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Strength of the cooperative movement celebrated at international conference

There are 800 million individual members of cooperatives worldwide including around 2.1 million in
Scotland and the movement has been shown to withstand economic turbulence better than more
conventional ways of working.

Scotland can lay a claim to the birth of the cooperative

movement through the Fenwick Weavers of Ayrshire and
the north-east, with its strong agricultural traditions, is
home to its own thriving movement.

On Thursday (September 30) and Friday (October 1) the

University of Aberdeen will host a conference that will
bring together cooperative members from as far afield as
the Basque region and Geneva to promote this
enterprising way of working to students, business, and
the wider community.

It is the flagship event of a £109,000 project funded by

the Scottish Government and the Economic and Social
Research Council which aims to address the lack of knowledge of democratic ethical enterprise among
students and new graduates.

Among the speakers will be David Erdal, who has worked for over 20 years in transferring ownership of
companies to their employees. As the chairman of Tullis Russell, the paper manufacturing company
based in Fife, he designed and led their employee buyout, completed in 1994.

In 2003 he helped Loch Fyne Oysters become wholly employee-owned, then used the experience to pen
the bestselling book Local Heroes: How Loch Fyne Oysters Embraced Employee Ownership and Business

He said it is essential that the next generation of workers are aware of the potential of employee-
owned businesses and cooperatives.

He said: “The reason why employee-owned companies do so well is that they that tend to be more
successful economically than ordinary companies, more productive and the people working in them are
generally happier.

“They also spread the wealth that they create more evenly through society which makes the whole
local economy stronger because the money gets spent in the community rather than on luxury items.

“Data shows that over time employee-owned companies last longer than conventional companies and
they get through recession better.

“The worker cooperatives of Mondragon, in the Basque region which are enormously successful, employ
more than 100,000 people and are some of the biggest in Europe. During the 1981 recession, for
example, they increased their employee numbers by seven per cent while jobs in the Basque economy
as a whole fell by 25 per cent.”

The University of Aberdeen is leading the way in ensuring graduates better meet the needs of employers
through its Curriculum Reform project, which has become a model for other universities to follow.

As part of that, the University has made a commitment that all students should be exposed to the spirit
of enterprise and innovation, in the widest sense of the term.

The conference will get underway on Thursday September 30 with a series of workshops and will
continue on Friday with debate and discussion on cooperation in practice and the future for
cooperatives. It brings together guest speakers from academia as well as from businesses within the
sector such as the Edinburgh Bicycle Cooperative.

Dr Elizabeth Macknight, who is leading the project at Aberdeen, said: “Scotland is proud of its
democratic culture and record of innovation in which cooperatives play a role. Here in the north-east
the cooperative sector makes a major contribution to the strong rural economy and underpins initiatives
that are of benefit to communities.

“The University recognises that enterprise and entrepreneurship can take many different forms and we
would welcome anyone who wants to share their views or learn more about cooperative working.”

Hugh Donnelly, director of the Co-operative Education Trust Scotland, said: “The UN estimates 800
million people are cooperative members, and arguably the first co-op was established in Scotland 250
years ago, yet the average Scot would struggle to recognise the business model beyond their local
convenience store.

“We have been working to rectify that lack of knowledge in primary and secondary education. And
hopefully today will start the process of awareness raising, on all things cooperative, in higher

The conference is free and open to all and the programme is available at Anyone wishing to attend should contact Hugh Donnelly on
hugh.donnelly@cets.coopor 0141 341 4931.

Notes to Editors

The conference is a joint initiative between the University and CETS arising out of the Knowledge
Transfer Partnership. For the programme, speakers, and further details

The conference is supported by the Scottish Programme for Entrepreneurship. The SPE is a trilateral
initiative of the universities of Aberdeen, Edinburgh, and Strathclyde funded by and liaising closely with
the Scottish Government. Working together, the partner universities are intent on securing an expansion
of Scotland's capabilities in the research, teaching, promotion and practice of entrepreneurship at
university level and to broaden the access to entrepreneurial education throughout the further
education and school sectors in Scotland.
Issued by the Communications Team, Office of External Affairs, University of Aberdeen, King's
College, Aberdeen. Tel: (01224) 272014.

Issued on: 29 September 2010

Ref: 337KTPConference
Contact: Joanne Rostron