Youthink! interviewed Stéphanie Guico. Stéphanie is the Program Coordinator of the Future Cooperative Leaders Program, a program created to encourage participation by young cooperative employees and leaders (between the ages of 20 and 35) during the Summit.
Youthink!: Hello Stéphanie. First, can you tell us about the journey that led you to the Summit of Cooperatives?
Stéphanie Guico: In 2008, I went to Honduras to spend several months working at a federation of agricultural cooperatives. It was there that I experienced my “cooperative awakening.” When I returned to Canada, I did a Master’s degree in cooperative enterprise management. My thesis was on the challenges with the strategic governance of multistakeholder cooperatives (link in French) in Quebec. While pursuing these studies, I joined a multistakeholder cooperative and one day received an invitation to share my views on the role of young people in the cooperative movement. A few weeks later, someone contacted me with an offer to implement the Future Cooperative Leaders project.
Youthink!: In your opinion, what makes the cooperative model more attractive than the conventional private enterprise model?
Stéphanie Guico: It should be pointed out that in places where cooperatives have been developed, the GDP and standard of living tend to be higher and the rate of unemployment lower than elsewhere. I have in mind Emilia-Romagna in Italy and Mondragon in the Basque region of Spain, among others.
My experience in Honduras made me realize that villages that had just one thriving cooperative tended to have better access to such social services as schools, clinics, playgrounds, roads, transportation, etc. Such infrastructure is built with the financial assistance of local cooperatives that reinvest a portion of their annual profit in improving living conditions in their communities.
Because of their ties to communities, cooperatives will also be less inclined to close their businesses during periods of economic crisis. A number of cooperatives choose to cut back on their production and reduce working hours, understanding that this option is better over the long term than shuttering their businesses (particularly in view of the fact that the crisis often proves to be temporary while closing a business is a permanent action). It has been observed that in the months following the 2008 economic crisis, cooperatives proved to be more resilient than private enterprises, which often decided to close their doors or move production elsewhere.
Cooperatives also provide an entrepreneurial option to young people who have difficulty finding a job. Young people therefore create their own jobs and enterprises by adopting a collective approach, pooling startup capital and working together. This is a particularly popular trend in Quebec, where many cooperatives developed in recent years are working in the less conventional sectors and are run by young people.
YT!: Can you tell us a bit about the International Summit of Cooperatives? What are its objectives?
Stéphanie: The International Summit of Cooperatives is a kind of Davos of cooperatives. It will bring together 1,500 cooperative leaders from all over the world around four themes:
- The role of cooperatives and mutuals in the global economy;
- The performance of the cooperative and mutualist business model;
- The evolution of the cooperative and mutualist business model; and
- The global sociopolitical influence of cooperatives and mutuals.
The Summit is being organized by Desjardins (a Quebec financial cooperative), the International Cooperative Alliance, and St Mary’s University in Canada, as part of the International Year of Cooperatives. The main objective is to provide information on the role of cooperatives around the world and to engage in strategic discussions with the aim of building a true movement that will foster economic and social progress.
YT!: What gave rise to the creation of the Future Cooperative Leaders Program (FCLP)?
Stéphanie: Two factors led to the creation of the FCLP. First, many cooperatives have trouble hiring replacements. Owing to a lack of information on the cooperative model, young people are rarely drawn to careers in cooperative enterprises. It is therefore important to address the issue of the inclusion of young people and to involve young people representing cooperatives in discussions.
Second, the global financial crisis raised serious questions regarding the economic model. Change is needed and we now know that the cooperative system promotes a more just and balanced economy. Young people are the ones who drive change; they are the ones who will determine the direction of the global economy. For this reason, the participation of young people in this Summit is crucial.
YT!: Who are the young people who will participate in the Summit of Cooperatives? How can someone register for the Future Cooperative Leaders Program?
Stéphanie: Cooperative leaders between the ages of 20 and 35, who are employed by or are elected officials of cooperatives may submit their candidacies for the program by April 30, 2012. They must be referred by a cooperative or second level cooperative entity. Interested persons simply need to send a short biography (200-300 words) to me at the following address: firstname.lastname@example.org
For more details on registration requirements, visit the International Summit of Cooperatives website.