Building a better world with cooperatives

Building a better world with cooperatives

Over one billion people are members of cooperatives, a serious enterprise model that puts people at the heart of all business. Owned and controlled by the members they serve, they are great tools for empowering people. On 31 October, the International Year of Cooperatives 2012 will be launched at the UN in New York, setting off initiatives and events across the globe.

“Cooperative enterprises are built on collective action and the principle of participation. They embody the ideal that by working together, we can accomplish more than going it alone. This approach to social and economic enterprise is a good model for the inclusive society that DESA and the United Nations is working to help build,” said Sha Zukang, DESA’s Under-Secretary-General, earlier this year as preparations were made prior to the launch.

With the theme “Cooperative Enterprises Build a Better World“, the International Year of Cooperatives seeks to promote growth and the creation of cooperatives worldwide. It will also encourage individuals, communities and governments to acknowledge the role cooperatives play in helping to achieve internationally agreed upon development goals, including the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

The UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has underscored their significance by stating: “Cooperatives are a reminder to the international community that it is possible to pursue both economic viability and social responsibility.”

Generating employment and reducing poverty

It is estimated that cooperatives account for more than 100 million jobs around the world according to statistics from 2009. Agricultural cooperatives also play a significant role in food production and distribution, thereby promoting food security and rural development. In India alone, some 150,000 primary agricultural and credit cooperatives serve more than 157 million agricultural/rural producers.

The upcoming year is intended to raise public awareness of how cooperatives contribute to poverty reduction, employment generation and social integration. In connection with the International Day of Cooperatives on 2 July, the Secretary-General further emphasized their importance: “Through their distinctive focus on values, cooperatives have proven themselves a resilient and viable business model that can prosper even during difficult times. This success has helped prevent many families and communities from sliding into poverty.”

Importance for youth and sustainable development

The Secretary-General has also underscored the opportunities that cooperatives offer young people, saying that this model “enables young people to create and manage sustainable enterprises.” He has further invited young people “to explore the benefits of pursuing cooperative enterprise and other forms of social entrepreneurship,” as well as encouraged the community of cooperatives “to engage with youth, in a spirit of dialogue and mutual understanding. Let us recognize young women and men as valuable partners in strengthening the cooperative movement and in sustaining the role of cooperatives in social and economic development.”

Cooperatives are also recognized for their contributions when it comes to sustainable development and the strive towards a more environmentally healthy planet. The cooperative community, through the International Co-operative Alliance among others, has for instance taken actions to increase awareness on issues including renewable energy and climate change.

Events marking the launch

In just a few weeks, the event marking the start of the year highlighting the role of cooperatives around the world will be kicked off by the UN General Assembly in New York. UN DESA is leading the preparations in collaboration with the Committee for the Promotion and Advancement of Cooperatives (COPAC).

Member States, observers, organizations of the UN system, Cooperatives and NGOs in consultative status with the Economic and Social Council are all invited to participate in the activities that will be arranged in and around UN headquarters during two days.

To enable interactive discussions among the various stakeholders, a roundtable discussion will be held on 31 October, from 10:00 am to 1:00 pm, on the theme “Cooperative Enterprises Build a Better World: Contributions to Sustainable Development”.

The official ceremony will thereafter take place at 3:00 pm in a plenary session of the General Assembly. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the President of the General Assembly Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser will then launch the International Year of Cooperatives (IYC).

Following these events, the spotlight will remain on the invaluable involvement of cooperatives worldwide, putting people at the heart of business.

For more information:

IYC Global Launch on 31 October:

Details on how Cooperatives and NGOs can participate in the launch event at UN Headquarters in New York:

International Year of Cooperatives (IYC):