Volume , No. - December 2012

Feature articles

Strengthening cooperatives beyond 2012

“As a strong partner in development, the cooperative movement works with the United Nations every day to empower people, enhance human dignity and help achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs),” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in a statement as the International Year of Cooperatives (IYC) 2012 came full circle on 19-20 November with events and festivities at UN Headquarters in New York.

Some 150 representatives gathered for this two-day event themed “Promoting Cooperatives Beyond 2012″. A range of sessions, including on global food security, sustainable livelihoods, jobs creation and youth empowerment, were arranged to highlight the important role of cooperatives worldwide. Forthcoming initiatives to strengthen cooperatives beyond 2012 were also discussed.

The event was organized by DESA’s Division for Social Policy and Development (DSPD) and consisted of panel discussions, a youth forum, and the official closing ceremony that culminated with the IYC Short Film Festival. The panel discussions and youth forum were organized in collaboration with various partners, including the International Labour Organization, the Permanent Mission of Mongolia to the UN, Desjardins Group, and Rabobank.

Seven winning films were presented from countries including Brazil, Canada, Peru, Sri Lanka, Trinidad and Tobago and USA. The films focused on various themes, including cooperative stories about chili farmers, women crafters, food coops and cooperative housing. These films put spotlight on cooperatives as a member-owned enterprise model that places people at the heart of business.

Movement energized by international year

Participating in the events, Dame Pauline Green, President of the International Cooperative Alliance (ICA), shared some of the year’s major accomplishments with DESA News.

“This year has been fantastic,” Ms. Green said, emphasizing how the year has brought the cooperative movement together, creating a sense of cohesion. “They see themselves now as a global movement, looking up at the worldwide cooperative family, owned by a billion people, employing 100 million people in every village, town and city across the world”.

Ms. Green also underscored the importance of building on the achievements of the international year. “We absolutely have to keep the momentum of this year. We owe it to the next generation of cooperators, this is like a watershed moment for the global cooperative movement,” she said. Ms. Green also explained that with the impact of the global economic crisis still being felt by many, this is the right moment to show the potential of cooperatives serving different types of economies around the world.

Ms. Green described how the international year has brought people back to understanding that by working collectively, they can secure their communities, build cooperative businesses together and support the real economy on the ground. “The member-owned businesses are keeping their communities whole, keeping them going, giving hope and aspirations to people,” she said. “We’ve got to grow our movement across the world going forward, not just now when the economy is in crisis.”

Bank cooperatives show resilience

Also keeping the economy going are the 53,000 credit cooperatives and credit unions in operation around the world. In recent years, they have withstood tests brought by market failures and tough economic times. This is discussed in a new book just released by one of the main supporters of the IYC 2012, Rabobank, a cooperative and one of the 30 largest financial institutions in the world with headquarters in the Netherlands.

The book, “Raiffeisen’s Footprint – The Cooperative Way of Banking”, provides reflections on the cooperative business model and the governance structure of cooperative banks. It also features a series of case studies of cooperative banks in times of crisis.

“Cooperative banks have proven very resilient during the crisis,” said Bouke de Vries, Head of Financial Sector Research in Rabobank and one of the main contributors to the book, who also attended the events in New York.

“In the European countries, the cooperative model has done well right across the board. And now the challenge is, with the government crisis and the Euro crisis, all cooperative banks and commercial banks face enormous difficulties, and I really hope that the cooperative model will prove resilient again,” Mr. de Vries said.

Working for and with youth

With nearly 75 million young people unemployed and about 152 million young workers living in households below poverty line, youth development is an urgent concern and where cooperatives are believed to be able to play a vital role.

“We have the hope that cooperatives will bet on youth so that they can self-employ themselves, create cooperatives, create employment,” said José Antonio Chávez Villanueva, Chair of the ICA Youth Network Executive Committee. “This is an answer to the unemployment and the integration of youth into society.”

Mr. Villanueva chaired one of the interactive dialogues of the Youth Forum which was held as part of the IYC closing events. The Forum discussed benefits and challenges of youth engagement in cooperatives, with particular emphasis on issues of empowerment, employment and civic engagement.

