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“Our role is to remain a large and huge massive network of local, autonomous, member-owned, sustainable enterprises across the world”

31 May 2012

Interview to ICA President Dame Pauline Green.

Dame Pauline Green has been part of the Cooperative Movement for more than three decades. In November 2009, she was elected President of the ICA for a four-year period, being the first ever woman president of this organization. In this role, she has travelled the world working on the promotion and defense of cooperatives. From Panama, where she is attending the II Cooperative Summit of the Americas, she gave an exclusive interview to aciamericas.coop. During the interview, we could discover Pauline Green is a very strong and inspiring woman, willing to continue learning about the power of cooperation.

How do you feel about being here in Panama, taking part in the II Cooperative Summit of the Americas?

This has been a great event actually. The programme is really innovative. What I love about this II Summit is that the cooperators who came are so full of energy and enthusiasm and interested I’ve found it very invigorating. The debates have been great and I think that it´s a really stimulating environment.

Have you identified the key areas where there is still more work to do?

I think the world is in a very fast moving changing environment. If you think about what’s happening around the world; if you think about the difficulties in the economy, the real destruction amongst many of the young people whose lives have been devastated by recession and the financial collapse; if you think about the fast moving technology which is changing the world as we know it and then this old issue of climate change. It is a very strange and confusing time in which the world is going through. So, It´s vital that we keep ahead of the game and one of the things that I think the co-op movement needs to concentrate on is that this is the moment in our history where we have a wonderful opportunity to try to demonstrate the value of the cooperative difference. That we are people-centred businesses and we put people at the heart of decision making.

This is a good message and a good time to give it out. One of the problems is that we are not very good at using yet well enough the social media and networking so we can get that core message out to the people who need to hear it. The people who are demonstrating in the Occupy Movement, the youngsters that are out on the streets in North Africa and Middle East arguing for a fairer society, a freer society; a society that will allow them to engage and have some impact.

And the way they communicate is through twitting, blogs, Facebook, all of those social media and networks at what a lot of us older people are not so good at. So we need to activate young people and say “Get out there and put your hundred and forty characters about what´s good about the coop movement out on your twit, let´s do it, and make sure that our message is spreading across the world virally through social media”. And we need to do it because this is 2012, the International Year of Cooperatives, and if ever there was a time to be ambitious and believe that what we can do really makes a difference in the world, this is it, the moment is right. The situation economically and politically is right, the situation in terms of technology is right and young people is in the right mood to listen to us, to our message, we´ve just got to let it out.

Yesterday during you key speech in the opening of the II Cooperative Summit you talked about the importance of being global. Do you think that regional and cultural differences are a hindrance or strength to the co-op movement?

The cultural, linguistic and religious differences are strengths to us and not a weakness. We have to persuade those in power that the economy that has become the dominant economy has let us all down. And it´s not just a matter of working until we can get it back to like it used to be, because we know it cannot work. It will fail again and will shock even more lives. What we need to do is to persuade people that there is another way to run the economy, there is another way to put people right at the center of decision making. Actually, the economy is there to serve humankind. It´s not the other way round and we´ve lost that understanding about what’s the economy for, what we make money for.

We are making money to try to make people’s lives easier and better, and to give children opportunities. So, I think our role is to remain a large and huge massive network of local, autonomous, member-owned, sustainable enterprises across the world. The impact we have already on the world is absolutely massive with the largest 300 co-operatives, alone, turnover some 1.6 trillion US dollars, equivalent to the GDP of the world’s 9th largest economy, a movement owned by a billion people across the globe and employing 100 million people, which is more than all the multinationals put together, that makes us big now. The trouble is that people don´t perceive us as big, they see as us as some little sort business in the corner somewhere. But, in fact, we are massive and that´s the message that needs to go out.

What are the highlights of the IYC, which things are you proud of that have happened during the first half of the year?

This first six months are characterized by the brilliant way that the movement across the world is coming together to celebrate this International Year of Cooperatives. Everywhere I´ve been in (and I´ve been in all the continents) they are celebrating the IYC as we wanted them to do it. Because the one thing that ICA asked is that members should have as many events as they like but using the IYC slogan and logo, making it very visible so people can see the rich of the movement all across the world, and that’s really working well.

From Panama City, Virginia Pérez Auza, ICA-Americas