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Thank you for your warm welcome. I am delighted to be here to open this important international summit.
Let me start by thanking Desjardins Group and the International Co-operative Alliance for teaming up once again to host this gathering.
I would also like to extend special greetings to those of you who have travelled from abroad to be here. On behalf of all Canadians, welcome to Québec and to Canada.
Two years ago, I had the privilege of addressing the inaugural meeting of this assembly, and I am pleased to see you all here to continue the discussion. It is so important that we gather regularly to share ideas for strengthening co-operative and mutualist enterprises.
Canadians understand this as well. This country has been home to many successful co-operative ventures, not just here in the province of Quebec, but also in Ontario, Atlantic Canada, the Prairies and the North.
It is a long and proud tradition, but today we are living through a challenging hinge point in our world history, characterized by rapid and profound change.
Let me quote a speech by Kevin Lynch, Canada’s former clerk of the Privy Council and current vice-chair of BMO Financial Group, in which he neatly sums up many of the changes taking place.
“Our world is in the midst of a profound transformation,” he said. “The information revolution is changing everything, but we seem more transfixed by each new device and less fixated on how this revolution is transforming, before our eyes, how we do business, do government, do health, do education, indeed do everything. The demographics of aging is inexorable in western societies, but we are slow, even hesitant, to draw out its implications for health care costs, immigration, education and housing to name a few. Globalization has created an immense new marketplace, but it has unleashed competition on a scale and of a sort that we have yet to get our minds around in the west.”
This state of affairs has major implications for all of us, including those of you who are charting the future of our co-operatives. That is why I am so pleased to note this summit’s focus on innovation, along with its five sub-themes: developing co-operative and mutual enterprise; financing and capitalization; food security; health and social care services; and employment.
Each theme is important, and the need for innovation is a common thread.
But what is innovation? How do we define it?
It’s neither about discovering nor inventing, as many people believe, though making discoveries and inventing new methods and technologies are vital to human progress.
According to Canada’s Science, Technology and Innovation Council, innovation is “the process by which individuals, companies and organizations develop, master, and use new products, designs, processes, and business methods.”
One of the key words in that definition is “process,” which reminds us that innovation is not a product, but rather a perpetual work-in-progress that can give rise to new and better ways of doing things. It is therefore essential that organizations establish cultures that truly value and celebrate innovation.
What does that look like in practice? In my experience, an innovative organization is one that is ambitious and desires to be a leader; that does not limit itself to working in silos, but rather looks outward and collaborates widely; and that celebrates and rewards responsible risk-taking and excellence in creativity.
Now that may sound relatively straightforward, but as you know being all of those things in practice is no easy task. It is not easy to be a leader; to reach out across institutional and geographic borders; to take the time to celebrate excellence. These things require courage, patience, dedication and, very often, an investment of resources.
That being said, innovation is no longer just an option—it is an imperative. Success in the years to come will belong to those enterprises that are able to successfully innovate and evolve, while building upon their unique strengths and advantages.
The co-operative movement is unique for its ability to harness our values of self-help, responsibility, democracy, equality, equity and solidarity in pursuit of shared goals. Those are important and timeless values, and the relevance of co-operatives is without question.
Your challenge as professionals is to retain the strengths of co-operatives while innovating for our contemporary context. It is a delicate balance and a significant challenge, and this is why it is so important that you come together at events such as this to share and support each other.
With that in mind, I would like to wish you the very best with your important work. Have an enlightening and productive summit.