Lost in translation.

It should be no surprise that the models of business reflect the models of society. And yet I find myself surprised.

The nature of a cooperative is that it lives by the seven cooperative principles. These are:

  1. Voluntary and open membership
  2. Democratic member control
  3. Member economic participation
  4. Autonomy and independence
  5. Education, training and information
  6. Cooperation among cooperatives
  7. Concern for community

In Canada this model is fairly rare, with a few notable examples, like the credit unions, MEC and a few others. So we keep asking the cooperatives here questions about how they operate, because to us it seems like a huge deal that they have woven a social fiber into their business operations. Some of the answers we are receiving back delve into tax law and details of their corporate structure and organization. It seems like we’re not quite understanding each other, even though the translators are doing a superb job.

And then it hit me – to them the cooperative model is so expected that they think we’re asking a different question. We’re asking about the model because it’s so novel to meet a big machinery manufacturing company doing business in 75 countries making billions of Euros a year and behaving according to the cooperative principles. To them it’s just called business.

The intention with which you create a business affects the nature, culture and values of that business from then on. These businesses started with a social conscience and it is a part of how they operate. So they are free to innovate and expand, while making society stronger. It is social finance in action.

The model of businesses making a lot of money so you can give some of it back as corporate donations doesn’t resonate here. Companies doing awful things give back money, and sometimes lots of it. That doesn’t stop them from corruption and shady business dealings. When the people who work at the coop are involved with its ownership, governance and profitability the need to give a lot back doesn’t make it socially responsible, responsibility is part of the very core of business.

My son asked for a picture of me eating gelato.

My son loves turtles and right near our hotel there is a turtle fountain that always makes me think of him.

What I’m loving.

Just some random notes before I head out today.

It is remarkable having so much time with a group of people spread throughout Vancity. It is a treat to not just be in a meeting or have a lunch, but spend so many days, have so many meals and really get to understand each other. So much of what we need to do involves building networks, and the network we are building should prove totally useful back home.

We are here with labour leaders, the head of a not for profit focusing on integrating those with addictions into productive roles in our society and a Vancouver city councillor. Hearing their reactions and getting to discuss our experiences with them is truly a treat and keeps us from getting too in the weeds about Vancity stuff. If we are to be inclusive we gotta keep it high level.

In other news: I bought a nice Italian suit. It’s being altered, so I hope I can find the little shop again when the time comes to pick it up.

The food is truly excellent, and is a critical part of our experience.

The city is really lovely. Over the weekend I plan to go to Florence, and perhaps someplace else. We’ll see what the trains have in store for me.

My brain is working overtime with thoughts about what this all means and what I can do differently once I’m back home. I feel a tremendous obligation to the rest of the Vancity employeees to find something useful, not a new money making opportunity, not a short term fix, but something meaningful to help Vancity along its mission. I also owe it to future years to discover something tangibly useful about this trip, so others can go too. Any thoughts? How do you prove this isn’t a junket, but is relevant to our organization at large?

Photos for Vancity employees.

I hear that some of my photos are ending up on our intranet, so here are some more of my colleagues and friends whom I get to work with…

At a social coop focusing on integrating people with disabilities, addictions and prison records back into society.

A print shop focused on helping to integrate those with disabilities.

At a winemaking coop.

Randy Johal at a workers coop focused on property management.

A fun moment at a Zemagni lecture.

At a coop making concrete.

At a transport coop.

Meant to write.

I really wanted to write something meaningful today, but it’s 1am and I need to sleep.

Lots of thoughts, and I will write up a thoughtful piece for ChangeEverything.ca in the next couple of days. I’m inventing a theory I call Independent Collectivism that I am eager to share.

I spent a day in Florence and one in Venice. Fantastic times!

Too many ideas swirling around. How to sum it all up in a post? I really have grown so fond of my fellow travelers. Having a group of people across the organization aligned in this experience is in itself an accomplishment and should prove to bring some good action back with us.

I add this one photo from a session with a union yesterday.

Where we spend our time.

In our time here, we had three lectures by Stafano Zamagni, professor of cooperative economics at the University of Bologna. He is a leading economics scholar.

On Monday evening we all had dinner at his summer home in the hills outside Bologna. That day he had been in Rome meeting with Prime Minister Berlusconi about economic models that could relieve the economic crisis in Italy. It was pretty amazing that his day consisted of meeting with the Prime Minister to debate economic policy and spending the evening with a bunch of cooperators from Vancouver.

The next morning was to be our last lecture with him. But our schedule was changed and he was moved his lecture to the afternoon, and then, when the time came, he was an hour late for our lecture. The reason? He was in Rome again meeting with the Pope to work with him on his upcoming encyclical on poverty.

That has got be one of the best excuses for running late I’ve ever heard.

And it got me thinking: Who do we make time for in life? Here’s a busy man, meeting with the head of state one day and the Pope the next and yet he doesn’t cancel his sessions with us. He sees the value of his time spent with us.

Are there groups in your community that are worthy of your time but somehow never get it? Are there small cooperatives running on a shoestring that are doing good work but struggling that could use our help as credit unions?

That balance between what is large and what is small, but seeing the importance in each is pretty powerful.