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Universities and The IYC

Feb 06, 2013

More than a decade ago an international group of co-operatives formed the Co-operative Management Education Co-operative to address the failure of university business schools and universities generally to reflect the existence and role of co-operatives in economies and societies around the world. In the English speaking world only one business school course existed on co-operatives. Most business school text books and learning materials dismissed co-operatives or ignored them. Some were hostile.

Departments of economics taught approaches to economics that ignored co-operatives or were openly hostile to them. Accounting departments taught how to account for how businesses used their resources to achieve their goal – maximization of shareholder value. The more complex goals of co-operatives were ignored. Accountants in co-operatives needed to know how to measure financial strength and how to balance competing goals. Accounting departments had few or no tools to offer. Marketing department taught how to sell people goods and services whether they needed them or not. Co-operatives needed to know how to meet complex member need. Much of the educational output of universities and their business schools either ignored co-operatives, failed to meet their needs or resulted in actual damage to the co-operative business model.
Alas, not enough has changed. The Master’s degree (and now a new diploma) in co-operative management at Saint Mary’s (www.mmccu.coop/) offers managers around the world the opportunity to study together online and part time in an internationally accredited business school. A number of other programs and courses have begun to appear. Some, like Saint Mary’s teach everything with the co-operative business model as an anchor and focal point. Others show no understanding how a different business purpose, meeting member need, changes every aspect of management and governance. There is an enormous need for learning materials and research. For example, we are moving toward ‘co-operative accounting’ but we have a long way to go.
This is why Saint Mary’s chose to focus on ‘co-operative economics’ for the International year. Faced with neo-classical economics, which increasingly fails to help us understand the economy and whose theories played a key role in causing the Great Recession of 2008, it was felt we needed to explore the ‘new economics’ approaches of a growing number of world class economists. Co-operatives needed an approach to thinking about the economy that was not hostile to their business model and helped co-operative leaders understand faltering local and global economies.
Imagine 2012: The International Conference on Co-operative Economics brought together the ideas of 15 world class economic thinkers and almost 700 leaders from co-operatives from around the world. The potential outcomes include a growing number of influential economists studying, writing and collaborating with co-operatives firmly in view; new learning materials for co-operative leaders around the world; increased capacity and awareness for universities to close the enormous gap in their learning materials, course offerings and programs; and a better knowledge and analytical base for decision making by public policy makers. It is a small start but it is a solid start. Combined with other IYC contributions much can be done in the decade ahead.


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