DUBLIN -- Iain MacDonald's main job as director-general of the International Co-operative Association (ICA) based in Geneva, Switzerland, is to clarify the differences between co-operatives and business. He complained that the sector is mainly ignored by the media.
Co-operatives he told the audience are people who come together voluntarily for their mutual benefit and adhere to a set of principles, which includes democratic control. Those principles that the ICA promote are no different than credit union principles: self-help, responsibility, democracy, equality, equity, and solidarity.
ICA is the largest nongovernmental organization in the world with 226 national members and organizations. They cover areas such as insurance, fishing, agriculture, and banking. They have consultative status to the United Nations. WOCCU is one of their member organizations.
He sees co-operatives as the best way to alleviate poverty. Co-operatives, he made clear, aren't tiny little operations put together by the poor, although the poor often benefit from forming co-operatives. "Co-operatives like credit unions provide over 100 million jobs worldwide, 20% more than the multi-nationals," he said. In Denmark, they make up 37% of the market, in Switzerland 50% and in Japan 91%.
Despite their strength, he said co-operatives are threatened by some of the "Neo-Liberal Economists." He lauded the rising development of co-operatives in places like Venezuela and other Latin American countries, where the application of co-operative principles are returning power to the people.
He encouraged credit union people to work with their governments to see how co-operatives benefit their societies, not just the poor, but the entire country.
He encouraged the adoption of the .coop for the Internet. Coop stands for cooperating out of poverty, he said.