The world economic crisis has brought people to ask questions, most of which challenge assumptions which were unassailable a few years ago. Something has gone horribly wrong, and the conservative model has been found terribly wanting. The economic crisis has inevitably left its consequences on the global social fabric.  However, not all business models have gone awry. On the contrary, one particular business model has actually proved resilient to the crisis.

Saturday 6th July marked World Co-operatives Day. This Day celebrates the efforts and enterprise of more than one billion people worldwide who have placed people at the centre of their economic activity. The theme chosen this year by the International Co-operative Alliance is “Cooperative enterprise remains strong in times of crisis”. Through their people-centered business model, co-operatives “deliver a distinctive form of shared value.”  Co-operatives have managed to become veritable engines of sharing wealth, and do not fall prey to the individualistic greed of the few.

Facts speak for themselves. The world’s biggest banks showed a severe lack of governance and some of them went under or had to be bailed out at taxpayer’s expense. On the other hand, co-operative banks and co-operative financial enterprises not only averted catastrophe, but managed to grow as well. They kept credit flowing especially to small and medium sized enterprises, and remained stable across regions, while indirectly creating employment.

This success is not just limited to financial co-operatives. Consumer co-operatives, worker co-operatives, as well as social co-operatives provide employment and prove to be extremely resilient to the crisis. Worker co-operatives around the world provide employment to 100 million jobs, more than that provided by the world’s multinationals combined.

Co-operatives present opportunities. Economic growth, employment, the socialization of capital, and a fair distribution of wealth are concrete examples. Its flexibility as a business model makes it ideal for enterprise in every sector of the economy. Working alongside other business models, the co-operative model brings a human and ethical dimension to doing business. Studies repeatedly show that the survival rate of co-operatives is double that of capitalist enterprises. The co-operative model does not aim to replace capitalist enterprises, but aims to be a viable, sustainable and significant alternative.

The opportunities of the co-operative model for Malta are tangible and significant. The success of various existing co-operatives in Malta is an example. The co-operative sector in Malta is still relatively small. But the opportunities for the country are enormous. Although we measure progress in terms of economy and per capita GDP, we all know that other yardsticks are equally important. The rate of people’s participation in the economy, the start-up of sustainable new businesses, the increased independence and integration of persons with different abilities, and the state of our environment, all indicate our collective success or otherwise. Co-operatives provide potential for democratic, member- controlled  enterprises in a vast array of economic sectors, from the traditional to the new areas of the economy.

Malta has wisely endorsed the UHM’s initiative of Jobs+, which aims to make work pay, and which can increase value to work through better skills. Co-operatives can be one sure way of achieving this.

Naturally, the people who need to create co-operatives are the people themselves. However, much needs to be done to provide a fertile environment and an equal playing field for the establishment of more co-operative initiatives in Malta. In this regard, we lack behind our European counterparts.  We need to strive to specifically promote a co-operative culture in our society through our educational system. We need to promote co-operatives as a viable and sustainable way of doing business. We need to strengthen our legislation to make it easier to create and manage genuine co-operatives. In line with our more successful EU member states, we need to bring down the minimum number of people who can form a co-operative from five to three; Co-operatives need to have a level playing field with other business models when it comes to access to finance and investment incentives; and in line with both major parties’ electoral manifesto, we need to create the right legal environment for the creation of a co-operative bank.

The Malta Co-operative Federation, together with its members and partners, is working hard towards these aims. This is in line with the International Co-operative Alliance’s target called the Co-operative Decade strategy as well as Europe’s 2020 growth strategy, among others. This global strategy includes efforts to elevate participation within and between co-operatives to a new level, position co-operatives as builders of sustainability, ensure supportive legal frameworks for co-operative growth, and secure reliable co-operative capital whilst guaranteeing member control. The opportunities are immense. We have a lot to do. And we can only succeed if we are convinced of our ambitions as a nation. We do not have to re-invent the wheel. One billion people around the world cannot be wrong.