Young co-operators met up in Bulgaria for the Consumer Co-operatives Worldwide Global Youth Forum. The event took place in the ancient Black Sea town of Nessebar, Bulgaria on 22-23 September. The forum brought together 26 delegates from across 13 countries, including two colleagues from the Midcounties Co-operative.
Opening the forum, Petar Stefanov, president of CCW and Consumer Co-operative Union of Bulgaria (CCU), said: “There is one particular issue to which I am addicted, and that is co-operative youth policy. My firm commitment is due not to the cliché that ‘youth is our future’, but because of my belief that youth are the carriers of new ways of thinking, fresh ideas, and dreams.
“There should be no doubt as to their role for the future development of the co-operative idea, because they are the ones who will carry forth the flame from our hearts, which we, the older generation, managed to safeguard for them. But we need to hand it over in good fashion, so that we may assist them in their biggest mission yet – to create a better world now.”
Participants looked at two key issues – the policies of national consumer co-operative organisations for the recruitment of youth and for the participation of youth in the management of co-operatives.
World Bank reports confirm that of the 1 billion people who will enter the job market in the next decade, only 400 million will find existing jobs. Speakers highlighted the role of consumer co-ops as well as co-operatives from other sectors in recruiting young people and helping them to set up their co-ops.
Mr Stefanov added: “Our planet has never been so young with the current 1.8 billion young people inhabiting it. They are the most determined and open-minded generation that ever existed. They are the ambassadors of change towards a better world and they have a prime role in the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) – an issue, which the Alliance is investing a lot of efforts and resources in.” He argued how co-operatives by nature provided a “better future” for young people by eliminating the youth faced.
Sam Thorley is customer engagement coordinator of Food Retail Group at the Midcounties Co-operative in the UK.
Commenting on the experience, she said: “Attending the Worldwide Global Youth Forum gave us a real insight into different ways of engaging with young people – from Finland, where 30 per cent of co-op members are under the age of 25, to Africa, where there have traditionally been issues with raising co-operative awareness among a youthful audience.
“It gave us a platform not only to share our experiences, but to learn about best practice from across the globe. It’s an experience that can only help us in our work here at the Midcounties Co-operative, and ultimately to improve the way we work with young people.”
Ms Thorley is participating in the society’s graduate programme at its head office in Warwick. Her colleague, Shani Knight, who is human resources projects advisor, Personnel Group at the Midcounties Co-operative, UK, also took part in the Forum. Both are ambassadors for the Green Pioneers Programme, a partnership between the Midcounties Co-operative and the Outward Bound Trust. Their presentation focused on the programme and its work with partner schools to develop environmental awareness among 14 and 15-year-olds.
“We didn’t just gain new contacts, but new friends, and we’ve set up our own WhatsApp group to keep on sharing our experiences over the coming months. It was also announced at the conference that there will be a new online platform for global co-operatives to share best practice, and we’re looking forward to contributing to that,” said Ms Knight.
She added: “The conference really proved that you’re never too young to change the world, and we’re looking forward to working with colleagues around the world to find new ways of working with young people to make a real co-operative difference.”
Based on the discussions taking place over the two-day forum, participants wrote a manifesto in which they commit to continue to exchange good practices, raise awareness of co-operatives among young people, promote the co-operative principles five and six and implement policies to facilitate the promotion of young people to management levels and decision making within co-ops. The group has also called on the International Co-operative Alliance to draft a possible long-term Strategic Youth Development Plan.