Spotlight Interviews with Co-operators

Interview with Carlos Gonzalez Blanco, Research Officer (Cooperatives of the Americas)

“Spotlight Interviews with Co-operators” is a series of interviews with cooperators from around the world with whom ILO officials have crossed paths during the course of their work on cooperatives and the wider social and solidarity economy (SSE). On this occasion, the ILO interviewed Carlos Gonzalez Blanco, research officer at Cooperatives of the Americas, and a national consultant for the Costa Rican case under ILO’s initiative on advancing the Guidelines concerning Statistics of Cooperatives.

Article | 2 mai 2023

Could you tell us about yourself and how you became involved in the work around cooperatives and the wider social and solidarity economy?

My name is Carlos González, I am an Agricultural Economist with a BA from the University of Costa Rica and a Master’s in Business Administration (MBA) from the Costa Rican Institute of Technology. My bond with cooperatives began when I was young, participating in the “New Generation Program” from Coocique R.L. (a banking cooperative), a program dedicated to introducing young people and children to cooperative principles and values.

From 2018, I started working as a Research Officer for the Cooperatives of the Americas, the Regional Office of the International Cooperative Alliance (ICA). For this organization, I have also worked as a Coordinator for the Coops4Dev Project in the Americas region and for the Casas de la Alegría Project in Costa Rica, both financed by the European Commission. Currently, I work in Cooperatives of the Americas as Project Development and Research Officer.

Tell us about your organization and your work within the organization related to statistics on cooperatives.

The International Cooperative Alliance (ICA) is an independent non-governmental organization that brings together, represents and serves cooperative organizations around the world. Currently, it counts among its members 315 cooperative organizations from more than 100 countries that represent almost 1,000,000,000 people around the world.

Cooperatives of the Americas is the ICA regional representation for the American continent. Its primary objective is "to promote the repositioning of the cooperative model in the new economic, political, social and commercial environment, supporting the member organizations of the Alliance in the Americas in the dissemination and defense of the cooperative identity, the promotion of business and the human resource development".

Within this mission of repositioning cooperatives on a global scale, in Cooperatives of the Americas and within the framework of the Coop4Dev project (co-financed by the European Commission), we developed a cooperative mapping in the region. This has been a pioneering exercise on available cooperative statistics in 23 countries in the Americas, an activity replicated simultaneously in the other ICA regions (Europe, Africa and Asia-Pacific), between 2018 and 2019.

How would you assess the current state of statistics on cooperatives available and used in Costa Rica?

Costa Rica has a very valuable tool that many other countries do not have, the Cooperative Census, which is carried out every four years under coordination of the National Institute for Cooperative Development (INFOCOOP) and support of other organizations related to cooperatives and government entities. Unfortunately, the latest available version of the Census dates from 2012, because in 2016 and 2020 it was suspended for various reasons.

Through the Cooperative Census, coverage of almost 100 per cent of the active cooperatives in Costa Rica is achieved, by collecting information on the number of cooperatives, employees, associates (by gender), economic activity, and location, among other variables.

However, it is essential to be able to carry out a new version of the Census to have reliable and recent statistical information about cooperatives in Costa Rica. This will lead to promote, measure and evaluate the effects of public policies on the sector. Some adjustments must be made in the data collection tool to adapt to the proposals made in the ILO Guidelines concerning Statistics of Cooperatives, such as disaggregating by types of cooperatives.

Through the National Advisory Committee established under ILO’s initiative on advancing the Guidelines concerning Statistics of Cooperatives in Costa Rica, it became clear that relevant cooperative entities are very committed to being able to carry out a new census as soon as possible. The results and recommendations of the case study that is being carried out in Costa Rica on statistics of cooperatives and the applicability of the Guidelines concerning statistics of cooperatives by the ILO will need to be reflected in the next Cooperative Census.

What are some of the key challenges in Costa Rica when it comes to developing statistics on cooperatives?

When working with statistics, it is important that the information is reliable, updated and comparable. This is where Costa Rica faces two key challenges. Reliable data is collected through the Cooperative Census, but, there are no recent data as the Census has not been carried out since 2012. Moreover some categories used in different variables are not comparable with the categories applied in other countries. These could potentially be solved by implementing the ILO Guidelines on Cooperative Statistics and promptly undertaking a new census.

Likewise, integrated work with State institutions is required, such as the National Institute of Statistics and Censuses (INEC) and the Central Bank, so that the statistics they collect can easily identify those related to cooperatives and extract information to improve decision-making at cooperatives, federations, confederations, and the State level.