During this session, it was stressed that there is a need for communities to listen to their youth and to take them seriously in decision making processes. Lack of awareness, resources, capacity and supportive environment were pointed out as some of the biggest obstacles for cooperatives in effectively engaging young people. Panelists agreed that more rigorous actions on global youth employment and entrepreneurship strategies were needed. An international cooperative youth statement was also delivered highlighting the role cooperatives can play to empower youth across the globe.

Ms. Monique Leroux, CEO of Desjardins Group, delivered the keynote address in the youth forum encouraging young people to be bold and be ambitious for themselves. She added, “You need to dream big and not be afraid to share your dreams with others… The co-op model belongs to all of us, but it will be your heritage. It will be yours to pass on to the next generation as we are doing with you.”

Pauline Green also emphasized the importance of working with young people, saying that “the critical thing that cooperatives have to do is to start looking how we develop with young people. How we bring young people into our family, how we maximize the value of the young to the young,” pointing to different events across the globe where young people are crying out for freedom and economic justice. “They want to be visible in the economy and I think the cooperative movement can do that for them, but to do that, we need to engage them,” Ms. Green explained.

Going forward, going green

In addition to focusing on young people, Ms. Green also highlighted cooperatives in Africa as another priority area going forward. “The other [priority for cooperatives] is to look after people particularly in the African continent, which I believe has the strong potential for development growth,” she said. “We have to start working with cooperative farmers at grass roots level, to build an African cooperative economy in agriculture. That’s the future, and we’ve got to drive it.”

Addressing the closing ceremony, Shamshad Akhtar, Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development in DESA, also talked about the route going forward and the opportunities for societies going green with the help of cooperatives.

“The cooperative movement is in an excellent position to promote the priority theme of a green economy – especially considering that energy cooperatives are already key providers in many countries. The successful experiences of cooperatives in operating renewable energy sources, such as wind farms and solar fields, can guide and inspire others,” Ms. Akhtar said.

As an eventful year came to a close, Ms. Akhtar concluded, “I would like to congratulate the one billion strong members of the cooperative movement who are strengthening economic vitality and upholding social responsibility.”

For more information:

International Year of Cooperatives 2012

Closing Ceremony of the International Year of Cooperatives


Global Food Security and the Role of Cooperatives – Panel Discussion (part 1)

Cooperatives and Youth: Empowerment, Employment and Engagement – Youth Forum (part 2)

Closing ceremony of the International Year of Cooperatives on the theme “Promoting cooperatives beyond 2012 (part 3)

Closing ceremony of the International Year of Cooperatives on the theme “Promoting cooperatives beyond 2012 (part 4)

Working towards an inclusive new development agenda

Working towards an inclusive new development agenda (Photo credit: iStock photo)

Efforts towards building a new global development agenda are intensifying with only three years left to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) expiration date in 2015. While it is still too early to speak of specific goals, many stakeholders agree on a number of issues that were not adequately reflected in the MDGs and have become more pressing ever since.

“We hope to bring views from all corners of the world together because what we are striving for is an agenda that will take us to a shared, secure and sustainable global development for all, our generation and all future ones,” said Rob Vos, Director of DESA’s Division for Development Policy and Analysis, as the department together with UNDP held an online Facebook chat with more than 900 participants.

During the two-hour chat themed “Keeping the momentum beyond 2015 – Moving forward towards a new global development agenda”, members of the UN System Task Team on the Post-2015 Development Agenda answered a wide range of questions on topics including on poverty, disability rights, hunger eradication, social justice, democratic governance and sustainable development.

The live chat was one of the many activities currently taking place to secure an inclusive development agenda moving forward after 2015. Efforts to gather and include perspectives from all corners of the world are also being carried out in other ways.

Thematic consultation to secure an inclusive agenda

Seeking to ensure that the vision of the world we want to live in takes into account the perspectives from a broad base of civil society and marginalized groups, eleven thematic consultations have been established by the United Nations Development Group. Online discussions are being held on issues that include: inequalities; governance; growth and employment; health; education; environmental sustainability; food security and nutrition; conflict and fragility; population dynamics; energy; and water.

