Experts from UN bodies and sectoral organisations met at the International Summit of Cooperatives to explore how co-operatives could contribute to meeting the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Richard Ferguson, agriculture advisor, food supply and integrity services at PricewaterhouseCoopers, said farming would become more complex in the years ahead as food security concerns increased. Small farms of less than two hectares manage about 12% of the world’s agricultural land; bringing these together will play a key role in ensuring food security, he said, which means the co-operative model could be the way forward.
Rüdiger Krech, director of the health systems and innovation office at the World Health Organisation, encouraged co-operators to work across sectors to improve the health of their members and customers.
“We need to work across sectors to look at the food we eat,” he said. “We are 40% less active than 50 years ago. We need to look at these interdependencies and the effect on global health.
“Co-ops have a role to play to make the healthy options the easy one. Only if they join forces they can play a key role.”
Mr Krech told delegates to assess the impact of their co-ops on their members’ health and promote healthy activities and products across different sectors, from agriculture and retail to housing and finance.
Regarding health insurance, he advised co-op insurers to work together with banks and other insurers to pool risks. This could include analysing epidemic trends and building solidarity mechanisms, he said.
Samuel Munzele Maimbo, practice manager at the Finance and Markets Practice, World Bank Group, talked about the role of co-ops in increasing the income of the world’s bottom 40% earners. Access to financial services is a key aspect of this, he said, highlighting the positive contribution made by financial co-ops serving remote areas.
A key challenge for these financial co-ops, which are often small and do not achieve economies of scale, is to be seen by the regulator as an important element of the financial sector, he said.
Mr Maimbo also thinks that financial co-ops should make the most of technological developments to exchange of experiences across border and grow the sector. “Go back to what your strengths are – being very close to communities. You can design the products around the needs of your community,” he said.
Vic van Vuuren, director of the enterprises department at the International Labour Organisation, spoke about the challenges of unemployment, with 200 million people jobless at global level – 70 million of them young people.
He called on the co-operative movement to promote its model to outsiders and launch new branding campaigns and partnerships, warning: “The co-operative movement is preaching to the converted.”
Another challenge is the lack of data on employment, he said, making it harder to “push the case for co-ops” on the employment side. “We need to work fast on gathering information so we can take informed decisions,” he said.
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