Cooperatives and policy-makers recognise the value of mutual collaboration to promote sustainable development at UN HLPF

18 Jul 2023
VNR Lab

On 11 July, the Committee for the Promotion and Advancement of Cooperatives (COPAC), of which ICA is a member, organised, in collaboration with the Permanent Mission of Mongolia to the United Nations, a Voluntary National Review Lab (VNR Lab), during the United Nations High-Level Political Forum (HLPF), held from 10-19 July at the United Nations Headquarters. The meeting - titled "Cooperatives: Partners for Accelerated Sustainable Development" - aimed to discuss how policy makers and cooperatives can partner for sustainable development, as well as to celebrate and reflect on the 2023 International Day of Cooperatives.

VNR process being a state-led, regular, and voluntary review of progress of the implementation of the Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development at the national level, the meeting focused on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) given that 2023 is the SDGs mid-term review year and the role of the cooperative movement as an ally in the realisation of the SDGs. The cooperative movement was the first group of enterprises worldwide to endorse the SDGs and be recognized as a partner in achieving these goals, it is thus a key moment to demonstrate the contribution of cooperatives in advancing the achievement of the SDGs.

The VNR Lab’s aims to be a candid discussion on these topics, ideally leading to the free exchange of ideas and experiences that can inspire action and policy across Member States. The meeting was focussed on the contributions of a panel of experts consisting of H.E. Enkhbold Vorshilov, Permanent Representative of Mongolia to the UN; Mr. Patrick Kilemi, Principal Secretary, Ministry of Cooperatives and MSEs, Republic of Kenya;  Ms. Agata Wozniak, Counsellor Migration, Employment and Social Affairs, European Union Delegation to the UN; Ms. Chitra Kumari Thamsuhang Subba, General Manager National Cooperative Federation of Nepal (NCF); and Ms. Elisabeth Philippe, Senior Manager, CSR and Media Relations, UNFCU; all of which have had high levels of success in boosting the cooperative movement in their nation or region.

In his opening remarks, H.E. Enkhbold Vorshilov, addressed how cooperatives have played a key role in helping nations progress towards achieving the SDGs. With the UN at the midpoint for the timescale of these goals, he expressed how cooperatives can be further appreciated by governments to help them accelerate sustainable development. He detailed how Mongolia has made good progress by making key legal reforms in 2021 and declared 2022 the Year of Cooperative Promotion. He shared the success rural Mongolia has had with cooperatives, especially farmers, and how Government’s actions such as VAT reductions on coop goods have helped drive this growth.

He continued to explain how this success is driven by the fact the cooperative movement is people centred and that it allows citizens to take control of their livelihoods but also that “Mongolia believes cooperatives can increase income not only for the household but for the regional level, helping decrease unemployment and poverty” across the region.

In his remarks, the PS Mr. Patrick Kilemi spoke about Kenya’s successes in utilising cooperatives for human centred sustainable growth and how they were the preferred business model to operate the changes needed to implement the SDGs. Kenya’s cooperative movement has 18 million members making it an example of a healthy African cooperative economy. He believed that the key to the next steps for the movement’s success in Kenya centred around green energy, inclusion (bringing more women and the next generation into the cooperative movement) and further increasing cooperation with the international movement. These themes were echoed by Ms. Chitra Kumari Thamsuhang Subba who spoke about how women had been key to the success of the cooperative movement in Nepal.

Ms. Chitra Kumari Thamsuhang Subba speaking on behalf of National Cooperative Federation of Nepal (NCF), a member of ICA, said that NCF had been invited to participate in VNR consultations in Nepal. She stressed that Nepal recognises cooperatives as key allies in the implementation of the Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development in the VNR reports of 2017 and 2022. She added that recognition of cooperatives in these reports highlights the sector as an important contributor to sustainable development and increases the opportunities for enhancing relations with governments and creating an enabling environment for cooperatives.   

Ms. Agata Wozniak detailed how the cooperative movement in Europe is incredibly well spread and even dominates sectors in some Member States. She highlighted  EU’s support for  cooperatives through measures to boost the Social and Solidarity Economy, including its support towards the adoption of the UN resolution on SSE  In Europe, she believes legislation alongside increasing the public’s knowledge and awareness of cooperatives is key to increasing their share of the economy and this was key to the EU’s Social Economy Action Plan which hoped to meet social and environmental goals while boosting the social economy where cooperatives are the key actors.  

Ms. Elizabeth Phillipe of the United Nations Federal Credit Union (UNFCU) stated that her credit union's Corporate Social Responsibility is guided by SDGs, reflecting its commitment with its members' work worldwide. She spoke about the successes of the credit union network in assisting sustainable development with her thoughts prompting a question from the audience in the later Q+A on ensuring coops have access to sufficient capital.

The meeting proved an excellent update on the successes of several Member States in the growth of their cooperative economies and how this has aided sustainable human centred growth. This facilitated a productive exchange of ideas on how cooperatives are contributing to SDGs and how they might accelerate this in the future.

In conclusion, cooperatives, as people-centred organisations with sustainable development at their core, have been recognised as important players in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda. They have been recognized in VNR reports by more than 50 different countries since the beginning of VNR reporting in 2016. The reporting on SDG performance of cooperatives in the VNRs is very important and its significance goes beyond mere reporting. It translates into recognition of cooperatives as one of the actors that have a role in the implementation of development agendas. This will enhance the recognition of the cooperative business model as a socially, environmentally, and economically sustainable model that is instrumental in achieving the SDGs. This mainstreaming will also pave the way for an enabling legal and policy environment for cooperatives at the local and national levels, while also enhancing the scope for collaboration with the governments and other development actors. We, therefore, encourage the governments to continue involving cooperatives in the VNR consultation processes and to include them in the national development plans and SDG reporting processes.

Coop Youth at the HLPF

Cooperatives also took part of another HLPF session. On 19 July, the President of the ICA Youth Committee, Ana Aguirre, spoke at the “Intergenerational dialogue on leveraging skills and investment to achieve the SDGs”, co-organised by the European Union and the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA).

With the objective of boosting youth participation in sustainable development discussions, the session gathered policy and young leaders to exchange on youth economic empowerment and the progress of the SDGs.

Referring to the needed changes to put SDGs back on track, Ana Aguirre affirmed that “transforming the world means transforming the models that have worked until now". She claimed that this transformation needs to come from the people, and she added that "participation, ownership and democratic decision making are key to transform the world and achieve self-capacity", by noting that the cooperative model can facilitate the tools and the context to do this in a collective manner.

EU Commissioner for International Partnerships, Jutta Urpilainen, opened the session by stressing the importance of skills development for youth employment. "The best way to achieve it [skills development] is through collaboration between the private sector, authorities and training institutions", she added.

Watch the full session here.

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