International Co-operative Governance

Symposium Theme: Governance in Co-operatives - Participatory, People-Centred, Democratic

Engage in an interactive symposium as part of a multi-year initiative, grounded in research and focused on elevating the understanding and practice of governance in co-operatives. 


About the Symposium

This International Co-operative Governance Symposium was an interactive and participatory gathering of governance professionals, experts, and researchers from various countries. This was not a large, “talking head” style conference as most attendees were direct contributors to at least one of the sessions during the Symposium.

These few days were an opportunity to think deeply about governance systems that are fit for co-operatives. Participants learned from each other about new and different frameworks and practices that focus on the participatory, people-centred, democratic, and jointly-owned nature of co-operatives with the objective of maintaining and enhancing co-operative health.

The International Centre for Co-operative Management (ICCM) hosted a symposium on governance in 2013 and since then we have been engaged in various initiatives, including an International Co-operative Alliance’s (ICA) report on Co-operative Governance Fit to Build Resilience in the Face of Complexity. Presently, ICCM is collaborating on a research project through 2022 on co-operative governance with colleagues at the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven (KU Leuven) and with funding support from FWO Belgium (SBO project S006019N). The International Co-operative Governance Symposium is made possible with financial assistance from the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency's (ACOA) Atlantic Policy Research Initiative (APRI Project No. 217990).

Symposium Context

Governance in any type of organization is not a “one size fits all”. The best co-operative governance evolves and is dependent on the situation - co-operative type, culture, country, sector, economic, and other factors. However, the best governance in co-operatives is understood in the context of the co-operative purpose and enterprise model. Whether and how this is being done is central to this Symposium as well as our multi-year co-operative governance initiative.

What does co-operative governance need to accomplish?

With the definition of the co-operative enterprise by the International Cooperative Alliance’s (ICA) Statement on the co-operative identity as the starting point, the following assumptions help clarify the role of co-operative governance systems. Building on the findings of our 2013 International co-operative Governance Symposium, co-operative governance needs to:

  1. Secure democratic (member) control;
  2. Identify and pursue the co-operative purpose;
  3. Create and maintain co-operative culture (values), built on reciprocity, solidarity and trust;
  4. Continue to meet member needs (the ‘service’ role of the co-operative); and,
  5. Secure long-term viability as a co-operative (vision focused on future generations of members).

ICA co-operative principles and values suggest that co-operatives institute participatory forms of democracy in their organizational governance and management, which respect and promote human dignity, democratic decision-making, and engagement of members, employees, and other key stakeholders. Further, those members engaged in governance activities focus on total value creation and equitable distribution of benefit.

Symposium Themes

The Symposium included presentations and discussions on:

  • Governance systems (structures, processes, dynamics) that focused on the fit with the enterprise model vs. leaning into conventional corporate governance approaches designed for investor-owned corporate models.
  • Contemporary frameworks with due consideration of situational dimensions (e.g. membership type(s), size, stage in the lifecycle, enterprise purpose, culture, competition, regulations, etc.).
  • Governance in the context of humanistic economics and management theories as more appropriate for co-operative enterprises than the alternative assumptions underlying agency theory.
  • Theory combined with practice. Examples of successful co-operatives that experiment with and/or fully embrace core aspects of co-operative governance.
  • Challenges of implementing co-operative governance practices, and how these are addressed.
  • Governance practices connected to the long-term sustainability of co-operatives and their ability to create value for (current and future) members and society.
  • Implementing change in co-operative governance – what are the triggers; how does change happen; how are new needs assessed.

Symposium Outputs

Why the Centre Hosts These Events

To allow our wider community of scholars, students and practitioners to:

  • Share your knowledge and expertise while deepening your global network
  • Explore current practices or new ways of approaching co-operative governance
  • Partner with other like-minded practitioners and researchers
  • Advance theory and governance practice in co-operatives
  • Contribute to the development of case studies, working papers, research reports, papers, and books.


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