Picture: Nicolas - Agence Semaphore
The Bigre! Rencontre (encounter in English) took place from the 22 to 26 of August 2022 in the city of Sète in the south of France.
The encounter was created in 2014 by three cooperatives whose principles are based on worker ownership: Oxalys, Coopaname, and Smart. These are all emblematic examples of cooperatives that support their members (who are independent producers) by collectivizing services and providing them with better working rights and social security coverage.
The event has grown significantly, with each edition seeing more and more cooperatives and cooperators participating, reaching close to 300 participants in 2022. The Bigre! Rencontre has slowly also become an annual meeting point for French cooperatives, and their members, to meet and share good practices and experiences.
CECOP had the opportunity to participate in the 2021 edition, and to present its "All For One" report. In 2022, CECOP attended again, and held a workshop on “Digitalization and cooperatives: Prospects in France and in Europe”. For this occasion, CECOP invited six representatives of its members from Sweden, France, Spain, and Italy to shed light on their experiences and learn from the other participants.
The workshop was organized in a fishbowl setting and divided into two sections. The first section focused on the cooperativization of the digital space with the testimonies of DiGiDi (DK), Startin’blox (FR), Digidem Lab (SWE), and the participants. The second part of the workshop was dedicated the question around: the digitalization of cooperatives. Starting from the experience of Smart Belgium (BE), Coompanion (SWE) and Doc Servizi (IT) , participants shared the challenges and solutions that constitute their experience on the topic.
CECOP members also held additional workshops during the event: Coompanion, with Smart Sweden, discussed “Competence development: how to enable collective learning in platform coops?”. Francesca Martinelli, author of the CECOP report “Lights On”, presented it in a separate session.
During the workshop, two main challenges stood out. First, cooperatives have a tough time to compete with digital corporate giants which often rely on venture capital. Their near-monopolistic position in the digital world gives them access to a strong network effect that is just not attainable for most cooperatives. Second, poor access to financing has been difficult to overcome both in terms of developing digital cooperatives and in terms of digitizing existing processes.
Yet some cooperatives thrive in the digital environment. For instance, DiGiDi is the monopolist of digital music distribution in Denmark, offering very high payouts to musicians (93%) which makes them commercially successful and attractive to the professionals. Smart Belgium cooperative is successfully using digital solutions to involve its 20 000 workers in democratic decision-making while Italian DocServizi has a sophisticated toolbox for members' self-management which powers its growth.
One of the future areas of work is deeper and wider cooperation among different cooperatives that can develop joint or mutually interoperable digital tools. Another solution is finding sectors and/or niches that are the most adapted to benefit from the cooperative values. Transparent control over data is a major advantage of the cooperative model, and cooperative data management can become increasingly attractive as Europeans (cooperatives and others) are more interested in creating a genuinely European data space.
In summary, worker ownership for workers, democratic decision making, and built-in transparency are all advantages that the cooperative model has over classical corporate enterprises. By leaning on these, cooperatives could find natural success in today’s digital market. It is also essential to provide support and advice for existing cooperatives to digitize and collaborate, and to offer general training to all cooperative members.
Beyond the sessions, the Bigre! Rencontre 2022 was a great opportunity to learn from the experience of cooperatives, connect members with the other cooperatives who may be going through the same experiences and hardships, and create new links with partners and strengthen older ones.
CECOP thanks the organizers for a brilliant 2022 encounter and looks forward to participating in future editions!