These themes have been selected because they are part of the Rio+20 Outcome Document “The Future We Want”. These themes have also been included in the work of the UN System Task Team on the Post-2015 UN Development Agenda. DESA is currently engaged in ten of the eleven thematic consultations (to the exclusion of the one on education).

The thematic consultations are co-lead by two or more UN agencies and they receive support from other UN agencies, civil society organizations, private sector representatives and academia. The web portal – World We Want 2015 – jointly owned by representatives from the United Nations and civil society, is serving as the online platform for all eleven thematic consultations.

Enabling informed decisions moving forward

The consultations include initiatives as diverse as calls for papers, online consultations and discussions, expert group meetings, newsletters and panel discussions. Each thematic consultation will organize one global thematic meeting to summarize and discuss their findings. Governments in the global South and North have been contacted to host these final meetings.

The thematic consultations serve several purposes. First and foremost will be the analytical inputs they provide to the ongoing process. With in-depth discussion on a specific thematic area and how it links to other areas they provide analytical thinking on ways to incorporate important issues into the global development agenda beyond 2015. The thematic consultations will inform Member States’ decisions on the content of the post-2015 development agenda.

These thematic consultation solicit inputs from all stakeholders to help create ownership of the new agenda amongst people from all strands of life. They will feed into other ongoing consultation processes through the use of reports that consolidate the findings.

Different formats for each discussion

Each thematic consultation follows a design most suited to the topic that the consultation focuses on. One example is the consultation on population dynamics, which is jointly led by UN DESA, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), and UN Habitat, with support from the International Organization of Migration, the International Labor Organization and UN-Women and in partnership with the Government of Switzerland.

This consultation kicked the process off with an Expert Group Meeting in New York in mid-November 2012. Roughly 40 experts and practitioners assembled for two days to discuss how to phrase the discussion on population dynamics in the post-2015 development agenda. During the meeting experts were also interviewed on camera on population dynamics issues. These short clips will be featured on the population dynamics website shortly.

The outcomes of this Expert Group Meeting will not only shape the global meeting on population dynamics to be held in early 2013 but have also helped to initiate several online consultations that have just been launched.

Keeping Member States updated

Member States briefings are also being organized to inform missions in New York about the outcomes of the ongoing discussions. The thematic consultation on health held a Member State briefing on 29 November 2012; organized in collaboration with the Missions of Botswana and Sweden.

The consultation on peace and conflict has chosen to host three regional meetings focusing on different aspects of peace and conflict in addition to the high level global meeting that will be organized in Finland in February 2013. The first meeting in Indonesia at the end of October 2012 focused on disaster risk and resilience. At the end of November there will be a meeting in Liberia to address the issue of conflict and fragility. The final regional meeting on organized violence and citizen security will take place in Panama in January 2013.

The thematic consultation on growth and employment started with a high-level global meeting held in Tokyo, Japan in May 2012, which culminated in a outcome report, available at Drawing on this report, the consultation is currently in the process of setting up a newsletter with articles and opinion pieces from academia, civil society, policy makers and UN experts. Other outreach measures will include online discussions inputs by experts and a briefing for Member States.

With all these different processes in place, the online discussions are supporting the broad and inclusive consultations that stakeholders including Member States, civil society organizations, citizens and academia have called for, and which the United Nations is committed to support.

“As the time for achieving the Millennium Development Goals draws near, the international community is working to accelerate their progress. This is our priority, first and foremost,” said DESA’s Under-Secretary-General Mr. Wu Hongbo in a statement to the General Assembly’s Third Committee, adding that preparations for the Post-2015 UN development agenda will build on lessons learned from the MDGs. The new agenda “… will also draw on input from the full range of partners, and will hold at its core sustainable development, including its social dimensions,” Mr. Wu said.

The world community has a unique opportunity to get involved in the post-2015 process by participating in the online discussions, sharing knowledge, opinions and ideas. All thematic consultations can be accessed via the World We Want Platform where you can sign up to receive regular updates and to contribute to the ongoing e-consultations.

