-operative Educators (ACE) , the International Co-operative Alliance's research committee and several other co-op research networks. While these organizations normally meet separately, the joint event was planned specifically to celebrate the International Year.
The conference opened with a keynote presentation by Linda Shaw, vice-principal of the Manchester-based Co-operative College, who talked about both the challenges and opportunities facing co-operative researchers in the United Kingdom. A lot of heads nodded as cited such challenges as uncertain funding, the relative invisibility of co-ops within many academic disciplines and and a lack of concrete evidence to make the case for co-ops -- issues that are common to the co-op research communities in many countries. At the same time, Dr. Shaw cited such trends as a renewed interest in agriculture and food security and a recognition of co-operatives by such international financial institutions as the World Bank as providing new opportunities for the pursuit of co-op research.
The opening plenary was followed by a full day of panels, roundtables and workshops on a wide range of topics: co-op models, Fair Trade, education initiatives, and co-operative governance, to name only a few. And the day ended up with a banquet and the presentation of awards: to l'Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM)-- the conference venue and a major player in co-op and social economy research -- co-op educator Kerr Smith, who developed a co-op curriculum for high school students; and UQAM professor Marie Bouchard, credited with her efforts to bring together the French- and English-speaking research communities. An award also went to Desjardins Group, the co-operative financial group that will host the International Summit of Cooperatives in Quebec City in October.
The conference will end on Wednesday with tours of local co-ops and the City Hall reception,which also marks the beginning of a second co-op gathering, the joint Congress of Canada's two national co-operative associations, the Canadian Co-operative Association (CCA) and the Conseil canadien de la coopération et de la mutualité (CCCM).