Communication Tools for Global Collaboration

January 11, 2010

It was 1990. I was 17, 5,000 miles away from home and desperately wishing I could easily communicate with my friends and family. But there were only two options: novel-length letters or POTS (Plain Old Telephone Service). Fast forward to the 21st century and keeping in contact has become a breeze no matter where your location on the planet.

With the advancements of technology, the plethora of internet cafes, handy computer notebooks, and the various communication choices available, it’s as easy as a mere click of the mouse to have lengthy conversations—even meetings—no matter where you happen to be.

Continue reading to learn the best ways to stay in touch worldwide…

Moving beyond POTS

In the 20th century a land line telephone was the quickest and most expensive way to say hi. Still among the speediest way of verbal interaction, the phone has taken leaps and bounds into being a cost-effective means of communication.

The big step towards cheap, long distance telephone service was the development of VoIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol). VoIP is the understanding that sound bites travel through high speed internet connections the same way an email does, creating a clear telephone connection. The lightening fast exchange of information supports conversations with any other type of phone, whether or not it is a POTS. The only requirement is for your phone or computer to be connected to WiFi or a data port.

Originally brainstormed in 1973 with the conception of the first computer network, VoIP steadily moved towards easy consumer use. By the mid 90s VoIP had infiltrated the masses by means of the VocalTec Internet Phone which included voice mail and caller ID. The drawback was that it was only compatible with other VocalTec users. By 2004 the technology had advanced enough to create two different offspring of the original VocalTec concept. The first is an analog telephone adapter, a device that connects with an internet broadband connection, and a phone jack. Companies offering this system include Vonage and Comcast.

The other orientation is a program that is easily downloaded to any computer. Companies such as Skype and Gizmo5 have taken advantage of VoIP technology by creating a program that supports various forms of communication once downloaded to a PC or Mac. With either business you receive a phone number from your place of choice; Skype offers 21 country options, Gizmo5 — 60. It remains your personal number for the length of account activity. For example, my Skype phone number is based in Lake Tahoe, California yet I live in Bariloche, Argentina. People calling from the States often do not realize that the Californian number they called is ringing 7000 miles away. A personal IM id, voice mail and Instant Messenger are also included with the private phone number.

There are two major differences between companies like Skype and Gizmo5 and Comcast and Vonage. Skype, as well as Gizmo5, work on closed source software meaning that they are run by independent programs that can be downloaded to any computer. They also have compatibility with cell phones; Skype has its own cell phone (Skypephone) and Gizmo5 works with your mobile phone. Comcast and Vonage, on the other hand, work off of a high speed internet connection via a phone adapter plugged into a router. Also, Comcast and Vonage are only applicable to residents of the United States, Canada and the UK.

Despite variations in companies, majority of people living abroad use either Skype or Vonage. Sergio, a member of Buenos Aires Expat Forum, expresses his findings, “Vonage is fantastic. You can choose any area code and speak through a phone, just as though you are in the US. For $30 USD a month you have unlimited calls to the US, Canada, Puerto Rico plus unlimited fixed phone calls to the UK, Eire, Spain, Italy and France (no charge for calls to cell phones in North America but to Europe there is a charge – not to fixed phones). It’s an incredible service that really reduces distances.”

Others find that Skype is their mode of choice. Another associate of the forum, Allcraz, uses Skype. “I call through the internet using Skype. I can call land lines and cell phones anywhere for a small fee or talk computer to computer for free.” For the world traveler Skype or Gizmo5 may offer more flexibility. Skype offers instant messaging, video conferencing, call forwarding and cheaper prices for a personal phone number and long distance coverage. Gizmo5 additionally offers compatibility with other VoIP operations, a free built in recording system, access to LiveJournal (a virtual internet community where you can create a blog, journal or diary), and is recognizable (unlike other companies) as the correct phone number on some inbound United States caller-ids.

In addition to VoIP there is also the service of renting a cell phone that is capable of global service. Global Phone Works offers both cell and satellite phones at competitive prices. The company will ship the phone, chargers, a converter, and business cards with the cell number to your address before travel departure date. They have programs for short term trips and a yearly contract for longer stays.

For those that are not computer literate there are always old fashioned phone cards. These handy cards resembling a credit card are sold around the world. Some companies sell minutes that are added to a re-useable card, others are disposable with a pre-determined amount of time. The cards are sold at most markets and are used at any public phone operation. It is important to check usage fees due to extra costs being applied with certain plans and companies. If you want to buy phone cards before departing for your travel destination, check out You can research prices for international calls as well as purchase cards with this online service. They are 100% guaranteed throughout the world.

