Speaking at the 70th anniversary of the Co-operative League of Puerto Rico, the International Co-operative Alliance president, Ariel Guarco explained how enterprises rooted in local communities could help them overcome challenges and become more resilient.

“Free trade is not what worries us,” he said, “but the lack of enterprises that aim to be active in international trading which take into account the interest of workers and local communities.”

He also gave a presentation in the Senate of Puerto Rico, where he described how co-ops were transforming the energy sector.

Mr Guarco gave the example of co-operatives in his country, Argentina, which in 2012 was hit by a deadly storm, leaving people without access to basic services. Electric co-ops stepped in and helped even in areas where they were not trading. “As enterprises rooted in the community, we could respond to the crisis,” he said.

A year later Buenos Aires was struck again by severe flooding in La Plata, the provincial capital city of Buenos Aires. Electric co-ops provided generators, worker co-ops helped in the reconstruction, and health ones looked after the victims.

“This does not occur because we are enterprises with social responsibility, it occurs because we are social responsibility in the form of an enterprise,” said Mr Guarco. He warned that simply having a co-operative legal structure or being good managers was not enough. “We need to have a vocation to lead local development processes.”

Mr Guarco encouraged co-operators to ensure their co-op was listening to members’ problems and acted as more than just a service provider.

“With a co-operative movement integrated and committed to the development of every one of its territories, we will be actors in providing solutions to all global problems,” he added.

The theme of co-ops tackling global challenges will also be explored at the fifth Co-operative Summit of the Americas, held on 23-26 October in Buenos Aires.

Mildred Santiago Ortiz, executive director of the league, said the Alliance President had been a friend and ally of the Puerto Rican co-operative movement, whose experience was most welcome. “He comes from a co-op which provides public services such as energy and potable water, and we are keen to receive his advise in the context of the current challenges faced by Puerto Rican people,” she said.

Photo: Ariel Guarco speaking in Puerto Rican Senate