For more information:
World We Want Platform with all thematic consultations

ECOSOC Vice President responds to online questions

Following up on the social media initiative “Building the Future We Want”, held in the lead up to ECOSOC’s Special Ministerial Meeting on 24 September, the Vice President of the Council, Ambassador Luis Alfonso de Alba, took time to address some of the questions related to Rio+20 follow-up, the green economy, youth involvement, peace and development.

“I would like to thank all of you for your online participation in our social media campaign, “Building the Future We Want”. We are very happy that this campaign led to so many comments and that participants followed the Ministerial Meeting on 24 September,” said Ambassador de Alba, referring to the high online engagement on the Facebook page of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), from people from all corners of the world.

Next steps following up on Rio+20

Addressing one of the questions regarding Rio+20 and the next steps of the UN to implement sustainable development and tackle climate change, Ambassador de Alba said, “the main responsibility we have as a follow up is to try to get a better balance in the integration of the three chapters of sustainable development, the economic, the social and the environmental chapter.”

He also described the number of processes established in Rio, which aims to find that balance and to remedy what is described as a somewhat fragmented agenda. He also underscored the importance of introducing the environmental dimension into development programmes of the UN, as well as to draw attention to the social agenda.

De Alba also emphasized the need to ensure that the post 2015 agenda builds upon the MDGs but also includes sustainable development, “so that the post 2015 agenda will both cover the continuation of the Millennium Development Goals that were agreed in 2000, but will include the sustainable angle and the sustainability input,” he said.

“In addition to that, we are also working on the green economy and trying to facilitate and support the actions by different countries to move towards an economy that would be greener and an economy that would make better use of sustainable energy,” he explained, underscoring also the need to address climate change and to dramatically reduce the levels of emissions.

Bridging the digital divide

Another online question brought up the issue of new technology and what possible mechanisms could be put in place by the United Nations and international private and public stake holders to bridge the digital divide.

“To get a greener economy and a much more efficient use of energy, we will also need to make better use of new technologies,” responded de Alba, and highlighted that there are a number of initiatives being developed within the private sector.

“I will highlight for instance a declaration that has been agreed by very important private companies, dealing with information technologies that will come to support actions by the United Nations, reducing the cost of communications and helping the development processes, both at the national, regional and the international level,” he continued.

Importance of involving youth

“There are a number of opportunities for young people to get engaged. Young people have been identified since 1992, as one of the main constituencies that have to be involved into the discussions and the decision-making processes dealing with sustainable development,” said Ambassador de Alba in response to a question on how proceedings on sustainability and development can be made more inclusive for young people from around the world.

Ambassador de Alba also highlighted climate change negotiations as one area where young people are especially involved, where the aim is getting a new treaty that will complement or replace the Kyoto protocol by 2015. “That new instrument will obviously aim to increase dramatically the commitments to reduce emissions, but more specifically to make better divisions of the shared responsibilities of countries,” he explained.

“From 2015 we expect a greater number of countries to commit to legally binding instruments to reduce emissions, and young people are playing a very important role in setting up that agenda”.

Inter-linkage between peace and development

How can the UN ensure that peace and security goals are included in the post-2015 agenda? This was another question posted by the Global Peace Index to which de Alba responded that he sees the linkage between peace and sustainable development as fundamental. “I cannot conceive peace without development or development without peace. And when you look into areas of conflict, you will see that very frequently, this inter-linkage, is at the origin of the conflict, and frequently also, it is part of the solution,” he said.

Concluding the Q&A session addressing online input, Ambassador de Alba thanked the online community and also underscored the importance of continuing this dialogue. He also called for suggestions and new ideas on how things could be done. “New ideas that could help us advance a common agenda,” he explained, emphasizing the importance of an inclusive decision-making processes. “In other words, the UN of tomorrow is a UN which needs to open its door to a greater level of influence and participation. And I hope through this campaign, in building the future we want, we will be able to do it in that spirit.”

For more information:

United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC)

Facebook page of the Economic and Social Council

Twitter account of ECOSOC President Miloš Koterec