The Internet

The increasing feasibility of real-time communication would not be possible without the internet. Luckily for today’s traveler internet cafés and WiFi hot spots are becoming a common occurrence. Quality computer notebooks have hit prices below US$500 making it more financially feasible to own one.

“For me, the laptop and reliable connection to the internet is what makes living abroad do-able,” says three-year United States expat, Jamie Schectman. “I live in Patagonia in the middle of a national park and run three different international businesses from my PC. It’s pretty amazing.”

Easy access to the internet has basically abolished the need for mailing letters. In its wake is gratuitous virtual mail service. Web based companies such as Hotmail, Yahoo and Gmail offer free personal email accounts. These accounts are accessible from any computer or internet compatible cell phone or blackberry. Some programs like Gmail can act as a base station for other additional email programs. This works well if you only want to correspond from one account, but would like to send using different addresses.

Another way to reach the masses is writing a blog. A blog has different services. One is using it as a virtual post card. It can be used as a basic diary, helping your loved ones know your travel story. The only difference being that your readers can respond to your letters instantly. Another is the sharing of information; creating a place for people to learn about a unique aspect to your life abroad. My husband and I write a blog on our lives in Patagonia, Most of our readers return because of our ability to keep them updated on news and happenings in Bariloche (a notoriously difficult area to find reliable information about). In addition to being a good way to stay in contact, it is also a way to earn a few extra dollars with Google Ad Sense and Amazon ad programs. Websites such as,,,,, to name a few, offer easy-to-follow programs to create an experience-sharing blog.

Another great way of communicating via internet is Instant Messaging or IM. IM is a real-time communication tool to speak to others, whether two people or more, via an internet connection. There are various sites that offer IM. Companies such as Skype (the largest IM provider other than the Chinese customer-majority company QQ) offer programs, in addition to a personal phone number. Also, for increased security, other private users have to ask permission to be a part of your network before they are able to chat with you. Other companies, such AIM, Jabber, Yahoo! Messenger, ebuddy, Windows Live Messenger, Gmail Chat, as well as others, have made the instant messaging phenomenon a standard in computer communication. It is as easy as signing up for the chosen system; all which are free of charge. The only necessary component is that the person or persons that you wish to communicate with are also a member of said company.

There are various options for communicating, but what do you do if you are in an area that does not have cyber cafés or WiFi? That is where portable satellite equipment comes in. Portable satellite systems are compact, metal boxes (about the size of a laptop) that create a high speed internet connection despite your location. BGAN Store sells three different models of satellites that offer superior bandwidth, the exchange of large files, as well as video and audio connections. The satellites are around US$2400, plus a monthly fee, and range from two to seven pounds. Their small size makes traveling with them a breeze. The set up is also minimal.


The issue of sending or receiving a fax is still a problem with VoIP programs because of the internet code language being different than fax transmissions. There is an internet option that allows you to exchange faxes via computer, Efax. The only additional piece of machinery needed is a scanner. With Efax you receive a personal fax number for a monthly fee of US$12.95. There is also a feature that creates a digital signature, taking away the need to print, scan and sign documents.

Snail Mail

There are times when snail mail is needed. It is important to have a safe place in your home country that will receive and store mail for you. It is also nice for registering and ordering items while abroad. Private mail box companies, such as Mail Box, etc., offer this service for a nominal monthly or yearly fee. The company will give you a regular street address and private mail box number. With prior arrangements made, the chosen business can email when an important document has arrived, send accumulated mail to your address abroad, or package mail for friends or family coming to visit. This is especially useful for receiving occasional online purchases that cannot be shipped internationally.

For those creating a global collaboration, the communication options of today makes the process much easier. It truly is a small world. Thanks to technology, keeping in touch is just as easy whether close or far. And for those that are living abroad, it’s nice to know that loved ones are no farther than the push of a button; a simplicity that is important for both the person venturing out into the world and those left behind.

Argentina Participating in Global Collaboration

January 6, 2010


It is big topic of conversation around the world.

Businesses are having a hard time making it in today’s economy. Gas, oil and electricity prices are climbing, companies can’t afford increasing wages, and property rental and purchasing options are becoming a major issue. Corporations and small enterprises, alike, are struggling.

