Co-operatives United: reflections on an amazing event

5 Nov

Manchester Central: a perfect venue for Co-operatives United

It has been three days since the end of Co-operatives United, and now that we’re back on Canadian soil, it’s an opportunity to reflect on what took place in Manchester over the past week.

It was, by every possible measure, an amazing event. Not only were the topics interesting and the speakers engaging, but there was also an atmosphere of celebration that made it more than just a conference or  series of conferences; it was truly a festival of co-operation.  There was something for everyone:  co-op leaders, co-op practitioners, co-op members, networkers, book lovers, foodies, historians, families with children, film buffs, sports fans…and yes, the broader public.  Some 10,000 people passed through the doors of the Manchester Central convention centre, and at least some of them had little or no previous connection with co-operatives. Congratulations to the organizers for reaching out to the people of Manchester and making this an event that all could enjoy.

The Midlands Co-operative’s “rocket hearse”: co-op funeral services can be fun!

There was a lot to be learned from Co-operatives United, and not just from the speakers and the sessions.  Here are some of the most important lessons this remarkable experience taught me:

  1. Show, don’t just tell:  The ICA Expo, Co-operation Street and the Co-operative Living area were not only a feast for the eyes, but also a wonderful way to learn about the scope and diversity of the co-operative sector.  We need to go beyond traditional conferences and trade fairs and make our events both visual and interactive.
  2. Make time for play:  Sometimes we take ourselves a little too seriously; we need to look at the lighter side. From the children’s sports area in front of the convention centre, to the “fun pod” on Co-operation Street to the football game between the ICA and FC United, to the incredible performance by Angel Square t the International Dinner, Co-operatives United was as much fun as it was educational.
  3. Appeal to a wide range of interests:  Even within the co-operative movement itself, we have many different roles and interests.  Thursday’s Practitioners Forum was a wonderful opportunity for people performing specific functions within co-ops to deal with topics affecting their day to day work.  There was also a conference on Fair Trade and a Gender Forum, which provided an opportunity to go in depth on specific issues related to co-operation.
  4. Involve volunteers.  Like the International Summit in Quebec City, Co-operative United had an army of volunteers helping us find our way around and answering our questions.  This not only made life easier for the participants, it was also a great way for the volunteers to learn more about the global co-op movement,
  5. Integrate social media into the event planning:  Thanks to the folks from the Co-operative News Global News Hub, there was probably more social media action at Co-operatives United than at any co-operative event in history.  Not only did the News Hub provide live video and opportunities to interact with the event online, there were also social media workshops, a social media work area and a concerted effort to spread the news via Twitter and Facebook. And special thanks to the News Hub for running posts from this blog throughout the event.

    Making space for social media

  6. Make things easy for the media:  Throughout Co-operatives United, there were a number of news conferences which provided both  mainstream and co-op media an opportunity to get face time with such movement leaders as Dame Pauline Green, Charles Gould, Klaus Niederländer of Co-operatives Europe, Carlo Borgaza of Euricse and others.

I’ll sign off now with a big thank you to everyone involved in organizing Co-operatives United. It was an inspiring, engaging and unforgettable experience. Congratulations on a job well done.

— Donna Balkan

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