17th National Co-operative Congress looks at how to boost the sector in Colombia

The event focused on the creation of a culture of co-operation, mutual aid and solidarity

Over 1,000 delegates attended Colombia’s 17th National Co-operative Congress, including co-operative leaders and government officials. The event focused on the role of co-ops in creating a culture of co-operation, mutual aid and solidarity.

The country’s president, Iván Duque Márquez, sent a message to the conference. He said: “I believe in the co-operative model. I think that we must further strengthen the co-operative model in Colombia as an instrument to foster peaceful cohabitation.”

He added that the government aimed to stimulate the sector’s expansion.

Vice president Martha Lucía Ramírez, who attended the event, highlighted the role of co-operatives in boosting social, economic and cultural development. She added that co-ops were a priority for the government and a tool to empower workers.

Other officials at the conference revealed that co-ops had a key role to play in the National Development Plan for 2018-2022, which will include a legal framework for co-ops. And, as part of its co-operative development strategy, the government has appointed a new superintendent for the solidarity economy, who will lead a supervision process and restructure the body regulating co-ops to increase its transparency.

Congress delegates also agreed to set up a parliamentary group representing co-ops and the solidarity economy.

The event looked at co-op models in transport, banking and agriculture. In terms of transport, they raised the issue of the high costs of insurance and the threats posed by informal transport and the risk of money laundering.

Examining trade and consumption, delegates pointed out that co-ops face competition from neighbourhood vendors and added that the co-op model could help these achieve scale. Participants also talked about the importance of credit and saving co-operatives in driving financial inclusion. They called on trade bodies to collect data for a report on the sector’s impact.

Simel Esim from the International Labour Organization delivered a presentation on the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, focusing on the goal to provide decent work in rural areas and post-conflict countries, such as Colombia.

With new co-ops emerging in the creative industries and the digital world, governments need to ensure that they have a favourable legal environment for such co-ops to grow, she said.

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