As has been seen in studies structured around the global business situation, the old-school thought of pyramid-styled, profit-based companies are not holding up as well as collaborative-based business models.

In saying this…is there then maybe a mindset-change that we as a society need to make?

Outsourcing, in my opinion, should not be a dirty word. Maybe instead, it should be thought of as the global community working together. Those people that find this increasing exportation of jobs a negative might consider that they are being given the chance to upgrade their own lives and do something more rewarding and more stimulating.

Or, at least, entertain the thought that it may be time to stop fighting the new shift in the working paradigm and, instead, join the revolution of working together and for oneself.

This power of people working together creates stimulation of ideas, an expansion of possibilities and a place of accountability for all involved. Or at least it should (and in saying that, those companies that are paying slave wages abroad, should not be supported until they, too, work from a more values-based place of company standards).

Our world has become microscopic because of the advancement of technology and computers. It isn’t the hardest working person (or company) that makes it big, it is the smartest. Those companies that look at the global arena as a huge, accessible pool of associates have made a beneficial step for business growth.

So where do the most intelligent companies looking beyond the box look to collaborate globally?

Of course, India is the first answer that comes to mind. The IRS, major companies such as General Electric and computer tech support divisions have taken the direction of Indian outsourcing. But there is one area that is quickly becoming a leading positive source of collaboration – Argentina.

Argentina is a major draw for lucrative companies, such as TeleTech, Motorola, Microsoft, HP, IBM, Sony, Hyatt, Hilton and Reuters, to name a few. In fact, Starbucks and Google recently decided to invest in Argentine outsourcing.

Dina Crusizio, a head manager for L.J. Ramos Brokers Inmobiliarias, a leading Buenos Aires real estate agency, has seen a surge of movement in businesses investing time and money into Argentine outsourcing. “We are renting a large amount of apartments to executives from small companies that are coming to open their branch’s here.”


There are a few different reasons Tango’s birth country is a hot collaboration market.

Before the crash of 2001 Argentina was an expensive, affluent country. Extensive time and money was put into data centers, telephone companies, and, most importantly, information technology (IT). Because of the national wealth, people were educated in international skills. Learning a variety of foreign languages at an early age was (and is) held at high importance. Careers like programming, telecom networking and computer design were leading fields for the up-and-coming. In fact, during the dot-com boom of the 90s, Argentina occupied 65 percent of the labor force creating, designing and enacting major Internet start-up companies.

But then disaster stuck. With the devaluation of the peso many lost everything and became hungry for work. Suddenly, instead of a major world power, Argentina became a gigantic pool of talented, technically savvy, highly-educated, unemployed employees. This high level of education helped the nation survive the worst crisis in Argentine history. Its knowledgeable workforce, power-house of a telecom industry, as well as affordable expenses and office space has made it one of the most profitable locations for those businesses looking into an international workforce.

The turmoil of the 2001 crisis—even nearly ten years later—has opened doors of opportunity to the savvy business person. Buenos Aires continues to be a frugal man’s paradise, and even more so outside the metropolis.

Electricity, nationally,  is 30 to 60 percent less expensive then the United States; the average cost for power is US$0.04 per kilowatt per hour. Property is affordable; the median sale price per square meter of office space in the city center, according to Crusizio, is around US$75 a square foot, median rental price, US$0.90 a square foot. According to brokerage firm CB Richard Ellis, the average purchase cost per square foot in New York is US$100.79. New York office rental price averages out to be around US$4.50 per square foot.

San Telmo Architecture, Buenos Aires

Another industry that Buenos Aires is affluent in is architectural design. The culture is rich in European craftsmanship; the architects in Buenos Aires are not only educated in modern, simple designs, but neo-classical as well. The high level of education and creativity offers a lofty level of possible architects for buildings throughout the world.

This design mindset extends to computer programming as well.

The owners of Tridimage, a digital media outsourcing company, saw opportunity in the changing times and developed a packaging company with 3-D marketing designs. Hernán Braberman, a representative of Tridimage explains, “It all started when Tridimage´s partners noticed the astonishing growth of the outsourcing industry in India. Using that as an inspiration, we decided to spearhead the Latin American offshore packaging design industry.”

