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Connexus : Issue 42
The 2012 International Year of Cooperatives has put the sheer scale of the movement in the spotlight and illuminated the future path of progress. With more than a billion members, cooperatives employ about 100 million people around the world. Yet getting the message out about the benefts of membership continues to be a challenge. Melina Morrison, director of Australia's secretariat for the event, says there is still low public awareness of their role, even though the total number of members across the nation – about 13.5 million – is almost double the number of individual company shareholders. The international year, designated by the United Nations to recognise the contribution cooperatives make to economic and social development, has gone some way to help. "The movement -- internationally and nationally -- took the opportunity to fnally blow their tr umpet and say what they are doing for communities.” The mood for change Social media has played a big part. An event in the United States (Bank Transfer Day) and another in the United Kingdom (Move Your Money) prompted hundreds of thousands of people to abandon the banks and move to credit unions and community development fnance institutions. Bigger and better Cooperatives around the world are joining forces to tap into consumer demand for more ethical business behaviour. BY CAMERON COOPER "They captured a community sentiment, which was about people disgruntled with investor-owned banks,” says Morrison. Abacus also took advantage of the International Year of Cooperatives Day on 7 July 2012 to celebrate the strength of the nation’s fnancial cooperative businesses. Other Australian initiatives last year included issuing a stamp and coin series -- the only UN member nation to do so -- and the creation of platfor ms for coop case studies, networking and online resources. "But, most importantly, we mapped the sector for the frst time and we have the beginnings of a national council for member-owned businesses in the process of forming,” says Morrison. A public attitude survey as part of the mapping report reveals that Australians value the business approaches of cooperatives, which number about 1,600 across the country. However, while 79 per cent of Australians are currently involved as members of customer owned organisations, including roadside assistance groups, superannuation funds and mutual banks; only 16 per cent of people can name a cooperative or customer owned organisation. Something different With an eye on the future, Morrison says there are moves to create a national council by the middle of this year, representing the "broad church" of member-owned businesses in the national economy. "As an international movement, we’ve also identifed that marketing the cooperative business model is a major issue that needs to be addressed collaboratively.” She hopes such actions will attract the rapidly increasing number of consumers who are looking for conscious capitalism and more ethical business behaviour. "We are the businesses that have been combining social purpose and successful commercial activity for the last couple of hundred years,” says Morrison. “We need to join up consumers with the businesses that actually deliver what they’re asking for.” Cameron Cooper is a freelance writer. Marketing the cooperative business model is a major issue that needs to be addressed collaboratively. NEWS www.abacus.org.au 21