Co-op councils visit Italy’s famous co-operative region

Emilia Romagna’s co-operative ecosystem is impressive – but can it be replicated?

CCIN visit to Granarola

Alice Toomer-McAlpine

Coop News

Hailed around the world as a success story of regional co-operativism, Emilia Romagna in northern Italy played host last month to members of the Cooperative Councils Innovation Network (CCIN) as Britain struggles to revive its flagging local economies.

The study visit was organised by CCIN and facilitated by Confcoop’s Davide Pieri, with the support of Mario Montanari, former international relations manager at the regional authority.

Emilia Romagna offers an enviable, inspiring story:  it emerged from World War II as one of the poorest parts of the country but is now one of the wealthiest regions in Europe, ranking third in Italy by GDP per capita. Inequality is also lower than the national average in Italy or the UK.

This might not be solely down to the region’s co-op economy, but researchers at the University of Bologna found that Italian regions with greater co-op presences tend to be more prosperous, equitable and resilient. 

And, as Simona Caselli, president of Italy’s leading dairy business, Bologna-based co-op Granlatte, told the UK guests: “Co-operation was actually key to keeping people out of misery, particularly in the agricultural sector, because they had nothing.”

What they have now, CCIN members found on their three-day tour, is a powerful co-op ecosystem, active in every sector. Two thirds of the region’s population are members of a co-op and one in seven workers are employed by one. This co-operative landscape was well reflected in the range of co-ops visited by the group – agri-food, employment programmes, banking, healthcare, transport services and social centres.

Read More