But one of the most intriguing factors in collaborating with Argentine locals is the language. Argentina is a multi-lingual country (an estimated 70 percent of Argentines have European passports) with a large part of the population speaking Portuguese, Italian, English, German, and, of course, Spanish. There are over 30 bilingual educational centers in Buenos Aires; in fact the cosmopolitan city is the first urban dwelling in Latin America to institute multi-lingual public schools. English, as a second language, is especially common among the young (i.e. the largest pool of employees seeking work).

Buenos Aires 20-somethings enjoying the nightlife

This is not only great for the various languages spoken in Europe, but the United States as well.

It is estimated that there are more people that speak Spanish in the States then in all of Argentina. This fact is a huge incentive to companies looking to outsource to a country that can speak their client’s language. In fact many Buenos Aires technology companies, from tech-support to software-development centers, are using their Spanish abilities as a marketing tool.

At Tridimage it is a part of their mission statement. Braberman describes their belief, “We believe that Argentina can become an ideal location to bring offshore design services. Unlike other traditional regions of the offshore business, Argentina is located in a similar time zone and shares cultural values and similar mindset with the US and EU.”

Some are taking it to a whole new level and using the bilingual prowess as the company motto. Idea Factory, based out of Buenos Aires is such a business. Founder of Idea Factory, Ernesto Krawchik, explains, “We offer all kinds of language services to industries like IT, life sciences and financial services. As their industries are becoming more and more global every year, the quality of their communications with their communities of clients, vendors, shareholders and governments in their languages becomes an increasingly pressing issue. We offer world-class quality of translations and localizations, while at the same time help our customers keep their costs low and the recipients of their communications happy.”

One other positive in hiring within Argentina is its time zone.

Argentina is one hour ahead of the east coast, creating an ability to work on the same schedule as American companies. On the other side of the coin, it is five hours behind Europe, allowing European companies to be available to their clientele for a full half day longer. This difference in time zones is a positive that is not lost to companies activating global collaboration.

Krawchick believes that there are many reasons to work with Argentine outsourcing companies, the time difference being one. “Argentina has excellent professionals that are globally recognized. The business infrastructure, both physical, human and regulatory is excellent. The economy is very competitive for macroeconomic reasons, so prices are relatively low. Spanish is becoming an important global language and English is widely available in our country. Our time zone is conveniently in the middle of the main global markets in US and Europe.”

With all of these positives in regards to working with the people of Argentina, why is it that it has stayed under the radar?

This is mainly the fault of the government. Argentine politicians are not seeing it as a priority to advertise their countries international abilities. This can be seen in two different ways. On one side, there is not much competition for those companies searching out available employees. On the other, it would be a great assistance to the unemployed locals if the government made a concerted effort to put Argentina on the forefront as an outsourcing resource. Although, it should be said that the governments lack of action is not that they do not want foreign company involvement in their country. Actually, on the contrary, Argentina is a large proponent of international business. Their lack of outsourcing advertisement is of the same status as their approach to tourism or exports; Argentina is lackadaisical when it comes to promoting their natural resources.

In my opinion, after five years of living in the country, Argentina is a nation full of opportunity. Its wealth of trained programmers, forward-thinking designers, and highly literate populace has made the country stand alone as a worthwhile investment in Latin America. The cost-effectiveness of a company and its ability to work in a collaborative manner are two components at the root of whether a business will make it in today’s competitive world…or not.

Argentina is ready to help the smart companies succeed.

Can a Cooperative Business Model Save a Ski Area?

December 28, 2009

Crisis brings opportunity.

The saying is a popular one and a belief that has been proven over time. It is also a mantra for those looking for a silver lining during these dark times of global financial crisis. For some that glimmer of hope shines in the form of a forgotten business model that dates back to the early 1800s…the cooperative.

A practice that was born in Great Britain, fathered by a Welsh cotton merchant, Robert Owen, and expanded upon by Dr. William King and Friedrich Raiffeisen, the cooperative ideal was built on the belief that a community works together in the common interest of each other and the creation of a needed product.

The National Cooperative Business Association defines the ideology as a style of business, “…formed by their members when the marketplace fails to provide needed goods or services at affordable prices and acceptable quality. Cooperatives empower people to improve their quality of life and enhance their economic opportunities through self-help.”

Co-ops have assisted people throughout the centuries. Everything from agriculture to electrical issues, from banking to grocery shopping, cooperatives have stepped in to assist citizens around the world. In fact, there are 750,000 co-ops worldwide helping 730 million members, as reported by the NCBA.

