The ICA and the G20: ‘It is critically important for the movement to have a seat at the table’

28 Jun 2021

The Chair of the ICA G20 working group and Vice-Chair and Facilitator of the C20 task forces explain Cooperatives' Participation in the G20 Discussions 

In April the International Cooperative Alliance set up a G20 Working Group (ICA G20 WG), which is collaborating with members of the Italian Cooperative Alliance to contribute to the G20 discussions, particularly involving the Business 20 (B20) and Civil Society 20 (C20) task forces. The driving concept of the ICA G20 WG is to advance the cooperative movement's priorities, elevate its engagement in the G20 deliberations and attempt to engage in much more extensive and coordinated advocacy efforts. 

The G20 is an international forum for economic cooperation, which brings together leaders and representatives from every continent as well as governors of central banks, to collectively address the most significant challenges and propose impactful solutions for the whole world. The International Cooperative Alliance has been participating in the G20 Engagement Groups since 2014, having representatives in the taskforces and contributing actively to the discussions and preparation of documents. Italy holds the Presidency of the G20 this year and the Summit of the G20 Heads of State and Government will be held in Rome on 30-31 October 2021.

There are more than 30 representatives of the ICA members taking part in the ICA G20 WG from 16 G20 member countries and the EU.  

We spoke to Howard Brodsky, chair of the ICA’s new G20 Working Group, to find out more about the group’s role and the contributions cooperatives can make to the G20 deliberations. Mr Brodsky is co-founder, chair, and co-chief executive of CCA Global Partners in the United States. He was the 2019 recipient of the Rochdale Pioneers Award.

We also talked to Giuseppe Guerrini, President of CECOP, and Danila Curcio, Head of International Relations at Confederazione, who explained why the movement needs to engage with the C20 task forces ahead of a webinar the ICA and the Italian Cooperative Alliance are organising on 7 July.

Why is it important for cooperatives to participate in the G20 deliberations?

Howard Brodsky: The G20 is the premier forum for International economic cooperation. It plays a critical role in creating and enabling an environment for inclusive global growth and development. The G20 countries represent 90% of the gross world product, 80% of the world’s trade, and 75% of world population. It’s critically important that the cooperative world has a seat at the table and to be a part of policy decisions to understand the crucial value that cooperatives can bring to having a more inclusive economy. Cooperatives are truly capitalism with a conscience. Cooperatives by their very nature put people first, not profit, which is needed in the world today.  

Very few world leaders understand that cooperatives currently play such a significant role in our economy, with over 1 billion members and employing over 280 million people, which represents 12% of the world's workforce. 

The pandemic has only increased the wealth gap around the world. The cooperative structure by its very nature addresses wealth distribution and democratic control. 

Danila Curcio and Giuseppe Guerrini: The C20 provides a platform for Civil Society Organisations around the world to bring forth political dialogue with the G20. Its process involves a wide range of organisations and networks far beyond the G20 countries. This year over 500 participants, among which are both the International Cooperative Alliance and the Italian Cooperative Alliance.  The C20 acts as watchdog of the G20 in terms of making sure that the voice of Civil Society, made of networks, organisations and NGOs, is heard and taken into consideration by the G20 Heads of State.

Having said that, we, as the Italian Cooperative Alliance, have been participating for the first time in all eight C20 Working Groups with the active participation of nearly 30 colleagues, who have not only participated in all WG’s meetings, but contributed to the writing of political papers in each Working Group.

In addition to this, the Italian cooperative movement has worked together, in an ongoing sharing process, with the International Cooperative Alliance. In fact, the ICA  has for the first time established a dedicated G20 C20 sub working group to follow the complex G20 political machine from up close, and to receive comments and proposals from ICA member organisations. 

In this complex and multilayered political context, we believe our answer to the first question is to highlight the overlooked relevance of the Italian Cooperative Alliance participants in the eight C20 Working Groups. This is an incredible way to promote the cooperative model and make the movement more visible in such an international milieu and highlight the principles and goals of the cooperative model through the enormous amount of papers produced by the C20 Working Groups. Therefore, we would like to speak of the promotion of the cooperative model during the G20 2021. 

