Tomorrow morning I leave for Italy.
I’ll be attending the International Cooperative Alliance Research Conference, where I’ll be presenting a paper on how Judaism, Christianity and Islam share cooperative teachings and practices, which provide a basis for peacemaking, reconciliation, and well, cooperation. Last year I presented on Christianity and cooperatives, and that has since turned into a book that is being printed as I type this, and will be available online Wednesday (God willing).
It is going to be quite a week. This conference is being held in a province called Trento, which is north of Verona, nestled in the Alps. Trento was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire until WWI, and was briefly occupied by the Germans in WWII. There are four languages spoken among the 1/2 million inhabitants, and you’ve never heard of three of them. It has a really pretty flag with lots of purple. Who ever heard of a mostly purple flag?
Trento is home to the Federazione Trentina della Cooperazione (that’s Trento Federation of Cooperation for y’all who non parlo italiano). Nearly half of the population is a member of one of 545 cooperatives, which play a major role in the economy. About 13,500 people are employed by the co-ops, and 10,000 are board members (10,000 board members!?!).
The cooperative banking sector carries out about 2/3 of the financial activity in the province. I have trouble believing it, but apparently 90% of produce is from co-ops, including 70% of the wine (which I plan to sample liberally). The co-ops also have a 35% market share of retail groceries, in part because more than 200 villages have a food co-op as their only grocery store. Truly, these are some cooperative people. I just hope I can understand enough of what they say, since I’ve got a bit of the “non parlo italiano” problem.
I am especially excited because, in addition to being on of the world’s most dense cooperative systems, Trento has a faith element of some sort that I’ll be researching while I am there. It was founded under the leadership of a Catholic priest, don Lorenzo Guetti, with the help of swarms of other priests who wandered the countryside starting co-ops hither and yon. (at least in the romantic image that I have based on what few scraps of information I’ve been able to find; there are also lots of flowers blooming in my co-op preist fantasty) I’m not sure if religion plays a major role now, and I’ve been led to doubt that. But that’s what I’m going to find out. Apparently this will be the first written English research on this topic, ever. So you’ll read it here first.
Anyone who wants to learn more about the Trento co-ops can check out a presentation (the only one I’ve found) that can be accessed at http://www.oecd.org/dataoecd/20/23/37741957.pdf.
Or, of course, you can tune in next time. Probably sometime Wednesday. Until then, arrivederci!