And more importantly, these cooperatives have been found in a study issued by the International Labour Organization to be a resilient business model in times of financial uncertainty, both historically as well as in today’s fiscal climate.

As described by the ILO, “The recent massive public bail-out of private, investor-owned banks has underlined the virtues of a customer-owned cooperative…savings and credit cooperatives, also known as credit unions or SACCOS, building societies and cooperative banks, all over the world are reporting they are still financially sound and that customers are flocking to bank with them because they are highly trusted.”

For those that enjoy skiing and snowboarding, the cooperative business model has helped to open their global consciousness to a marketplace that needs assistance.

Enter Shames Mountain.

An isolated ski area in the upper reaches of northern British Columbia, the tiny resort is accessorized with impressive terrain, huge amounts of snow and, for now, easy-access to a winter playground.

But in reality Shames Mountain is a little-known powder paradise that is on the brink of death.

Accessorized by a chairlift, rope tow, ski school, rental shop, lodge and grooming department, the ski area boundaries outline 3,532 hectares (8,730 acres, which is more than the tenure of Whistler/Blackcomb for reference), of which 144 hectares (252 acres) have been developed into inbound riding.

A landscape of 1,500 to 3,000 foot vertical drops, sustained fall lines and great storm skiing, this section of Coast Mountain Range was researched, chosen and developed in the early 1990s by the Ski Northwest Society because of its impressive terrain and annual snowfall (1,200 centimeters or 480 inches per year).

Shames Mountain is located in northwestern British Columbia: 30 minutes from the logging-gone-bust city of Terrace (population 20,000) and a little under two hours from the harbor town of Prince Rupert (population 15,000). Terrace, known as the commercial hub of the region, has a user-friendly airport with multiple, daily, two-hour flights from Vancouver with Air Canada and Hawkair.

But due to a lack of advertising and world-wide marketing, as well as a small population base, Shames has yet to hit the radar screen for the global skiing and snowboarding tribe.

This lack of publicity (i.e. ticket sales) is causing an uncertain future for the mountain. In fact, there are rumors that this might be the last season if things don’t change.

Currently on the market for $1.5 million Canadian, this hidden gem is for sale to the right buyers (the current owners are very conscience of the community and the important role that the mountain plays in the outdoor recreation of Terrace and will not just sell to anyone).

The idea of a global cooperative was originally brought to the table by a soul skier far, far away from Terrace, BC. Jamie Schectman, a self-proclaimed citizen-of-the-world, United States-born, 100-day-plus skier who lives year-round in Patagonia, Argentina, had always dreamed of owning and running a ski area with other snow enthusiasts,

“I, along with a lot of other skiers I have skied with through the years, are becoming increasingly frustrated with the profit-only approach that many ski resorts are adopting. Seeing our ski areas caring less and less about the guest, not to mention the environment, just made me think there had to be another way.”

One day he received an email from a good ski buddy detailing a ski area in northern BC that was on the market for what seemed an amazing price. He did some research on the terrain and liked what he saw.

“One of my big passions in life is searching out the best skiing around the world. There are a couple things that us big mountain skiers look for: steep terrain and a reliable snow pack. Well, Shames gets an A+ in both of those departments.”

The next step was to contact some locals and get their thoughts on the possibility of a cooperative.

Schectman explains, “Through the giant circle of skiers and snowboarders around the world, I was able to make contact with some of the local Terrace riders. My initial email was quickly responded to with the question, ‘Are you an angel?’ With the locals blessing, I started throwing the idea out via social networking channels like Facebook. Within a few days it was obvious that the global snow lovers were excited about becoming a united cooperative.”

The reaction to the activation of a global ski area cooperative was impressive. Within a short amount of time the Shames Mountain Co-op (SMC) Facebook fan page surpassed 1,000 members. The new SMC website was getting nearly 200 individual hits a day. And the message board surpassed 300 members quickly and easily.

In response to the surge of interest, the locals established a group called Friends of Shames. The Terrace committee determined that as a township they would like to keep it home-centered before going global. The group determined that first approaching a community-controlled, non-profit business model would be most logical.