What will be the key focus of the ICA G20 Working Group?

Howard Brodsky: In previous G20 meetings, in the final report cooperatives have been included as part of the answer to the ongoing challenges in our world. The G20 governments need to know that a government and fiscal policy that includes the cooperative structure can help build an even stronger economy that addresses many of the issues facing the world. 

Danila Curcio and Giuseppe Guerrini: We think its key focus has gone hand in hand with the Italian participants' work, hence its focus is constantly changing according to the various steps requested in each C20 working Group.

Altogether, we could say that a shift towards a work for visibility strategy is needed for better spreading the aims and principles of the cooperative movement within the given C20 political Working Groups context.

What do cooperatives want from the taskforces?

Danila Curcio and Giuseppe Guerrini: Cooperatives have been represented in person in each of the eight Working Groups of the C20, where both Italian and International participants have strenuously advocated their value and great support for the promotion of a sustainable- people centred model by promoting their best practices and proposals. This is doubtless a great achievement, if we consider that in the past advocacy has been done via more consolidated means, by sending letters or political statements, to the competent Ministries hosting the G20. 

Cooperative representatives are taking part in all the eight task forces of the C20: how can they shape the deliberations?

Howard Brodsky: We live in a world where there are two types of poverty: economic poverty and poverty of hope. Because the cooperative model addresses both of these issues, we need to show the G20 countries that the promise of a more inclusive society is more within our grasp. With so many people left behind financially and with little hope for a better life, the current path of many countries is not sustainable. Cooperatives empower people and are a force of good. 

Cooperatives are a great equaliser. It’s a moral imperative that cooperatives have a voice at the table. The cooperative G20 working group represents the major countries and also the leaders of substantial cooperatives around the world. Significantly, it communicates the role that cooperatives can play in addressing the issues that we face.  We can overcome the great challenges of today - from the pandemic and climate change, to poverty and inequality. Because this is the first formal working group as part of the International Cooperative Alliance, this will give us an excellent base, not only at this year's G20, but future G20s, to recognise the role of cooperatives and incorporate the cooperative model into the final reports.

Danila Curcio and Giuseppe Guerrini: We are organising a webinar to let all members gain a deeper understanding of how the G20 works, with special emphasis on the C20.  At the Civil Society Summit on 5 October both the International Cooperative Alliance and the Italian Cooperative Alliance are organising a side event, a great opportunity to reach a broader audience and promote Cooperativism by organising a high-level political meeting.

Hence, in light of what has been just said, we believe that this question cannot have a direct answer. We would like to concentrate on the complexity of the work that is still going on. If we take into consideration the Civil Society G20 Engagement Group’s Guiding Principles, the word deliberating must be changed to PARTICIPATING, which means: the constructive advocacy work and actions put into practice in the daily activities that need to be done to keep up with the eight C20 Working Groups’ numerous engagements.

What role can cooperatives play in solving some of the global challenges post pandemic?

Danila Curcio and Giuseppe Guerrini: Cooperatives in Italy continue to support, with their work and relentless efforts, communities in all Italian regions. They have become more and more the reference points -  especially in the welfare sectors, providing support to disadvantaged people, minors and women, mentally ill and immigrants. During the harshest times of the Covid-19 outbreak, Italian cooperatives have been among the biggest food donors for the many impoverished people, who found themselves jobless. 

If we can think of a positive effect of this pandemic, we must underline the fact that the work and commitment of cooperatives has become more visible and tangible to the larger public as well as to the Italian institutions. The Italian Cooperative Alliance has worked closely with the Italian institutions offering the cooperative movement’s support in order to not leave anyone behind and give all the required support. Cooperatives have been working to alleviate the sufferings and great discomfort of the Italian population. 

Photo: Screenshot from one of the ICA's G20 Working Group's meetings