Co-ops are not an alternative. They’’re a better model. Period.

It’’s this shift in argument from presenting co-ops as an alternative from our current system to a better model within our communities that Peter Couchman says can help take co-operatives to the next level.

Mr. Couchman is the CEO of the Plunkett Foundation, a national organization based in the United Kingdom that supports rural communities in establishing community-owned shops and other community-owned services.

Driven by a passion for achieving social justice issues through enterprise, Mr. Couchman has dedicated his entire career to building the co-operative movement. He is best known for helping to make Oxford, Swindon & Gloucester Co-op an internationally recognized example for engaging members and marketing its co-operative identity. He also sits on several boards advancing social enterprise.

According to Mr. Couchman, the current economic crisis is helping people realize the traditional business models aren’’t serving them or their communities. This offers an opportunity for co-ops to shine a light on their strengths.

“I think we need to pull out our successes and go out and challenge others by saying ‘Whose doing better than us at this?’ And not shy away from our pride and who we are,” Mr. Couchman tells ACCA News.

He points to a recent example when meeting with a U.K. government minister. During the conversation, the minister commented that the enterprises Mr. Couchman works with, which are often very small, must be unstable.

On the contrary. In the past 20 years, the Plunkett Foundation has helped to open 295 community-owned or co-op stories open, and 282 are still working today.

After recounting this to the minister, Mr. Couchman asked, is there any business form that you’’re doing that has a better record than that?

“He didn’’t have one,” recalls Mr. Couchman.

In addition to presenting co-ops as a better model, Mr. Couchman says it’’s also vital for co-ops to demonstrate their relevance to ordinary people’s lives.

“Until we win the argument that we can actually make your life better by believing in co-operatives, we will always struggle,” says Mr. Couchman, adding this understanding is built through a grassroots approach.

“We’’re never going to do that in one single go, it’’s constantly getting in there, group by group, and showing that relevance.”

Mr. Couchman will be a keynote speaker at Alberta Community and Co-operative Association’s( ACCA) fall gathering. The Nov.16-17 event held in Red Deer, Alberta will convene 300 co-op leaders, directors, members for connection, learning and dialogue, as well as next steps to advance the co-operative movement.