Cooperative Principle #6 in the Digital Era

Before GICS co-founder Jean-Louis Bancel delivered the closing address at the Co-operatives UK’s Annual Co-op Congress in Manchester recently, he posed this question to ChatGPT: “Will cooperatives be able to compete with the rich and powerful organizations?” He shared the response with the attendees:

“Co-ops can foster innovation and differentiate themselves in the marketplace by leveraging their cooperative structure, and member engagement. They can develop innovative products, services, by offering a business model that addresses unmet needs, or provide unique value proposition. Cooperatives that embrace technological advancement and sustainable practices can further differentiate themselves and appeal to a growing market segment.”

ChatGPT, a popular form of generative artificial intelligence (AI) generated this response for Jean-Louis, using a vast database of information modeled by human-led input. Recently the use of AI in enterprises has raised questions and concerns, but some in the co-op community also see this as another opportunity to maximize on new technology to improve productivity and services.

Violetta Nafpaktiti is the CEO of DotCooperation LLC, the enterprise that provides the .coop domain and COOP Marque to thousands of cooperatives around the world. She was a panelist in Manchester titled “The future of tech, AI and the role of the co-operative movement” and joined the discussion on ever-evolving technology tools, the impact of AI on everyone, and why it’s important to have an open mind and be willing to embrace technology-led change.

“Cooperatives should take advantage of what’s out there, use these tools to serve their members better and remain relevant and important,” said Violetta during a recent interview. “Any technology poses risk, so if you don’t prioritize understanding it and integrating it in your strategy consciously, the risk becomes bigger.”

Simply, AI is a machine or computer’s ability to perform the cognitive functions we usually associate with human minds. It is a tool, much like other types of technologies we incorporate into our daily lives or implement in our enterprises to support innovative ideas. AI technology is not new. Families use voice-activated digital assistants at home, and businesses use AI programs to efficiently analyze vast amounts of data to help improve operations.

During the panel discussion, Violetta also highlighted the importance of cooperatives to take advantage of the digital space to communicate, collaborate and cooperate. She introduced COOPs Connect, a directory and platform for cooperative enterprises around the world to increase their visibility and interconnectivity to each other and the public. This was launched in collaboration with Cooperatives UK, Digital Commons Cooperative, the International Cooperative Alliance, and the association of USA cooperatives NCBA CLUSA.

“We have to take Principle #6 into the digital era and take advantage of the digital space to connect with each other,” she added, “In the tech industry, cooperatives cannot easily compete with privately-owned tech start-ups who can access capital much easier. Furthermore, both co-ops and privately owned start-ups can’t compete with the large companies who own and develop AI tools. However, tech cooperatives are great  at providing valuable services to their members. Co-ops using AI tools could certainly increase the value of their member-services”.

Rose Marley, Director General of CoopsUK, and facilitator of the discussion also reminded the people in the room of how the cooperative movement began.

“The cooperative movement started with the industrial revolution, and the new technologies at the time disrupted the status quo and raised questions,” she said.

For co-ops who have not entered the AI space, Violetta offered some food for thought.

“Generative AI like ChatGPT is based on data that is already out there. Co-ops need to get into this space to be more discoverable and be a part of this information bank,” she stressed. “In very simple terms, cooperatives need to use the Internet more to promote their cooperative identity, who they are, and what they are.”

If technology is really moving at break-neck speed, Jean-Louis may get a different response to his ChatGPT question before addressing the audience in Montreal.

How is your co-op or enterprise using artificial intelligence? We’d like to know. Send us an email at and learn more about the workshops we will be having on this topic.

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