Cooperating toward peace, justice and strong institutions: A principle 6 conversation under the cooperative identity consultation

18 Dec 2023

The International Cooperative Alliance (ICA) and NCBA CLUSA joined forces to host a conversation in the framework of the Cooperative Identity Consultation, focusing on Principle 6 and UN Sustainable Development Goal 16, "Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions".

The discussion touched on a range of issues, from how trade between cooperatives contributes to building peaceful relations in conflict zones to the role of existing cooperatives in supporting the emergence and strengthening of new cooperatives. 

Aimee Marie Ange, Cooperatives Policy specialist at the Ministry of Trade and Industry, Rwanda, shared her country’s experience in using cooperatives to promote unity and reconciliation following the 1994 genocide.

She explained that cooperatives were chosen by the government as a tool for reconciliation due to their important economic contributions and positive social impact. She added that cooperatives promote social cohesion and tackle poverty, as well as bring people together due to their open membership principle, promoting unity and reconciliation.

During the webinar, the speakers also highlighted the difference between the concept of negative peace (the absence of violence) and positive peace (attitudes, institutions and structures that create and sustain peaceful societies).

In Japan, cooperatives contribute to both positive and negative peace efforts. Professor Akira Kurimoto, from Japan Cooperative Alliance, talked about the role of Japanese cooperatives in campaigning for peace and disarmament in the 1950s. He explained how the Japanese Consumer Cooperative Union (JCCU) became a leader of non-partisan citizen peace campaigns which culminated with the UN designating it a peace messenger in 1988.

According to Prof Kurimoto, the movement also promotes positive peace by supporting cooperative development projects in the Global South. JCCU is now the largest funder for UNICEF Japan.

Leonorilda Coc from NCBA CLUSA in the USA shared Guatemala’s experience, where cooperatives were an important presence at the 1996 peace talks that ended internal conflict within the country. She also referred to the role of cooperatives as an economic and social development tool for the most discriminated and disadvantaged people in Guatemala. 

Through primary, secondary and tertiary cooperatives, regular Guatemalans were able to influence decision-making at the highest government levels and their views were taken into account when development plans were drafted by the government, she added.

Alexandra Wilson, the Chair of the ICA Cooperative Identity Advisory Group, also talked about the role of the Co-operative Union of Canada and the Co-operative Development Foundation in establishing cooperatives among Inuit people and making Inuit art known around the world.

Ms Wilson pointed out that principle six – cooperation among cooperatives – was crucial to setting up Canada’s first insurance cooperative, with insurance cooperatives from the UK and USA helping cooperators in Canada get their project off the ground 75 years ago. 

Paul Hazen from the U.S. Overseas Cooperative Development Council (OCDC) also looked at international cooperative development, giving examples of how US cooperatives support the development of cooperatives in countries in the Global South. Following the passing of the Foreign Assistance Act in 1961, the US has been providing financial assistance to its cooperative movement to help people in the Global South.

“We have 10 cooperatives and coop organisations in the US that implement programmes around the world,” he said.

Asked what were the key barriers preventing cooperative-to-cooperative trade, Mr Hazen mentioned the lack of capital, cooperatives operating in silos and the lack of an understanding of the role of positive peace among some leaders.

The speakers also discussed the importance of apex bodies, with Erbin Crowell from the Neighboring Food Co-op Association (NFCA) in the USA arguing that secondary cooperatives, federations and associations of cooperatives and credit unions are the most effective tools for supporting cooperative business success and advancing the movement as a whole.

“Just as the cooperative model enables individuals to pool their resources and meet their needs and aspirations together, principle six calls on individual coops to work together to build a cooperative network and economy that can protect and empower their members and communities,” he said.

Ms Wilson agreed and pointed out that sometimes cooperatives expect to see tangible benefits from joining an apex organisation but cross-sectoral bodies and apexes often offer more intangible benefits, such as helping to build a more peaceful world.

David Rodgers, coordinating author of the ICA Guidance Notes on the Cooperative Principles, highlighted that the founders of various cooperative movements around the world “were all seeking to create social and economic justice, and cooperation among cooperatives is a fundamental part of realising our founders' vision of a cooperative Commonwealth.”

He said that by federating together, cooperatives can accumulate some of the services that individual primary cooperatives require but, he added, there will be times when market conditions mean some cooperatives may not have at a particular time the capacity or resources to extend beyond their immediate concerns to support new cooperatives.

Jiro Ito from the Japan Cooperative Alliance explained how cooperatives from different sectors came together in 2018 to set up the apex to respond to the cooperative movement’s need to speak with a single voice, particularly when it came to lobbying for legislative changes.

The speakers also pointed out that digital platforms can be a space for cooperators to talk and can strengthen and enhance the peace process.

Summing up the discussion, Mr Crowell called on cooperators to constantly challenge themselves to live up to their ideals. He invited participants to visit the ICA Cooperative Identity consultation webpage for additional resources.

Ms Wilson concluded by reminding participants of the ICA’s political neutrality status, which, she said, had been tested and challenged through some very difficult historical periods, including more recently with the conflicts in Ukraine and Gaza. Pointing out the Rwandan example, she said cooperatives would have a key role in playing a constructive part in healing the wound once these conflicts end and in trying to create conditions that will make these conflicts, something in the past.

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