Alliance discusses co-ops and sustainable development in the Asia-Pacific region

A conference in Sri Lanka looked at how to set up partnerships between co-ops and stakeholders

The 2018 Asia Pacific Co-operative Development Conference took place between February 26- March 1, 2018 in Colombo, Sri Lanka. Organised by the ICA Asia Pacific team, the conference was the culmination of three sub-regional co-operative development meetings organised in 2017 in Jordon, the Philippines and Mongolia.

Here, Mr Balasubramanian (Balu) Iyer (regional director,  (ICA-AP)) and Mr W. Lalith A. Peiris (chair of the National Co-operative Council of Sri Lanka & Director, ICA-AP), explore the crucial role co-ops play in realising the UN’s sustainable development goals (SDGs).

In the run up to 2030, the obvious question to ask was: “What can we do differently now, from the time of the Millennium Development Goals?”

One way was to augment the list of stakeholders deemed necessary for the realisation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). An obvious choice in this was co-operatives. As member-based organisations, rooted in their communities, with democratic structures, co-ops have been recognised as important stakeholders in the realisation of the Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Co-operatives can be formed within any sector and serve a variety of needs. Beyond the well-established agricultural and credit co-operatives, there are co-ops providing unique services like funeral support, plumbing, social tourism, taxis, and much more. One in every six people on the planet is a co-operator. The top 300 co-operatives and mutuals report a total turnover of US $2.16tn.

Related: International Day of Co-operatives will focus on sustainability

And so, armed with 2.5 million enterprises and 1.5 billion members, the global co-operative movement provides an organic synergy between co-operative organisations and the realisation of the SDGs. As enshrined in the 7th Co-operative Principle, ‘Concern for Community,’ co-operatives work for the sustainable development of their communities through policies approved by their members. It’s a well-established idea: way back in 1992, the ICA Congress discussed sustainable development as its main theme and passed a declaration on the environment and sustainable development.

Last month, the Asia-Pacific Co-operative Development Conference (APCDC) in Colombo, Sri Lanka, looked at  how to build multi-stakeholder partnerships on sustainable development. The APCDC is a strategic dialogue on development policy, with the aim of creating partnerships between co-ops and stakeholders.

The conference had four thematic sessions:

  • Eradicating poverty: opportunity, protection and empowerment;
  • Building a more sustainable food system: hunger, food security and livelihoods;
  • Improving access to basic goods and services: economic, social and cultural aspects;
  • Protecting the environment: concern for community.

And there were working sessions on the three Asia-Pacific strategic development priorities – the SDGs, youth inclusion and exploring work and ownership structures in co-ops.

The conference means it is a good time to look back on the history of the Sri Lankan co-operative movement. Its first co-operative society was established in 1906 in the city of Kandy. Since then, the movement has developed deep connections with the marginalised communities and emerged as the sole guardian of the poor.

It is well-known that gender equality has been given strong consideration at various levels of the movement, and enacted through a range of policies and programmes. Co-operative bye-laws have been amended to provide space for women on the board and senior positions. The National Cooperative Council of Sri Lanka (NCCSL) has taken the lead on this and encourages member organisations to do the same.

With regard to the environment, several Sri Lankan co-ops have been working on a range of conservation projects for many years.

And co-operative federations such as SANASA have pledged their commitment to the SDGs on the website, set up by the Alliance for co-ops to learn about the SDGs, make commitments to help achieving them, and report their progress. But there path to achieving the SDGs presents many challenges: the enabling environment needs to be improved, access to capital strengthened, and the infrastructure systems for co-ops needs to be improved on and modernised.

Co-operatives emerge from, and are grounded in, the communities in which they operate. They engage members from local communities in creating enterprises and their success is based on their ability to support them to develop in a sustainable way. Co-operatives can and do make significant contributions to the implementation of the SDGs and the development of a sustainable society.

  • The APCDC took place on 27-28 February and was co-organised by the ICA-AP,  the ICA-EU Partnership on Co-operatives in Development: People Centered Businesses in Action (#coops4dev) and the Sri Lankan co-operative movement led by the National Co-operative Council, Consumer Co-operative Federation, SANASA Federation, Kotikawatta Thrift & Credit Co-operative and National Institute of Co-operative Development.
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