#coops4dev? at the United Nations Headquarters in New York

25 Jul 2019

On the 8th of July, #coops4dev? took part in the celebration of the International Day of Cooperatives 2019 at the United Nations Headquarters, in New-York. This year's theme was "Cooperatives for decent work" (#Coops4DecentWork).

As people-centered businesses and key development actors, cooperatives have an important role to play in the creation of decent jobs and the social and economic empowerment of local communities. Cooperatives can contribute to achieving a better and more sustainable future for all by supporting, among other SDGs, Sustainable Development Goal 8 "Decent work and economic growth".

The event took place alongside the High-Level Political Forum 2019, which started the following day and aimed to review SDG 8 on decent work and economic growth.

The three segments of the session were moderated by Wenyan Yang, Chief of Global Dialogue of the Social Development Branch in the Division for Inclusive Social Development, Georgia Papoutsi, Policy Coordinator of ICA and Matthieu Cognac, Senior Multilateral Cooperation Specialist at the ILO New York Office for the UN.

In this article, we highlight some key takeaways of this enriching conversation.

The case of Nepal: the cooperative spirit at the core of society

His excellency Amrit B. Rai, Permanent Representative of Nepal to the UN, shed light on cooperative action in Nepal. He highlighted that the cooperative spirit forms the core of Nepalese society; and that the cooperative sector is a pillar of the economy and an important vehicle for decent work and development.

He emphasized that in Nepal, the inclusive approach of coops contributed to elevating the livelihood of small farmers, rural entrepreneurs, providing decent work opportunities and empowering women and marginalized communities. Coops help to mobilize saving and investment and ultimately spread the entrepreneurial spirit among diverse groups of the population.

Moreover, he noted that inequality and high unemployment persist in Nepal, and that the world of work is going through a rapid transformation due to innovation and technology. Clearly, there is plenty of room for coops to play a role in the creation of decent work opportunities in the existing economic structure, as well as in overcoming the future challenges in the world of work.

The case of Mongolia: exemplary support to the cooperative sector

His Excellency Sukhbold Sukhee, Permanent Representative of Mongolia to the UN, talked about the innovative experience of Mongolia and the important contribution that cooperatives make in the country's economy and society.

Coops’ presence is significative and continues to rise: according to the National Statistical Office of Mongolia, in 2017, 4400 coops were registered at Business Registration Fund, which represents a great increase since the previous year.

He added that the Mongolian government works actively at supporting employment in coops and cooperative entrepreneurship through training, material, and financial support. Moreover, he mentioned a draft legislation on cooperatives whose key features include attempting to recognize true members, clarifying the various possible forms of cooperatives and the number of members, among other vital revisions to the current legal landscape for cooperatives in Mongolia. The draft law is in the public debate.

Finally, he noted that "coops play an important role in achieving the SDGs and promote development in its three dimensions: social, economic and environmental".

The ICA's statement on cooperatives and decent work

Georgia Papoutsi, Policy Coordinator at the International Cooperative Alliance, took the floor to highlight the particular relevance of the theme #Coops4DecentWork in the context of the ILO 100th anniversary.

She added that in the face of the pressing global challenges like climate change, migration and the transformative world of work, cooperatives create links between local needs and the global political discourse. Their impact at the local level helps poor and marginalized people and communities to lift themselves out of informality and poverty. They are important drivers of decent work and have a great role to play in achieving a fair, safe and inclusive word of work. They also bring innovation to the world of work, through for instance new freelancers' coops and coops platforms. 

Finally, the cooperative model goes beyond economic growth and generate inclusive and sustainable economic growth for all.

To conclude her speech, she shed light on the essential role of COPAC members' statistics on cooperatives in effectively tracking the contribution of coops to decent work and on #coops4dev? -  the ICA-EU partnership - which promotes coops as key actors of development and vehicles of decent work, allowing for initiatives such as aroundtheworld.coop.

