By Gayle Butler
Putting people before profit, Maleny’s Maple Street Co-op celebrates the International Year of Co-operatives by hosting “On the Couch” forums that promote the positive role co-operatives play.
It’s a fantastic opportunity to showcase Maleny’s vibrant co-operative spirit, with forums held every month until September, when the “Co-ops4Change” Festival is held.
Maleny “feels different” because there are no fast-food shops, chain stores, big shopping centres, movie theatres or night clubs.
But there is The Upfront Club, the Maple Street Co-op, the Maleny Film Society, Peace of Green (an artist’s co-operative) and more – all run on co-operative principles that are rich in community spirit.
The United Nations acknowledge that co-operatives are serious, successful businesses creating jobs and supporting local economies.
They recognise that co-operatives change and empower communities from within.
Social worker and long-time member of The UpFront Club, Wendy Nugent, said that it showed the business world that you could do business ethically.
“Co-operatives focus on the economic, environmental and social interests of the community which has enormous spin-off benefits,” she said.
United Nations deputy secretary-general Asha-Rose Migiro said the international community could learn from the co-operative movement witnessed by growing public discontent as a direct result of financial and economic crises.
“As self-help organisations, co-operatives are inherently people-centred,” she said.
“They not only meet material needs, but also the human need to participate.”
Maple Street Co-op and The UpFront Club’s general manager, Karen Syrmis agrees.
She operates an “open-door” policy at the co-op saying it is a thoroughfare of constant “updates” or “have-a-chat” moments.
The constant feedback allows issues to be dealt with instantly and empowers members to be involved in the management and care of the co-op.
The co-op actively engages and trains local youth and supports local growers and producers.
Ms Syrmis said that the co-op maintained excellent relationships with local schools, offering school-based traineeships and teaching environmental and co-op business practices.
Recent media reports reflected growing community concern about food quality and future food security.
Because cop-ops buy local and support fair trade, Ms Syrmis said consumers could be confident in what they are buying and know they were investing in their community when they support their local economy.
“Last year we bought over $11,000 of produce off local growers – that’s money going directly back to the community,” Ms Syrmis said.
“One local banana grower has been supplying us for over 25 years and we were able to maintain our supply and price when there were shortages last year.”
She said that profitability of both the Maple Street Co-op and The Upfront Club has been maintained even in the current tough trading conditions – proof of the resilience of co-operatives.
Future forums hope to stimulate interest in the benefits of co-operative businesses.
The United Nations expect the co-operative model to be the world’s fastest growing business model by 2025.
With globalisation synonymous with the 20th century, the 21st is shaping to be the era of co-operatives, slower but more interconnected and sustainable.