Movement must build on its good reputation
Community and solidarity are two words associated with the co-operative movement by members and non-members around the world, but a recent study shows more has to be done to get out the message.
Community and solidarity are two words associated with the co-operative movement by members and non-members around the world.
A 2012 study from global research group IPSOS, which interviewed people in five cities across five continents to find out the true perception of the movement, produced other positive words, such as profit sharing, ownership, sharing and mutual aid.
But the focus groups also showed frustration at being unable to identify co-operatives. "Many participants feel as though they do not hear about co-operatives, either in the media or in their social circles," said the report.
Stéphane Bertrand, executive director of the International Summit of Cooperatives, which commissioned the research, said: "Compared to traditional businesses, no one is really talking about co-operatives, even though the movement as a whole represents a big and powerful segment of the global economy. And it's growing."
The report added: "Many participants felt that co-operatives have been timid about marketing themselves as co-operatives. They agree that the model is one with strong appeal, but stated that they have not heard enough about how it works, or even which organisations are co-operatives.
"They want to hear more communication and more specifics on how these co-operatives ensure that the way they operate is distinct from traditional enterprises so that the true benefit of the model becomes clear to all."
Charles Gould, director-general of the International Co-operative Alliance, said: "People recognise that co-operatives have a higher purpose than maximising profits, but they have an antiquated view of a co-operative.
"They believe that they are small, rural-based organisations with few members. They believe that they do not invest in research and development or in marketing. They therefore worry that they will have to make sacrifices if they engage with a co-operative. People in these focus groups had not heard much about co-operatives and they wonder why. They would like to understand the true benefit. They are willing to hear more. There is a great opportunity to get out our message."
This problem, added Mr Gould, highlights the need for the movement to promote the co-op identity - one of the reasons why the ICA commissioned the COOP marque for use by all co-operatives. He said the ICA wanted to build on the widespread use of the logo behind the International Year.
"The adoption of the International Year logo was a great success in elevating public awareness that co-ops are found in all sectors," he said. "Now we have developed our own new visual identity. We have to work together to create a powerful sense of shared identity that is universally recognised."