Aroundtheworld.coop: some powerful stories to display the contribution of cooperatives to decent work 

Sara Vicari introduced aroundtheworld.coop and revealed some insights on the background of the project. Andrea Mancori and Sara are travelling the world for one year to promote stories of innovative, inclusive and successful cooperatives. They give a voice to cooperators and show how coops can make a difference in transforming the lives of families and communities.

To do so, they use a participatory methodology: they first spend few days observing and getting to know the local people and ask cooperators to engage in a deep reflection on the effect of the coop on their lives. Then they start filming, allowing cooperators to tell their own stories.

Sara stressed that coops are a unique space to promote decent work, which is more than a fair wage. For her, decent work is also about meaningful relations, trust and safety, engaging in meaningful relations and increasing self-confidence: cooperatives are a democratic space that allow people to create their future.

After Sara's speech, the audience paused the discussion to watch the fourth video of aroundtheworld.coop, which documents the story of the Nepali Bhabishya Nirman Sana Kishan cooperative and shows how this coop helped many people to break the chains of poverty and slavery.

Find more information on the video here.

Peer-to-peer training as a key tool for inclusion

Alvaro Iniesta Perez, Deputy Director-General of ATD Fourth World, took the floor to tell some powerful stories of cooperators, such as the ones of members of the movement in the Democratic Republic Congo and Madagascar.

He mentioned that one of the key components of the organization's projects is the presence of workers with formal training, to encourage those who are facing difficulties to be part of every stage of their projects. Such an inclusion allows empowering workers to become human rights activists, to strengthen their sense of community and to build solidarity networks to support those who are left behind.

He added that the achievement of one's goals and dreams depends on the support they receive – and among others, on the formalization of the informal economy.

Finding your purpose through the cooperative model

Ana Martinez de Luco, Co-Founder of Sure We Can, a recycling center and sustainable hub in New-York, shared her experience of living in the village of Mondragon, whose history is deeply linked to the cooperative movement. There, everything was thought of cooperatively. When talking about work, task division came naturally, and everybody had a role to play and found his or her purpose.

She believes that coops are an alternative to fulfill yourselves at work, thrive, find a purpose, develop creativity and learn how to work together with others. 

She concluded by stating that the cooperative approach is not a solution for everything, but that it allows to bring people together and pull a new dynamic through non-discriminatory principles.

The ILO shares some intrinsic values with the cooperative movement

Matthieu Cognac, Senior Multilateral Cooperation Specialist at the ILO New York Office for the UN, noted that at the heart of the ILO's work are some values that are closely aligned with the cooperative movement. The cooperative movement sharing the Agenda’s 2030 motto "leaving no one behind" is intrinsically linked to the values of freedom, equality, security, dignity and democracy, and therefore to decent work.

While highlighting this organic connection, he added that Mr. Albert Thomas himself came from the cooperative movement.

He concluded by underlining the ILO's 100th anniversary, which was the occasion to look back on the progress that has been made in promoting decent work, but also to consider the challenges ahead. Cooperatives have a role to play in the digital age, in the solidarity economy, in facing climate change at the local level and are a recognized tool on the pathway towards formalizing the informal economy.

Cooperatives are essential to promoting decent work in the agricultural sector

Carla Mucavi, Director of the FAO's New-York Office highlighted the critical role that coops have to play in bettering the lives of those who are left behind, particularly in the agricultural sector, where the majority of poor people are. She added that "a lot has been done but much more can be achieved."

Ahou Lea Kouassi from the World Farmers ‘Organization (Ivory Coast) shared her field experience working at a cooperative of 300 women producing cacao, rice, cassava, and corn. She noted that they work at achieving both SDG 8 and 5 and that agricultural coops in general play a key role in sustainable development. 

At last, Elizabeth Philippe from the UN Federal Credit Union talked about the company’s history of delivering financial solutions that are tailored for the needs of the international community and its engagement to generating a lasting and positive impact globally.

Watch the full session on the UN Live TV.

Let's keep on working towards achieving the SDGs through cooperatives!