Interview with Hanan El-Youssef, International Co-operative Alliance

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Posted on March 29, 2016

Hanan El-Youssef is the Director of Strategy of the International Co-operative Alliance (the Alliance) since September 2013.
In this position, she has the important role to ensure that the Alliance achieves initiatives to further the Blueprint for a Co-operative Decade. The Blueprint is the development strategy for the next decade (until 2020) that not only aims to make co-operatives the fastest growing form of business but also seeks to make co-operatives the acknowledged leader in environmental, social and economic sustainability.
Hanan has prior experience in Belgium, Lebanon, Syria, and the United States – in co-operatives field and advocacy work in international development, and association management.
She earned a BA in Comparative Literature and Spanish from Bryn Mawr College (USA) and a Master in Economic Development and International Cooperation from the University of Pavia (Italy). She speaks English, French, Spanish, and Arabic.

International Co-operative Alliance (the Alliance) is a non-profit international association established in 1895 to advance the co-operative social enterprise model. The Alliance is the apex organisation for co-operatives worldwide, representing 285 co-operative federations and organisations across 95 countries.
The Alliance is the custodian of the Co-operative Values and Principles and makes the case for their distinctive values-based economic business model. The Alliance advocates the interests and success of co-operatives, disseminates best practices and know-how, strengthens capacity building, and monitors performance and progress over time.

Co-operative movement is involved in the social, economic and environmental dimensions of sustainability. In which sense the Alliance supports and spreads the value of Social Innovation among members? Could you tell us how does the strategy Blueprint for co-operative decade face the theme of social Innovation? There are many ways in which co-operative enterprises spread the value of social innovation through their business practices. The Alliance – as the international representative for the co-operative movement – reflects these as well, thought it operates as an association and not as a business itself. The Alliance is the custodian for the Co-operative Values & Principles. These are the foundation (the moral and ethical back bone, if you will) for the values-based approach of co-operatives. Central to them is social innovation: self-help, self-responsibility, democracy, equality, equity, and solidarity. The Alliance helps to set standards for co-operative businesses in achieving all aspects of good business practice, and central to that is social innovation. The Blueprint strategy – outlined in 2011-2012 – identifies major global trends to which co-operatives have much to offer in response. One of these is the need to address the challenges faced by youth around the world: demographic shifts, (un)employment, political strife, the recession of social and public services, etc. The focus on future generations – their needs, aspirations, and potential – helps embed co-operative business practices even further in the pursuit of social innovation as a means through which to achieve sustainable development for all.

How co-operatives could deal with the 21st century challenges (green challenge, inclusion challenge, well-being challenge) in an innovative way? Here again, there are myriad ways through which co-operative enterprises address the challenges of today and tomorrow. The rural electric co-operatives in the United States provide community-based, community-organised energy to rural communities in most of middle America. Through their national association they have helped electrify regions of Haiti damaged after the earthquake in 2010 as part of the global solidarity that binds co-operatives as a movement. Energy co-operatives in Europe are beginning to collaborate with agricultural co-operatives to create biofuel. Credit unions in Canada are working with First Nation communities to provide viable and fair financial services to otherwise underserved communities in remote parts of the country. The Japanese consumer co-operative movement is dominated by women who may otherwise not have had access to autonomous, economic activity. Health co-operatives in Brazil provide upwards of 60% of healthcare for the entire country, matching their reputation for high-quality care with the provision of insurance, as well as family health education.

How can the co-operative business model assist to overcome some of the main challenges of doing business today?
In light of the trend towards so-called “sharing-economy” models, co-operatives offer an ideal approach and governance structure for this shift. Sharing-economy business models maximise on the joint assets of citizens and provide a network and platform through which these assets can be easily matched with consumers (vehicle owners with passengers, home owners with tenants, etc.). But these business models have not yet shared in the immense value this shared model offers – the benefits and ownership remain exclusive. The co-operative model – applied to these types of businesses – would harvest that added value and ensure it remains in the hands of those contributing the base assets to the business. In fact, co-operatives are best suited to ensure that the sharing-economy is truly shared by all.

About the Author

Valentina Zoccali was born in Reggio Calabria (IT) in 1986. After a Bachelor’s degree in Letters and Philosophy, Valentina Zoccali studied Social Media Marketing and in 2008 she started to work in the fields of communication, advertising and culture. In 2012 she was appointed as Secretary General of S-Com. Besides carrying out tasks related to the management of the association and liaison with EU institutions and EU stakeholders, she has been managing the communication and dissemination of several EU-funded research projects. In 2015 she designed and launched the WISE4ALL (Women for an Innovative Society in Europe ) initiative to promote collaborative and multidisciplinary approaches, aimed at establishing more inclusive social models starting from women participation.