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What did the United Nations Cooperative Year achieve?

2 January 2013

Shaun Tarbuck, Chief Executive, of ICMIF, the voice of the world's cooperative and mutual insurance sector, analysed the achievements of the International Year of Cooperatives and highlighted that the movement is more unified after the celebration of the year, and this is crucial for the dream of a cooperative decade.

By Shaun Tarbuck, Chief Executive, ICMIF, December 20, 2012

To be perfectly frank we started this year as a disparate cooperative movement that rarely cooperated and didn’t therefore move our sector forward. But fast-forward a mere 12 months and now we find our movement more unified, more determined to cooperate and more motivated to grow.

Yes, that might be a rather inward looking conclusion to what was meant to be an externally focused United Nations year, but it is my belief that a unified cooperative movement can achieve anything. And after a lot of hard work from around the world, it is most satisfying to be able to say with confidence that the cooperative goal set at the beginning of this year to be ‘the fastest growing form of business enterprise by 2020’ now seems achievable.

A Growing Spirit of Cooperation

I have just completed an interview with a journalist who wanted to know whether we as a sector are adhering to the cooperative principle number six – that of cooperatives cooperating with one another. I proudly answered that yes they definitely are. The journalist then challenged me by saying should coops dogmatically stick to this principle even when it is not in the interests of their members? I explained that coops are invariably in the top quartile of services in all industries because they are professionally run. This is not something I would have been comfortable saying 20 or even 10 years ago – but now it’s a fact. So with this knowledge there really aren’t any too many reasons why cooperatives and mutuals shouldn’t seek each other out when establishing their supply chains and partnerships.

Influencing Global Policymakers

The externalisation of our cooperative message also took a giant leap forward over the course of this year. Dame Pauline Green led the way by talking to key policymakers at the United Nations Assembly, The White House (USA), The Great Hall of the People (China), The World Bank (Japan), The European Commission, The African Council of Ministers and several other national parliaments. This was a fantastic achievement in the year but there is a long way still to go before these key policymakers invite coops to the top decision-making tables such as the G20 and we all need to get behind Pauline and champion our cause.

Externalising the Message

The media will play a vital role in raising our profile and we have had significant breakthroughs this year in the ‘serious’ business media, featuring on national radio and TV in several countries and in the Economist and the Financial Times on more than one occasion. In fact ICMIF was featured in the Financial Times only last week when it published an article based on our in-house ICMIF research about the growth of the mutual insurance sector since the financial crisis.

The other key to externalising the cooperative message is validation from respected business organisations. So the multitude of research reports from the likes of McKinsey, A.M. Best, Deloittes, PwC, Ipsos, Willis, and the academic reports from leading universities like Oxford and the many reports from government think tanks and policy groups all assist in putting our business model firmly on the map and at the forefront of people’s minds. There is now a tremendous amount of data, research and books on the cooperative business model – a great achievement in just one year.

Summing Up The Year

Ban Ki-Moon the UN Secretary General did us no harm when he said in his address at the closing of the year: “By emphasising core values, cooperatives help advance a vision that embraces social objectives into the business model.”

It is my belief that a unified cooperative movement can achieve anything.

The CEO of Mutuo, Peter Hunt, who spoke at our Manchester Conference last year, summed up the movement’s feelings at the Mutuo conference last month, under the banner of ‘A Mutual Revolution’ he said: “A new awareness is now emerging of the importance of spreading risk to economies by ensuring the presence of plurality business types. This issue is no longer the preserve of the co-operative zealot, but has attracted the attention of mainstream business as mutuals have continued to grow and strengthen in the teeth of an economic downturn.”

I think these two quotes sum up the year’s achievements nicely and the Blueprint for a Co-operative Decade laid out what the cooperative movement needs to do to turn an excellent year into a fantastic decade. ICMIF members are already playing their part in making the Blueprint an economic reality as they continue to lead the insurance sector in growth and best practices.

I personally will go into the holiday season knowing we did our best and that the UN Year of Cooperatives will be held up as a best practice example among ‘UN International Years’. I hope you all have a well-earned break and come back in the New Year full of vigour and enthusiasm to continue to build on the excellent platform we have built for our sector

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