Cooperatives empowering young people: a look back at the GYF21

29 Apr 2021

The Global Youth Forum – Cooperative Entrepreneurship 2021 (GYF21) wrapped up on 26 March after two days of discussions around youth, cooperatives, and entrepreneurship.

The Global Youth Forum – Cooperative Entrepreneurship (GYF) is an event organised within the framework of ICA-EU Partnership (#coops4dev), in collaboration with the ICA Youth Network. It aims at bringing together young entrepreneurs and professionals from all around the world to offer them quality training sessions, and at providing them with an international networking space.  

In its second edition, the GYF was held virtually, and 430 participants from around the world registered to attend the event. It featured 28 online sessions and workshops, an online concert and countless conversations.

First day: an Opening Session with representatives from the cooperative movement

TheOpening Session was moderated by Angélica Soberanes, Vice-President for the Americas of the ICA Youth Network, Youth Representative of the Mexican Cooperative National Confederation, and co-founder of its youth committee, COJUCOOP.

Marlene Holzner, Head of Unit G2 at the European Commission’s Directorate-General International Partnerships (INTPA), talked about the importance of the ICA-EU Partnership (#coops4dev), which dates back to 2016. She thinks that as a civil society organisation, the ICA plays a key role in promoting democracy all over the world whilst providing policy recommendations to governments. She added that cooperatives could help the Commission deliver on decent jobs, digitise the economy and drive youth entrepreneurship.

ICA President Ariel Guarco mentioned the #coops4dev global report: Young people and cooperatives: a perfect match?, which highlights how the cooperative model can empower youth and offer solutions for the main challenges faced by young people worldwide. The recommendations of the report are even more important in the context of the economic recovery after COVID-19, said Mr Guarco.

Sébastien Chaillou, the President of the ICA’s Youth Network, said the GYF21 aimed to mainstream the idea of doing business in a different way. Mr Chaillou joined the co-operative movement from a civil society organisation in 2013 with the aim of creating a cooperative focused on helping Paris Sorbonne students self-organise and manage their own services on campus.

“Co-ops can put youth in a situation to act, do, and experience things,” he said. “We need to emphasise to those who create start-ups that if they want to achieve a great social impact then the co-op is the right model.” 

The Opening Session also featured Salonie Muralidhara Hiriyur, Senior Coordinator at SEWA Federation in India. She looked at the impact COVID-19 is having on youth in her country, particularly young women and the role played by SEWA in helping communities to tackle the pandemic. Abodana Mandali, a young women’s handicraft cooperative, is producing masks while other co-ops started making hand sanitisers.

Ms Muralidhara Hiriyur called for investment from the public and private sector and mentoring schemes to help to drive cooperative entrepreneurship even more and praised the ICA’s Youth Replication Project for funding and mentoring youth cooperative projects across the world.

Georgia Papoutsi, Policy Coordinator for the ICA-EU Partnership, argued that while enabling policies and legislative frameworks played a key role in fostering cooperatives, decision making often started within local communities. She added that young entrepreneurs needed to engage with people in their communities to come up with solutions together.

Watch the full recording of the GYF21 Opening Session.

After the Opening Ceremony, participants attended an online concert featuring some performances from artists from around the world. 

Second day: online training sessions and networking opportunities

On the second day, participants could attend a range of training sessions on a variety of topics such as cooperative identity, gender equality, digital tools for cooperative entrepreneurship, policy, and more. Here are few examples of sessions:

Youth Voices in EU development and cooperation

The European Commission’s commitment to improving youth engagement in EU policies was further emphasised during a session with Anna Torres-Fraile, Policy Officer - Youth Team Unit G.3 - Youth, Education and Culture, European Commission’s Directorate-General for International Partnerships. She explained that all EU external action projects aimed to take into account young people particularly due to their potential for driving innovation, change and sustainability. Youth engagement is also closely linked to the EU’s pledge to leave no one behind and its commitment to the SDGs, she added.

The Commission has taken a number of recent actions to improve youth engagement including the launch of a Youth Sounding Board, a platform for young people to have an influence on EU external action and international partnerships. 

The board will include 25 young people from Africa, the Middle East, Asia, the Pacific and Latin America and the Caribbean, as well as Europe. Ms Torres-Fraile encouraged GYF21 participants to apply for a position on the board.

She said the Commission would be developing a Youth Action Plan for external action and would continue to support youth organisations and capacity building projects such as GYF.

The European Commission also runs a Development Education and Awareness Raising Programme (DEAR), through which 35,000 teachers have been trained in global development issues.

YouTHink Coop: are youth key actors in the decision making process?

During one of the workshops at the Forum, participants looked at how cooperatives can empower today’s young people. This session was moderated by Georgia Papoutsi, Policy Coordinator for #coops4dev. 

Ana Aguirre, Vice President for Europe of the ICA Youth Network, warned that young people “are not just a topic”. She said cooperatives needed to include young people’s voices in different topics that are not just youth related and added that events such as GYF21 helped young people feel empowered by giving them the chance to share their views and learn from one another.

“A lot of the time feeling clueless is part of the learning experience, it's ok to listen, ask questions and say you don’t know. So surround yourself with people who are positive and fall in love with the problems you are trying to solve, not the solutions you are trying to implement. This will allow you to change your opinion,” she said.

Teepee Gile, from RedRoots artist cooperative in the Philippines agreed that the movement needed succession planning. It is imperative to have a youth representative on the board of directors of cooperatives and for them to participate in policy-making, she said. She explained how at her cooperative a job rotation scheme enables members to work on different projects in different departments. Furthermore, the cooperative welcomed members who may not have the educational background required for a specific role, providing the share the core values of the organisation.

Tapiwa Nyandoro, Africa Partnership Lead at the Impact Hub Global said that co-ownership empowered youth involved in cooperatives, boosting innovation in the process.

Gender equality and the role of young cooperators

GYF21 also featured a closing session focused on the role of young people in driving gender equality, moderated by Angélica Soberanes, Vice-President for the Americas of the ICA Youth Network. María Eugenia Pérez Zea, the President of the ICA’s Gender Equality Committee, said the movement had come a long way over the last 30 years in terms of enabling women to take up leadership roles.

 “Young people have the advantage of being more aware of women’s participation in equity,” she said, adding that it was important for cooperatives to implement strategies, which help young people to be members of committees or boards. 

“It’s important that within organisations there are youth policies and a budget for activities. One cannot truly be called a leader if they do not prepare the next generation of leaders,” she said.

To discover more about the event, stay tuned on, where the recordings of the sessions will soon be uploaded. 



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