IN MEMORIAM | Ian MacPherson

It is with great sadness that we learned about the death of Ian MacPherson, not only a great scholar and cooperator, but also a dear friend and supporter of Euricse, and a person that everybody at Euricse was very fond of personally as well as professionally.
Ian MacPherson (1939 - 2013) had a leading role in creating the Canadian Co-operative Association, was the co-founder of CASC (the Canadian Association for the Study of Co-operation), and had a central role in the revision of the co-operative principles in Manchester. Most recently, he was involved in the creation of an institute for co-operatives and peace together with Yehuhah Paz in Israel.
He will be sorely missed and we would like to remember him with this interview, recorded on the occasion of his visit to Euricse in 2009 when he gave 10 precious and very interesting lectures on cooperation.


 Interview with Professor Ian MacPherson, April 2009


In April 2009 Euricse invited Professor Ian MacPherson, director ofthe British Columbia Institute for Cooperative Studies at the University of Victoria in Canada, to Trento to give a series of ten seminars. During these seminars, MacPherson discussed themes such as the history of the Canadian and U.S. cooperative movement, the origin and meaning of cooperative values, and the potential of cooperatives in developing countries. The globally recognized Canadian scholar played a fundamental role within the International Co-Operative
Alliance in defining the Statement of Cooperative Identity for the 21st century. McPherson was the first professor invited to speak as part of the “Don Lorenzo Guetti” series on cooperatives, an initiative of the University of Trento, the Federazione Trentina delle Cooperazione (Trentino Federation of Cooperatives) and the Promocoop Fund. We spoke with the Canadian professor about the cooperative movement today.


What could be the role of the cooperative movement in this socio- economic context characterised by crisis both in Canada and in Europe?

For the last thirty years much of the world has been greatly influenced by the idea that the pursuit of individual benefits will ultimately create a better world for everyone. This form of individualism seemed to work well for some amid the comparatively easy expansion of markets internationally made possible by technology and government policy during the end of the Cold War and afterward. The easy days of internationalism, however, are past, as many countries now are able to compete, meaning that outsiders cannot as easily exploit, and as the limits of conventional energy and other resources become clearer. Much of the wealth that has been created in more recent times has been speculative wealth built on expectations rather than real value. The sudden decline now evident in many parts of the world signals the need to turn to organisations, like cooperatives, that are obviously transparent in their operations, that create real as opposed to inflated value, that reward contribution and not just ownership. I believe that much of the world is also looking for organisational forms that make strong ethical commitments to the environment, communities and human well-being. Though, as human institutions, cooperatives sometimes fall short in applying their values and principles, their ultimate commitments to such concerns should not be in question. That means that the role of the cooperative movement should be expansive and expanding. In the current crisis, much of which is about confidence, cooperatives should have an immense advantage. And, as in the past, as people and communities suffer, they will once again learn the possibilities and advantages of working together for individual benefit and the common good.

What are the main challenges facing the cooperative movement lately? And what is the role of research and research centres in resolving these problems?

By and large, the cooperative movement around the world has developed pragmatically, responding to needs and pursuing possibilities.
The result is that it has grown to an immense size, but it does not project adequately – to its supporters or the outside world – what it is about, how it works, and why it should be supported. The movement needs to develop a much deeper understanding of its own past, its present strengths, its distinctiveness, and its possibilities. Doing so requires partnerships in the pursuit of well-considered examinations of past and present practices, of failed efforts and great accomplishments. This should involve researchers within and without the academy and people actively engaged within cooperatives. I believe that this relatively weak understanding of the nature and preferred modes of operating cooperatives is the movement’s main weakness and limitation. The centre that is developing at Trento for the study of cooperatives and like organisations is already making an immense contribution to this problem and promises to do much more. Those people at the university and among cooperatives who are responsible for its development are to be congratulated for their foresight and determination.

What is your opinion about the cooperative movement in Trentino?

I am looking forward very much for the opportunity to learn more about the cooperatives in Trento while I am visiting in April. I have had the opportunity to visit the area twice in the past and I have been very impressed by the extent of the cooperative movement in and around Trento. It is obviously a key contributor to the sense of social and economic wellbeing for which the region is so well known, both in Italy and other countries. I have been particularly struck by the spirit that seems to animate the cooperatives, the sense of pride and accomplishment of the co-operators I have met, the ways in which people work together within the cooperatives, and how well and in what diverse ways cooperatives relate to the needs of communities. I am also very impressed by how well cooperatives of different types work together for common purpose and mutual benefit. Regrettably, this is not the case in many other parts of the world and I think it is important for those of us who come from other places to learn about why and how your cooperatives work together so effectively.