OCHO RIOS, St Ann — The world's 300 largest co-operatives had an annual turnover of US$1.6 trillion ($140 trillion) last year, matching Canada's, says the head of the International Co-operative Alliance (ICA).
The economic clout of the movement is so significant that governments around the world should pay more attention, said Charles Gould, the alliance's director general.
"We need to make the case over and over again to global and national decision-makers that we can no longer depend on one dominant model of business," he said, referring to shareholder capitalism.
"We need a more balanced and a more sustainable economic model and the co-operative model is a sustainable part of that solution," he told Jamaican members of co-operatives and societies at a symposium in St Ann on Wednesday. "It has reach in every corner of the world."
The association wants the co-operative model to be promoted equally with the shareholder model, recognising its unique legal and financial framework.
Co-operatives are making a difference in their communities and having an impact around the world, he said. Local cooperatives have demonstrated vision and commitment towards building sustained organisations at the community level despite harsh economic times.
"These messages of community, entrepreneurship, impact, relevancy, solution, training, sharing, learning, inter-cooperation, these are the themes that have informed ICA's messages," he said. "And it's the demonstration of these themes in co-operative organisation that has inspired our confidence in the future of the co-operative model."
Although the systemic uncertainty that exists today is abnormal, it is not the first such period in history. And challenging economic times have in the past seen co-operatives grow at faster than usual rates.
The association, which represents co-operatives in 100 countries with a combined membership of about one billion worldwide, including Jamaica, is focused during this decade on building on its global brand.
The goal is to make co-operatives the fastest growing form of enterprise by the end of the decade, he said.
"We want to help shape a new paradigm and not leave it for others to shape. We are doing that by focusing on the message that co-operative is a new, successful, value space, scalable, enterprise model where members have a meaningful voice," he said.
The challenge that co-operatives are likely to face in coming years is to make people in decision-making positions aware of the scope of the organisations, its impact and capacity to do even more.
"The ICA believes that the global co-operative brand should be strong and the stronger that is the more it rebounds to the benefit of our members and so our goal is to strengthen understanding of and appreciation for that co-operative identity and that co-operative brand," Gould said.
The two-day symposium and exhibition at Sunset Jamaica Grande Resort in St Ann was organised by the Department of Co-operatives and Friendly Societies in collaboration with TIP Friendly Societies.