So how many co-ops are there worldwide? The answer is around 1.4 million. Those businesses in turn are owned by around one billion members.
The UK may have invented the modern co-operative, in Rochdale, or some would argue in Fenwick – although mutuality itself is many centuries older – but we also invited football and, like that, other nations are far better at it than we.
In Finland, the co-operative sector is said to account for 21% of GDP, in Switzerland 16% and in Sweden 13%. In New Zealand the largest business, Fonterra, is a co-op.
The largest co-op in the world is Zenkyoren, the National Mutual Insurance Federation of Agricultural Cooperatives in Japan.
It is not a household name, is it? But it is in Japan, with an annual turnover of sixty three billion dollars – around four times the size of the Co-operative Group or the John Lewis Partnership here.
We are seeing an increase in community co-ops here in the UK, whether saving pubs by buying them in co-operative form or generating renewable energy.
But if you think co-op, don’t necessarily think small.
According to Euricse and the International Co-operative Alliance, there are around 2,900 co-operatives aross 76 countries worldwide with over $100 billion of turnover – collectively accounting for a co-operative economy of around 2,950.82 billion US dollars.
Agriculture, retail, financial services, health are all areas of relative strength.
Can co-operatives and mutuals win out? Well in some areas, they are winning out already. In insurance, for example, ICMIF reports that the market share has increased from 23% in 2007 to 27% today.
Growth in the co-operative economy though is not necessarily about turnover growth, GDP or an improvement in business numbers. It is also about the expansion in member participation and greater co-operation among co-operative enterprises, in line with democratic values.
Even so, we have a way to go. The co-operative sector accounts overall for less than 2% of UK gross domestic product. Our goal is to change that and to make co-operatives a critical mass in the economy, forming at least 10% of GDP, focusing on the private sector rather than looking to dismantling the public.
The impact of having 10% of GDP generated through co-operative activity has a significant set of wider social and economic benefits – with higher employment and lower carbon intensity. An example of the ‘co-operative effect’ is around Bologna and the surrounding Emilia Romagna province. his has the highest density of co-operatives in Europe, generating close to 40% of GDP and is the region of Europe with the lowest social-economic inequality between the rich and the poor.
Video – http://www.uk.coop/resources/impact-video-2015