The Italian Region Where Co-ops Produce a Third of Its GDP

YES! Magazine, July 05, 2016, By

"Picture a day like this: You wake up and head to your job at a small company you own and manage together with your fellow workers, doing high-tech, advanced manufacturing that’s too specialized for bigger factories. For lunch, you swing by a restaurant owned by another worker cooperative, this one a national-scale firm that serves millions of customers each year. Back at work, you’ve got a meeting with a local agricultural co-op that’s contracted your company to help design some more efficient processing material for the food they produce and export across the world. Afterward, you meet up with your partner, who works in a social cooperative jointly owned by caregivers and the elders who live and receive care there. The two of you swing by the local grocery store—part of a national chain owned by its millions of customers—and pick up a bottle of co-op-produced wine. This is a day in the life of the cooperative economy in Northern Italy’s Emilia Romagna region.

Emilia Romagna, a region with nearly 4.5 million people whose capital is the medieval university city of Bologna, has one of the densest cooperative economies in the world. About two out of every three inhabitants are co-op members, together producing around 30 percent of the region’s GDP. ...

In Italy, social co-ops are on the rise, not as a way to produce goods and services for sale, but as a way to more effectively deliver social services.

Zamagni explains that bureaucratic welfare services were high-cost and low-quality, so citizens started self-organizing to deliver key care-related services themselves, which the government then helped formalize with new laws for multi-stakeholder cooperatives. This allowed caregivers and those receiving care to work together to govern the delivery of services.

The results have been impressive. In Bologna, for instance, as much as 85 percent of the city’s social services are provided through social co-ops. Some of the most interesting segments in the film WEconomics: Italy, which profiles Bologna’s co-op economy, revolve around social co-ops. The filmmakers take us inside a child care cooperative and an equally vibrant elder care cooperative. Both are workplaces built around compassion—not profit—and are designed with the interests of workers and those receiving care in mind. Here, cooperatives are community institutions that humanize social services in a way that neither state nor market mechanisms alone could.

Care work is already a key sector for the much smaller U.S. worker-co-op movement, accounting for somewhere close to a third of the 7,000 or so worker-owners in the United States. But the Italian example shows we can think a lot bigger. ..."

http://www.yesmagazine.org/new-economy/the-italian-place-where-co-ops-drive-the-economy-and-most-people-are-members-20160705

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