• English
  • Italiano
Promoting the understanding of cooperatives for a better world

On the occasion of 2012,  declared by the UN as the International Year of Cooperatives, the European Research Institute on Cooperative and Social Enterprises (Euricse) and the International Co-operative Alliance (ICA) are organizing the international conference Promoting the understanding of cooperatives for a better world. The event will take place on on 15-16 March 2012 in San Servolo, Venice. The Conference aims to give an updated picture of the current state of the scientific debate on the nature, impact, and potential of cooperative enterprises. Among the participiants will be many of the most noted academics and economists who have addressed the economic and social role of cooperative enterprises using innovative approaches.


Cooperatives play a crucial role both in the production of general-interest services (e.g. social, health, work integration, educational) and in a number of traditional sectors (e.g. banking sector, agriculture), where they register outstanding results that often outperform for-profit and public enterprises. In many countries and especially in local areas, cooperatives are a significant component of the production structure. During the recent economic and financial crisis, credit cooperatives have continued to provide loans to enterprises; agricultural cooperatives have continued to successfully transform and trade the commodities of their members; workers cooperatives have in several cases managed to face the reduction of the demand through a redistribution of work among their members. In various countries, cooperatives have continued to support employment and in different contexts cooperatives have proved to be able to build constructive relations, support trust among workers and users, and enlarge the supply of goods and services.

However, notwithstanding the significance of the cooperative sector and the increasing awareness of the need of better identifying the roles, potential, and limits of cooperatives, convincing and shared interpretative frameworks are lacking. Social sciences have limited themselves to study cooperatives in a non systematic way, drawing on hypotheses that are not consistent with their constitutional characteristics, failing thus to provide an interpretation able to account for the real seize and importance of the sector. This lack in understanding of cooperatives has hampered the visibility of such enterprises and has made it even more difficult to define strategic choices and development projects, as well as elaborating adequate support policies that can sustain the growth and consolidation of these organizations.

Against the background of a general disregard of cooperatives by mainstream social sciences, new theoretical developments have recently helped not only explain the recent strengthening of cooperatives, but also argue that these organizations could perform a much greater role than the one they currently play, and contribute to the creation of a different and better economic and social system. Neo-institutionalism has investigated the role of enterprises in facing market failures with special regard to the role played by the different ownership structures in facing the various market failures. Evolutionary economics has challenged the conventional conception of the firm, which is not anymore conceived of simply as a profit maximizing mechanism, but rather as a routine aimed at solving collective problems. Behavioural as well as experimental economics have suggested to regard cooperatives as organizations that are characterized by other than self-seeking motivations.

Given this situation and drawing on the findings of recent studies, this initiative intends to commemorate the UN International Year of Cooperatives by creating a discussion forum that can promote a better understanding of cooperatives’ rationale, roles, potential, and impact.


Dame Pauline Green - ICA President

Italian Cooperative Alliance representative

Carlo Borzaga - University of Trento / Euricse President (Italy)

General introduction

New frontiers of cooperation in the economy Sir Partha Dasgupta - University of Cambridge (UK) 

1st SESSION: Interpreting the roles and economic importance of cooperative enterprises

Chair: Benedetto Gui, University of Padua (Italy)

The contribution of neo-institutionalism to interpreting cooperative enterprisesHenry Hansmann – Yale Law School (USA)

The contribution of behavioural economics to explaining cooperatives’ emergence and developmentAvner Ben-Ner - University of Minnesota (USA) and Matthew Ellman -Institute for Economic Analysis, Barcelona – IAE (Spain)

Interpreting the roles and economic importance of cooperative enterprises in a historical perspectiveVera Zamagni, University of Bologna

2nd SESSION:  New opportunities and roles in a changing world

Chair: TBD

Cooperatives’ concern for the community: from members towards local communities’ interestsIan MacPherson, Social Economy Hub (Canada)

The active response of citizens to the global economic and financial crisis: the potential of cooperatives and mutual aid societiesJohnston Birchall, University of Stirling (United Kingdom)

The impact of cooperatives on social capital and civicnessStefano Zamagni, University of Bologna (Italy)


3rd SESSION: Cooperative growth – potential and limitations

Chair: Hagen Henry, University of Helsinki (Finland)

An overview of cooperatives’ regulations worldwideHans Münkner, Marburg University (Germany) 

How market regulations enhance or limit the growth of cooperativesMichele Grillo, Catholic University Milan (Italy) 

Economies of scale versus participation: a cooperative dilemma?Derek C. JonesHamilton College(USA ) and Panu Kalmi, Vasa University (Finland)


4th SESSION: Exploring both the old and new roles of cooperatives (part I)

Chair: Lou Hammond Ketilson, University of  Saskatchewan (Canada)

Credit cooperatives, Giovanni Ferri - University of Bari (Italy)

Worker cooperativesVirginie Pèrotin - Leeds University Business School (UK)

Social cooperativesJacques Defourny - University of Liege (Belgium)


4th SESSION: Exploring both the old and new roles of cooperatives (part II)

Agricultural cooperatives, Vladislav ValentinovLeibniz Institute of Agricultural Development (Germany)

Users cooperatives, Pier Angelo Mori – University of Florence (Italy)

Natural Resource Management: The role of joint co-operative Institutions and GovernanceKonrad Hagedorn – Humboldt University of Berlin (Germany)


Please follow this link to see the full list of speakers.


ICA  is an independent, non-governmental association which unites, represents and serves co-operatives worldwide. Founded in 1895, ICA has 260 member organisations from 96countries active in all sectors of the economy. Together these co-operatives represent nearly one billion individuals worldwide.

Euricse’s mission is to promote knowledge development and innovation for the field of cooperatives, social enterprises and other nonprofit organizations engaged in the production of goods and services. The Institute aims to deepen the understanding of these types of organizations and their impact on economic and social development, furthering their growth and assisting them to work more effectively. Through activities directed toward and in partnership with both the scholarly community and practitioners, including primarily theoretical and applied research and training, we address issues of national and international interest to this sector, favouring openness and collaboration.



Euricse - European Research Institute on Cooperative and Social Enterprises

Euricse (European Research Institute on Cooperative and Social Enterprises) è una fondazione di ricerca creata per favorire la crescita e la diffusione di conoscenze e processi di innovazione delle cooperative, delle imprese sociali, delle organizzazioni nonprofit e dei commons. In...

Upcoming events

No events in the list.