New Index Ranks Countries by Importance Placed on Cooperative Values


Which is the most cooperative country in the world? According to a new index, Brazil takes the crown—with Norway, Uruguay and Canada not far behind.

The index was developed in time for the UN-backed International Day of Co-operatives (July 1, 2017) by Tom Crompton at Common Cause Foundation for Co-operatives UK and shows the importance that people around the world place on cooperative values.

Dr. Crompton was reading Values: How to Bring Values to Life in Your Business, published last year by Co-operatives UK secretary general Ed Mayo, when he was struck by the similarity between the values underpinning co-ops and the values that Common Cause seeks to promote.

“Ed and I tried at that point to map these two sets of values onto one another, and we found a remarkable overlap,” he said.

Common Cause’s work is based on a values model created by social psychologist Professor Shalom Schwartz, which has been studied extensively in a way that co-op values haven’t been. On further investigation, it was found that two of Schwartz’s value groups—universalism and benevolence—could be used as a proxy for cooperative values, including those of self-help, equality and openness.

“With this, we were able to interrogate the European Social Survey and World Values Surveys and look at the prevalence of cooperative values worldwide,” Ed Mayo said. “By comparing results for countries, subtracting for each a balancing factor of the more individual dimensions of ‘power’ and ‘achievement’ values, we could derive a Co-operative Values Score (CVS).”

Common Cause Foundation looked at data for and ranked 88 countries. The highest score was found in Brazil, which achieved a CVS of 2.19. Norway followed (2.06), then Uruguay (2.02) and Canada (1.93). Spain, Finland, Argentina, Iceland, France and Great Britain round out the top 10.

Brazil Wins Title Of Most Cooperatives in the World

Mayo believes it is “fitting” that Brazil ranks as the most cooperative nation on Earth. “The country has two and a half times as many member-owners of co-ops than it does shareholders in listed firms,” he said. “One of the most inspiring health cooperatives in the world, Unimed, is Brazilian. Its work to extend healthcare across the country is an emblematic example of enterprise and inclusion.”

Márcio Lopes de Freitas, president of OCB, Brazil’s national federation of co-ops, was “very proud” to learn of the results. “The Brazilian population is open to cooperation due to its diversity—we believe that cooperatives will be fundamental for the development of our economy,” he said.

“OCB is working hard to make our people aware of the cooperatives values, [but] as they are already present in our culture, cooperatives are also part of what we are,” Freitas added. “We also know that everything started with the first immigrants coming from Europe. Multicultural immigration was the base of population. Our society was built by different people who chose Brazil and cooperated for a better future.”

Only one of the 88 countries surveyed—Rwanda—had a negative CVS (i.e. the average importance attached to achievement/power was greater than that attached to universalism/benevolence values), which Dr. Crompton said he found surprising.

“In a world where public discourse—particularly from the media, business and politicians—is seemingly so dominated by values of wealth, power and public image, it is so easy to overestimate the importance that most people place on these values.”

But, he adds, studies have found that insecurity and threats to a person’s wellbeing tend to lead people to place greater importance on power and achievement values, and less importance on universalism and benevolence.

“It’s perhaps to be predicted, therefore, in countries where insecurity is likely to be higher, such as in Rwanda, that the Co-operative Value Score will be lower.”

Charles Gould, director general of the International Co-operative Alliance, highlights that countries like Brazil, Norway (2nd in the index), Spain (5th) and Finland (6th) have exceptionally strong cooperative business sectors.

“This is the first time that we have been able to compare cooperative values across countries, and to see the same countries come up is remarkable,” he said. “Do they form cooperatives because these are the values of the country, or are the values of the country influenced by the kind of organizations it has? Like chicken and egg, it may be a bit of both over time.”

Dr. Crompton said he hopes that the research means members of the co-op workers movement will become more aware that their wider success will hinge on the values that they communicate and embody. “The cooperative movement could play a crucial role in helping to convey a more authentic understanding of the importance that most people place on benevolence and universalism values,” he said.

“As a first step, cooperatives can begin to communicate as though their stakeholders—customers, staff and volunteers—attach particular priority to universalism and benevolence values. Doing so is likely to strengthen social norms around these values and embolden others to communicate in this way. I’d predict that this will strengthen public support for the work of co-operatives,” he added.

July 1, 2017 marked the 95th annual International Day of Co-operatives, a global celebration of co-ops backed by the United Nations.

“In recent years, we have seen efforts to link up cooperatives across the world, through the International Co-operative Alliance,” Mayo said. “The theme of the 2017 Day is, fittingly, inclusion—ensuring that no one is left behind. To achieve this theme across business and markets would go a long way towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals set by the United Nations.

“We should recognize and celebrate the extent to which we live in a cooperative world. For a day, we can set aside competition, power and status and learn from that for every other day,” Mayo added.

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