I’ve recently become Member #244 of the Co-operative College.  The concept of the College resonates with my belief that a co-operative world is a better and fairer world, but that we can only achieve this ambition if the co-operative business model is understood, giving people the opportunity to choose cooperatives above shareholder owned enterprises.

The conference

Attending the 4th Annual Co-operative Education & Research Conference in Manchester on 1 -2 May was a perfect opportunity for me to meet fellow co-operators and learn how this member-led organisation was adapting to its new structure, its relationship with its growing membership, as well as learning a thing or two!  I attended with an open mind.  I admit I was a little nervous about the programme, with its researchers and authors. I thought it would all be a little too much like being back in the classroom.  I needn’t have worried; the practical workshops were an ideal opportunity to learn new skills and network.


With the College’s Centenary on the horizon (2019) it’s important that it looks to its past in order to build for the future and define its commercial offer.  The 5th Co-operative Principle is a perfect place to start - Education, training and Information: co-operatives provide education and training for their members, elected representatives, managers, and employees so they can contribute effectively to the development of their co-operatives. They inform the general public - particularly young people and opinion leaders - about the nature and benefits of co-operation.


The importance of co-operative education

The conference sought to examine what different skills co-operators would require in the 21st Century, and how we will respond to the “extraordinary technology-driven changes” impacting on how we live, communicate and work today.  The first day’s programme was headlined by Ariel Guarco, the recently appointed Argentinian President of the International Co-operative Alliance.  I was spellbound!  Here was a man explaining, in English, why co-operative education was so vital:

  • 280 million people (10% of the worlds employed population) “worked in or within the scope of co-ops”
  • 1 million people are worker-owned partners

Ariel explained that co-operative educational institutions have the prospect of offering an ‘alternative’ for those working in other types of business, providing opportunities for these workers to harness the new information and communication technologies to build a better and fairer world for everyone.

A slide about the role of co-operative education

Co-operative Pedagogy

Bruno Roelants, the newly appointed Director-General of the International Co-operative Alliance closed the first day of the conference.  He had been in this new role for less than a month and his passion for the history of the sector was infectious, and he even helped me understand “cooperative pedagogy”!

A timeline of co-operative pedagogy

What was clear to me was that we’re part of a movement that has so much more to offer.  As a College, and Co-operative University, we have a unique opportunity to craft our own special place into cooperative pedagogy, to educate and train more people than ever before under the banner of ‘co-operation’, and to help build communities improving the lives of ordinary folk. 

The College was so fortunate to have secured such a high-profile presence. Collectively, Bruno and Ariel have over 50 years’ experience within the co-operative movement, and it is their ability to share their experiences and deep understanding of the sector that makes this new ICA ‘double-act’ a force for good.  There are exciting times ahead for co-operative education and training and, hopefully, we are pushing at an open door.  

Nicola and Ariel Guarco smiling