Jamie’s reply…”What is exciting about the global cooperative movement is that it brings snow lovers together from all over the world in the understanding that we are all involved for the positive creation of a ski area. The basic premise behind the Shames Mountain for-profit Co-op idea is to offer a values-based, tangible asset to skiers and snowboarders around the world. Bringing the worldwide snow community together gives us an opportunity to create a ski area that works in the best interest of the local people and natural surroundings, as well as leaving its riders satisfied and smiling at the end of the day. A ski area run by snow enthusiasts for snow enthusiasts…”

“…the core ideal behind the global cooperative vision is the “values-led business” belief system. The global ski co-op will make it’s decisions based on what is best for the community, environment and the guests. Other businesses, such as Ben and Jerry’s ice cream, have proven that a “values-led” business model can be very successful.

If the locals of Shames would rather not have the global component involved, I respect their decision. However, I am certain, by the immense amount of support that has been shown to us from around the world, that the global ski area cooperative concept will be greatly successful somewhere else. ”

This is an important point…Shames Mountain is not the only ski area in trouble in today’s economy. Much like the bank institutions treading in dark troubled waters, the ski area model of the last decade is crashing. The profit driven mentality is proving to be a bankrupting mentality.

Schectman believes that the globally-owned co-op model could be the new way of thinking for ski areas for several reasons,

“For one, by having a co-op, we can achieve many things that an individual owner or owners cannot. By tapping into the collective global intelligence, the co-op will have unlimited resources to find solutions to challenges, as well as receive input on how to best proceed. This intellectual property, as well as sweat equity, can be bartered in exchange for shares or goods at the ski area, helping to lower overhead. In addition, by selling reasonably priced shares — we are thinking in the $500 range — that most skiers and snowboarders can afford, it will work as a free marketing campaign that will increase mountain guest visits. I believe that not only will shareholder’s visit to check on their investment, but they will tell their friends about the cooperative ski area because of the amazing experience that they enjoyed and their pride of ownership.”

Currently there are a few ski areas, such as Mad River Glen and Magic Mountain, both located in Vermont, which are showing that a cooperative business model is a viable choice, though they are working on a more localized ownership-base. Mad River Glen originally adopted the practice in the 1990s and is now a profitable enterprise. Magic Mountain has recently jumped on the co-op band wagon and has found it a helpful means to continuing business.

Whether Shames Mountain ends up succeeding through a community-controlled non-profit, or a globally-enhanced for-profit cooperative remains to be seen…but one thing is for sure…when bringing multiple people together to work for the common good it takes the pressure, whether financial or otherwise, off of one person’s shoulders.

Or as said by the ILO, “The financial and ensuing economic crisis has had negative impacts on the majority of enterprises; however, cooperative enterprises around the world are showing resilience to crisis. Financial cooperatives remain financially sound; consumer cooperatives are reporting increased turnover; worker cooperatives are seeing growth as people choose the cooperative form of enterprise to respond to new economic realities.”

For ski areas of the future…tomorrow may be changing.

Will the cooperative business model help a little-known ski area?

Will it help a sport that is slowly facing a demise because of profit-only ski resorts?

Only time will tell.

Breaking Collaboration Down to the Basics

December 1, 2009

Collaboration seems to be a bit of a daunting word to some.

What does it mean exactly?

According to Wikipedia, collaboration means, “…a recursive process where two or more people or organizations work together in an intersection of common goals — for example, an intellectual endeavor that is creative in nature—by sharing knowledge, learning and building consensus.”

Or in brief, working together for the common good.

Here is a great article by Kenneth A. Crow, president of DRM Associates (a product development firm). He breaks down into detail what is exactly required for a group to come together in a productive manner of collaboration. Well-written and to the point, the aspects brought to light are great discussion points for any group wanting to work in a healthy collaborative environment.

Ways to Interact

November 29, 2009

An important part of collaboration is being able to communicate. And with the today’s real time environment the communication needs to be easy, understandable and ready to use at an instant. The developments of technology have been one of the biggest components when discussing this new cooperation among global members.

To get an understanding of the basic concepts of “real time” communication, check out an article I wrote for Transitions Abroad. It gives a broad description of what is out on the market to help us get together in a cheap, efficient manner.

Excellent Article on the Importance of Co-ops in 2009 Financial Crisis by Hazel Corcoran

November 27, 2009

Hazel Corcoran, Executive Director of the Canadian Worker Co-op Federation has written an excellent article, “Fire the Boss, Hostile Business Reaction as Worker’s Co-ops Gain Visibility”. A very educational read…

Gandhi said: “First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, then you win.”

“Naomi Klein and Avi Lewis, Canadians who made the film ‘The Take’ in 2004 about worker takeovers in Argentina, are at it again.

