Value of membership: Meet the people working for you

15 May 2024

The heart of the cooperative movement can be found in historically classified building in Brussels and named Cooperative World House, home to the International Cooperative Alliance and to other sister organisations. Eleven staff members at the global level, form a formidable team along with their colleagues at the sectoral and regional offices, who are dedicated to serving cooperatives and members around the world. In the coming months we will feature members of the team and invite you to get to know the true value of an ICA membership. For each of them, it's more than a job. The cooperative culture, values and identity, is woven into the fabric of their lives. 

Gretchen Hacquard, Director of Membership

Gretchen's favorite story to tell about how cooperatives can impact lives, is about the Young People’s Multi-purpose Cooperative Society (YPMCS), based in Zimbabwe. This cooperative was a winner of the Replication Project launched by the ICA in 2020. YMPCS is a youth cooperative that installs solar panels. Most of their members are young women who have been trained to install and fix solar panels. For Gretchen, YMPCS is a perfect example of what she loves best about the cooperative model. People working together to meet their needs in an environmentally friendly way. YMPCS also has benefited from mentors in the cooperative movement in Zambia, who have helped train them to grow, and provide opportunities to succeed. This, says Gretchen, is a perfect example of her favorite cooperative principle: Cooperation Among Cooperatives.  

Gretchen joined the ICA in 2006 and comes from the U.S. cooperative movement where she advocated for cooperative development. This included providing strategic and fundraising support for NRECA International, she consulted for Land O`Lakes International Development Programs and was the Legislative Director of the U.S. Overseas Co-operative Development Council (OCDC). 

Gretchen plans to celebrate the International Year of Cooperatives in 2025 with a cooperative glass of wine! To learn where she gets cooperative wine, and understand the value of ICA membership, contact Gretchen at hacquard@ica.coop.

Leire Luengo, Director of Communications

Leire loves the cooperative model because everyone's voice is equal. As ICA's Communications Director, her collection of cooperative stories is endless. All the stories are inspirational, they often spark ideas and action, and encourage people to learn why the cooperative model is the answer for many global issues we face today. 

Her favorite story to tell depends on where people are from and what their interests are -- she has one for all occasions. As a Spaniard that lives in France, a story she likes sharing with bicycle races enthusiasts is about ORBEA, based in Spain and well known for their high-quality competition-grade bikes. Not many know that this organization is a worker cooperative. ORBEA employees came together in 1969 to overcome financial struggles and formed a cooperative. This model allowed them to continue working together, maintain their independence, and grow their business. ORBEA is now a member of the Mondragon Cooperative Group.

Leire is passionate about people having the power to participate and decide their future together, making the second cooperative principle -- Democratic Member Control, her favorite. Leire joined the ICA in 2017 with a deep background in international relations and journalism within the cooperative movement. She came from CICOPA, the International Organization of Cooperatives in Industry and Services where she worked from 2010. 

In 2025, Leire will celebrate the International Year of Cooperatives with a lot of music. She hopes to attend (or organize!) cooperative festivals with cultural music, theatre, performances. To hear cooperative stories and learn about why they can solve global problems, contact luengo@ica.coop.

Marc Noël, Direct of International Development

If you haven't heard of Creando Conciencia, a worker cooperative in Buenos Aires, Argentina, just ask Marc. It's his favorite example of how a cooperative was established and continues to battle climate change, empower local communities, and create jobs. Members of this cooperative collect waste, recycle materials, and transform what they can into beautiful furniture to sell. 

It's stories like this that strengthens Marc's belief that the most important step towards a fairer society is for people to participate in decision-making and have equal voting rights: one member, one vote, as stated in his favorite cooperative principle: Democratic Member Control.

Marc loves the cooperative model because he believes it is the best way to organize socio-economic activities to provide a lasting alternative to mainstream capitalism. 

"What I love most about my role at ICA is working with great people from across the globe," said Marc. "The cooperative movement is such a treasure of inspiration, imagination, and powerful characters." 

Marc joined the ICA in 2016, after serving as the International Development and Finance Manager at Cooperatives Europe. He has strong ideals and ideas about reducing the planet's carbon footprint and empowering communities. In 2025, Marc wants to celebrate the International Year of Cooperatives by working toward increasing the impact of his local energy community and together achieve 100% energy self-sufficiency in his apartment block. Contact Marc at noel@ica.coop to hear more about Creando Conciencia.

Jeroen Douglas, Director General

Jeroen is new to the ICA, but not a stranger to the cooperative movement. His roles at the Solidaridad Network Foundation, as the Strategy Director, and subsequently Executive Director, capped his service in the social and solidarity economy, making the transition to the ICA a natural next step. 

Since stepping in the role as Director General in January 2024, Jeroen has traveled widely to learn more about the membership and discover how he can lead and collaborate with other leaders to impact the global cooperative movement. 

He always takes the opportunity to talk about platform cooperatives like drivers.coop, upandgo.coop and patio.coop who are emerging in the digital space and jointly building a democratic internet. Jeroen believes that to grow peace in the world, we need to broaden civic space and repair ecology, as reflected in his favorite principle -- Concern for Community. “We live in VUCA times. Through their way of working, cooperatives together build a global social tissue for lasting prosperity and sustainability. After all - to cooperate is just another word for building peace.”

Having also provided leadership and strategic roles in for-profit organizations in his career, Jeroen never strayed far from his core belief that it is important to promote a solidarity economy, where sustainable and ethical finance contribute to democratic ownership and building local wealth. 

During the last few months, Jeroen has heard many inspiring stories from cooperatives around the world and has enjoyed being together with all the ICA leaders to create a strong strategic direction for the organization.   

For the International Year of Cooperatives in 2025, Jeroen hopes to spread his vision to strengthen and bring more resilience to the community and landscape where he lives.

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