Co-operatives empower youth, say United Nations

27 Nov 2012

Key players from the co-operative movement discussed the benefits and the hurdles of youth involvement in co-operatives at the Youth Forum, part of the United Nations' Closing Ceremony for the International Year.

The Youth Forum, with the theme Cooperatives and Youth: Empowerment, Employment and Engagement, saw the proposal and discussion of the International Co-operative Youth Statement. The statement calls for youth to be empowered by co-operatives and tells young people about the entrepreneurial and managerial opportunities available in the movement.

Monique Leroux, Chair of the Board, President and Chief Executive of Desjardins, and Simel Esim, Chief of International Labour Organization's Co-operative Branch were two of the speakers.

Ms Leroux told the young co-operators: “I know it is a cliché that you are the future. But you are also the present, you need to make your voices heard.”

She added: “As young leaders I encourage all of you to be bold, to be ambitious for yourself and for the Co-op Movement to be also inclusive of all people who believe in co-operation.”

Simel Esim said co-ops are "a means to reach youth employment, formalising the informal economy".

The draft of the Youth Statement was proposed by José Antonio Chávez Villanueva, Chair of ICA Youth Network Executive Committee, he said: “How can we involve and empower young people through co-operatives?”

The co-op model might imply something "out of fashion for young people", he added, and co-operators must have an inter-generational approach to make co-operatives attractive to young people. Mr Chávez added: “We need to show that working with young people is a strategic element when it comes to co-operatives”.

The event was chaired by Elise Van Driel, Project Leader for the IYC from Rabobank, who read out a statement from the Chairman of Rabobank, Piet Moerland, which said: “Young people are too often seen as a target for products or services to sell. Co-operatives empower individuals to gain access to markets that would otherwise remain closed or only accessible under unfavorable conditions.”

Young co-operator Emily Lippold Cheney, Founder & Co-Chair at USA Cooperative Youth Council, also spoke at the event, she said: “Co-operatives are a means to an end: the Co-op Movement, lifestyles and philosophy.”