In their recent blog posting called “The Cure for Layoffs: Fire the Boss!”, they passionately made the case for hostile worker takeovers as a response to the economic crisis. Although they mention worker co-operatives generally, their focus is on mainly on protests, “bossnappings”, sit-ins and the like.

CanWest newspapers printed the attack on Klein and Lewis’ article without ever having printed the article itself.

Evidently, they touched a nerve. Philosophy professor Joseph Heath wrote an opinion piece in response which appeared in at least four Canadian daily newspapers: “Economics for lefties: Co-ops sound great if you hate big corporations. Not so great if you care about how they work in real life”.

Oddly enough, CanWest newspapers printed Heath’s response without ever having printed the original Klein and Lewis article. Heath states that, “Klein and Lewis, I must admit, make me a bit crazy. … They blame problems on totally fictitious causes, then recommend solutions that are guaranteed not to work. Like co-ops. … Co-ops are not a ‘cure for layoffs.’ They cause unemployment.”

Co-op supporters should laugh at his ire, not cry. As Gandhi said: “First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, then you win.” If we believe this, then we are three-quarters of the way there!

Of course in the co-operative way, if “we” win, everybody wins. The point would be to get away from having winners and losers. Co-ops are about creating an economy in which people matter more than profit; in which we create an environment in which people are free to discover the gifts that they bring to this world and have a way to develop them and contribute them to the common good.

Canadian co-operators responded vociferously to Heath’s opinion piece through various letters to the editor, refuting every point. You can see some of these letters printed as comments at the bottom of the Ottawa Citizen site.

In fact, Heath’s argument is refuted by the full scope of the worker co-op movement which has arisen around the world. In Europe, for example, there are approximately 50,000 worker co-ops with more than 1.4 million worker-owners. Many are manufacturing businesses. In the region in and around Mondragon, Spain, where the economy is based on worker co-operatives, there is lower unemployment than in other regions of Spain.

CICOPA (the International Organisation of Industrial, Artisanal and Service Producers’ Co-operatives, which promotes worker co-operatives) notes that “in France alone, in 2007, there were 70 cases of business transfers to employees.” The European Parliament has recently passed a resolution in favour of the social economy, which supports business transfer to co-operatives, 580 votes to 27 with 44 abstentions. The success of worker co-operatives, especially in Europe demonstrates the great potential there is for North American workers.

In Canada, legendary labour leader Lynn Williams spoke at the founding meeting of the Western Labour-Worker Co-op Council in September 2006, which has become an active and thriving organization, as reported in the first issue of Work Together. Similar efforts are underway in the US, with a conference on labour solidarity and worker co-ops held in early August, 2009.

“People are absolutely starving for alternatives to our broken system,” as Avi Lewis said in his speech at the Canadian Co-operative Association Congress several years ago. He went on, “But they aren’t getting them – they don’t know about them — and that’s where Co-operators will either seize the moment, or watch history pass us by. … It is, after all, when the market fails that co-operatives have historically come to the rescue of communities, economic sectors, even whole ways of life…

“[T]his is both a major challenge and a huge opportunity for you as co-operators right here in Canada. These sites of creative resistance, of urgent struggle and deep co-operation are often not even on the radar…. They need to be.”

Even staunch free-marketers like Joseph Heath have to admit that the current economic system is broken. (Well, he doesn’t, in this article, but most observers do.) Gandhi also said that wealth without work and commerce without morality are two of the seven worldly sins. Perhaps that’s why the free-market capitalist economy broke down.

We need to not only fix it but to replace it with another, co-operative economy whose basic goal is to meet human needs. The stories about co-operatives in Europe and Argentina and around the world demonstrate the worker co-operative movement (even the whole co-operative movement) can be an effective response to the global economic crisis.

But the co-op story needs to reach the public, through voices such as those of Naomi Klein and Avi Lewis, who speak and write with passion and eloquence. We need more public champions, particularly at a time when the corporate-controlled media are spreading misleading, negative information about the worker co-op and broader co-op movements.

If Gandhi was right, then defensive (not to say defamatory) articles in business media are a promising sign. In Avi Lewis’ words, at least we are “on the radar”. Let us seize the opportunity to use all the networks and smaller media available to us, to highlight the practical steps being taken by activists working in the field. Then, indeed, we may be more than three-quarters of the way to overcoming our broken and exploitive economic system.”

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