February 2019 saw us deliver our flagship executive education programme in Asia for the first time. We partnered with  the CLIMBS Institute for Financial Literacy to deliver a three-day programme equipping all attendees with the skills and knowledge of how to best to lead and manage others within a cooperative context. Read more about the trip and the insights we gained in Simon's blog below.

I will never forget my trip to Manila, Philippines for so many reasons.  No least the warmth of reception we received from our hosts, CLIMBS and CIFL, the twenty-five delegates drawn from their membership, and the great support I received from my colleague Rochelle Baxter.

Philippines signed agreement with Co-operative College

The inaugural Global Cooperative Executive Masterclass, held at the Asian Institute of Management (AIM) was a great success. I hope it is the first of many delivered under the partnership agreement that was signed by Noel D. Raboy, CLIMBS/CIFL CEO, and the College.

Commitment to the cause

It would be easy to attribute the growth in the Philippine co-operative economy to the favourable tax regime that exists. Co-operatives in the Philippines are currently tax exempt, a position which is under threat and they are campaigning hard to retain. However, that would be to dismiss the extremely strong values base, centred around family and faith, which drives many of the co-operative enterprises in the Philippines and was evident in the discussions of the delegates. It would also dismiss the sense of commitment that members of co-operatives here feel to their organisation, the Flipino co-operative movement and the International Co-operative Alliance. This is perhaps best summed up in the Co-operative Pledge we were asked to take together at the beginning of the course:

As a Filipino I am and I believe in the Cooperative. Alone I am weak, but with others I am strong. So I commit myself to work to cooperate, for all to be prosperous. Harmony, industry I will value. Cooperative affairs I will attend. Responsibilities I will assume. The cooperative philosophy I will live. One vision, one belief, one feeling, in co-operativism, my life I pledge.  So help me God.

Shared Values

Co-operative Values exercise cards

We started our discussions by exploring values and trying to establish a set of five shared values from a long list of twenty-nine which would then guide the group over the coming days. Rochelle and I have run this exercise many times and it is always different and fascinating.  What came through strongly from this group was the importance of family as a value. 

Five values that delegates chose

Including family in an exercise around work based values always causes debate and I have seen the value included in individual sets of five, but I have never seen it come through to the final five for a group this big.  Not only did it make the final five, it was top! The reasoning for this was beautifully simple. There are other values included in the exercise including fairness, equality and loyalty and for this group they all fell into the category of family. Family is where they learnt these fundamental values.

What do values mean in leadership?

The group went on to explore a values based adaptive leadership model as the cornerstone of a co-operative leadership approach.  It was interesting to see the group move towards an understanding that leadership is a choice and not simply a hierarchical position.  We discussed the notion of a single hero leader with all the answers and whether such a model fits the co-operative value set and the external environments in which we operate.  The conclusion was a strong no and it was not the role model any of the delegates wanted to be.

Group discussion in Philippines

We moved on to examine ourselves as leaders and the preferences we all have when approaching leadership and life in general.  Rochelle used the MBTI tool to help build the delegates self-awareness and an understanding of those around them.  We always stress that these are preferences and that it is possible for everyone to work both with and against their preferences.  This skill matches in with the adaptive approach which we believe is critical in leading co-operatives today.  Understanding yourself and others allows us all to remove the blinkers we sometimes wear and opens our hearts and minds to others. 

Delegates doing multi-coloured glasses exercise

This is a key learning for today as we increasingly see communities across the world divided down so many lines. Harnessing the power of others rather than be frightened and suspicious of others is at the heart of our collective actions.

What a co-operative leader looks like

We finished day two with a session where the delegates pictured (literally) their ideal co-operative leader(s). The knowledge, passion and creativity in the room produced some excellent results.

Drawing of the qualities that make a great co-operative leader

I don’t think I will ever forget the one picture of two leaders identifying gender balance as a key issue and stood on the foundation of the values and principles. 

Drawing of an ideal co-operative leader

Nor will I forget the picture which showed a broken foot as a symbol that we will make mistakes but we need to learn from them and carry on. However, my personal favourite, which may be hard to see from the picture below, was the line that as co-operative leaders “we are so transparent you can see our underwear!”

Delegates drawing of ideal co-operative leader

We recognise the need for leaders to build a healthy balance of knowledge, skills and values.  We spent our final session using what we had learnt to support each other in thinking through the leadership challenges we face.

Flipchart with notes on leadership challenges

Perhaps unsurprisingly there was considerable overlap with the leadership challenges faced by those in the Philippines with those challenges I believe leaders of the co-operative movement here in the U.K. face. They grouped together under the three main headings below:

1. National Call to Action

There was a strong sense in the room that co-operation amongst co-operatives (Principle 6) needed to improve so that collectively the movement could lobby congress (Government) and ensure that the regulatory environment for co-operatives was enabling.

Flipchart with notes about call to action

This same co-operation was also needed around establishing a common brand for co-operatives in the Philippines and to drive a national public awareness campaign. The Filipino movement seems committed to using the Co-op Marque and driving a common approach to awareness raising.

2. Leader education

There was a lot of talk about Millennials and the next generation of co-operative leaders and the challenge around recruiting, developing and retaining them. Being able to show them that there was the ability to have a successful career, which made a difference to the communities around them, and that they would be supported to develop themselves seemed key.

3. Member Education

Again attracting the new generation of members was seen as a challenge.  It was felt that reminding them of the history of the individual co-operatives and the history of the movement and the differences made were important aspects of member engagement.  There was also a strong sense that members who were elected as directors needed more learning and development, particularly around the values based leadership approach, to support them in their role.

To teach is to learn twice

My big piece of learning from the course was that a strong sense of family values, coupled with a commitment to our wonderful cause should be the starting point for us all. 

Group photos of Philippines delegates and trainers

The organisations we lead and the environments in which they operate in will vary enormously, but if we hold on to our values and are prepared to see the value which others bring we can make a huge difference to the lives of the members we are all here to serve.