Forum on role of cooperatives in boosting regional development

Published 08 May 2012

A forum at the University of New England on Friday 11 May will examine the potential of the cooperative movement to help rebuild regional Australia.

Hosted by UNE and the Community Mutual Group (CMG), the forum will address the value of cooperatives from a regional perspective, and how to go about establishing them at grassroots level. It will also explore their successful operations in Australia and other countries. This year – 2012 – is the International Year of Cooperatives.

Friday’s forum, titled Creating Regional Prosperity through Cooperative Business Models, will be in UNE’s Lewis Lecture Theatre, starting at 2 pm and continuing till 4 pm.

Associate Professor Jo Barraket from the Australian Centre for Philanthropy and Non-profit Studies at Queensland University of Technology, and Melina Morrison, Director of Australia’s International Year of Cooperatives Secretariat – both acknowledged experts on cooperatives – will be guest speakers at the forum. Other speakers will include Professor Alison Sheridan, Head of UNE’s School of Business, Economics and Public Policy, Tony Wilson, Deputy Chairman of NORCO, and Mr Peter Tregilgas, Executive Officer of Regional Development Australia for Mid North Coast NSW and author of Social Enterprise Australia.

Professor Sheridan said that the forum would be a useful source of information for teachers and researchers within her School, which has a particular focus on regional business. “It will open up important conversations for us,” she said.  “We welcome the opportunity to discuss – with businesses themselves – the role of co-operatives in regional development.”

The organiser of the forum, CMG’s Executive Director- People, Communities and Credit, Valerieanne Byrnes, said the strength and viability of members owning and directing their own organisations had gained momentum since the global financial crisis. “Business cooperatives came through the GFC in all countries without the consequences experienced by other business types,” she said. “They remained rock solid when many large corporate entities went to the wall.

“As a result, many economists and commentators are now re-examining the cooperative model because it is controlled by members, has a long-term view for the community it serves, and is more flexible in how it deploys its capital, borrows money, and distributes profits. It allows for innovation and shared operations that can be extremely competitive, profitable and successful.”

She said that with small businesses in the regions struggling on many fronts, the cooperative business model could hold the key to overcoming many of the challenges.  Cooperatives of like-minded individuals and enterprises could deliver the necessary scale to be competitive and still serve members’ interests, she said.