08 February 2010

Legacoop (Italian) Visit.

On Friday Co-operatives UK received a study visit from Legacoop Emilia Romagna (A regional branch of the Italian equivalent to Co-operativesUK).

Here is a quick summary from the discussion I thought people might find interesting.

The image is of a gift we were given, manufactured by one of their worker co-operatives.

Emilia Romagna has the lowest unemployment rates in Italy and the highest GDP per capita. I wouldn't like to presume, but this might have something to do with it being one of Europe's top regions for the number of co-operatives. Just under one out of every two inhabitants are members of at least one co-operative.

Number and type of co-operatives
Sector Number Members Employees
Housing 53 118,365 205
Ago-industry 182 40,156 11,500
Manufacturing 164 9,471 19,019
Services 306 58,449 65,700
Social 183 8,414 18,500
GDO* 55 1,286,512 21,800
Retailers 18 918 15,291
Fishery 44 2,659 265
Others 183 3,915 3,779
Total 1188 1528859 156059
*Consumer retail co-op.

Impressive figures, and a good chunk of them are worker co-operatives. How do they achieve such a large co-operative economy?

They do have quite a good legislative environment, Local Government is favourable towards co-operatives and their are some tax benefits to being a co-op (see later on). The most important factor is probably a long tradition of co-operation and the co-operative infrastructure.

Legacoop is one of the the national organisations set up to unite and promote co-ops (There are Socialist, Catholic and other ones as well, its a bit messy). Legacoop has regional branches who in turn have local and sector based units below them. Legacoop performs the following roles:
  • Represent co-operatives in dealings with the authorities, other business organisations and trade unions.
  • Promotes co-operatives and their establishment and development.
  • Provide advice and puts members in contact with technical and economic support co-operatives in their regional services network.
  • Propagates the co-operative ethos in schools and universities
  • Ensures co-operative values and principles are respected and adhered to my members.
Legacoop has a regional service network, that provides advice and direct services to member co-operatives on: health & safety, employment, legal, financial, environmental etc. They have started to develop services on: quality control, innovation, internationalisation, corporate social responsibility, and change management. Wow what a list!

They specifically talked about two new projects:

Bellacoopia - Its aim is to spread co-operative culture among students in Secondary Schools. This is done primarily by creating "virtual co-operative companies". I'm guessing similar to our Young Co-operatives or the more mainstream Young Enterprise. In 2008 in ER alone they were involved in 70 schools (88 classes and 1950 students).

Generazioni - Its aim is to build permanent network among people under 42 who work in legacoop and associate co-operatives. So they can share values, experience and socialize. They also develop projects of interest to participants and put forward strategies/policies to the national association. This project was set up to deal with issues of aging co-operative personnel and build up the next generation of co-operators (could be argues we have the same issue in the UK).

I left the meeting awed by the commitment and level of development in their co-operative economy. I went away and did a bit of googling to find out more as I was interested in how they funded this amazing co-operative economy.

"Under Italian cooperative law each cooperative must pay 3% of its annual surplus into a national fund for cooperative development. This contribution is not taxed. The cooperative sector plays a role in directing funds back into the region to finance cooperative development.
Most of cooperatives also tithe part of their profits towards equity and capital pools that are available to other cooperatives in their region or other cooperatives in their trade group."

Could UK Co-operatives have this same level of commitment to solidarity and develop a co-operative economy as large? I hope so.

Further info (if you have any better please add them as comments)
University of Wisconsin Center for Cooperatives
Power Point Presentation on Emilia Romagna
Canadian summary of Emilia Romagna
The Story of Emilia Romagna (another presentation)

No comments: