Spotlight Interviews with Cooperators
Italian social cooperatives working together for the benefit of the communities
"Spotlight Interviews with Cooperators" is a series of interviews with cooperative leaders from around the world with whom ILO officials have crossed paths during the course of their work with cooperatives. In this issue ILO interviewed Ms Vittoria Burton, Head of Research and Development of Consorzio Copernico in North-West Italy. Prior to joining Consorzio Copernico in 2015, she worked at one of the six cooperatives constituting Consorzio Copernico as Chair and Educational Coordinator from 1997 to 2015.
Q. What is Consorzio Copernico?A. Consorzio Copernico is a consortium of six social cooperatives that was established in 1997 to coordinate and strengthen the social cooperative movement in the Canavese are of the Piemonte region in North-West Italy. It is a member of the national confederation of cooperatives, Confcooperative, as well as the national association of consortiums, Consorzio Gino Mattarelli.
In Italy, social cooperatives are organized under two types, A and B. Three of Copernico's cooperatives are Type A cooperatives: they produce educational and social welfare services for children, adolescents, families and, more recently, immigrants and asylum seekers. The other three cooperatives are Type B cooperatives, with the main objective of providing job opportunities to people who need a sheltered work environment, for example people with learning difficulties or disabilities, people who have addictions, offenders who are given the chance to work outside prison, or long-term unemployed people. Type B cooperatives operate in social and agricultural sectors, and catering and industrial cleaning services.
Copernico’s six cooperatives employ a total of more than 200 people, 76 per cent of whom are women, where 18 per cent face some type of disadvantage. The consortium only employs two people directly: an accountant responsible for administrative services, and a project manager, responsible for the newly constituted research and development department. The Board consists of one representative per member cooperative, and currently all of the Board members are women. The annual turnover of the consortium is 2.5 million euros, making Copernico a relatively small consortium in the landscape of Italian cooperative consortiums.
Q. What is the underlying model for Consorzio?A. The model underlying Copernico's activities can be summed up in the slogan “stronger together”. As a consortium offering a diverse set of services that have a significant social impact (particularly through the Type B cooperatives), Copernico is an attractive choice for the public sector when procuring for services. Also, the combination of different skills and work experiences and models creates an ideal space for generating social innovation.
Both Copernico and two of its Type A cooperative members have made substantial investments to provide stability to their community welfare activities. Copernico, for instance, has purchased a 5-acre farm in order to create a place for community farming, where local organic fruits and vegetables are produced for the canteens of the educational services of their member cooperatives, creating sheltered jobs and training opportunities for people with disadvantages.
Q. How are the decisions made in the Copernico?A. The cooperatives maintain independence in decision making on the activities they run directly. When such decisions impact other cooperatives in the consortium, in terms of services provided or geographical area in which the activities will take place, an agreement is reached for the new project to benefit all the cooperatives.
The Board functions as arbiter among the cooperatives and as a coordinator for joint ventures. It is also a point of reference for the public sector, including local councils and social services, and it is often called upon to act as partner, or more often, leader in grant seeking activities.
Spotlight Interviews with Cooperators is a series of interviews with cooperative leaders from around the world with whom ILO officials have crossed paths during the course of their work with cooperatives. The responsibility for opinions expressed in this interview rests solely with the interviewees, and the article does not constitute an endorsement by the International Labour Office.