Co-op answers for a disaffected world: Interview with Ariel Guarco

We speak to the president of the International Co-operative Alliance as part of our look at the politics of the co-op movement

Across the world, we see economic inequality leading to disaffected populations. What is the role of co-operatives in offering an alternative to these people? Can co-operatives create a sense of belonging in these disadvantaged communities?

We live in a time of enormous global challenges, in all kinds of areas: the environment, population, work, production, health and education. At the same time, we face challenges with citizen participation and political representation.

For more than 120 years, the International Co-operative Alliance has upheld values and principles that promote the development of communities within a framework of democracy, justice and peace.

With the aim of promoting strategic alliances, we’ve been talking to various international organisations. And by doing this, we have strengthened our relationship with the International Labour Organization and Food and Agriculture Organization – and we’re committed to the 17 Sustainable Development Goals.

We know that there are more than one billion members of co-ops worldwide, and we have a presence on every continent and in almost all sectors of the economy.

That’s why we set out to improve region and sector integration; engage with members to better understand their suggestions and concerns, and make an impact on the public sector to create better policies and legal frameworks to develop co-operative enterprise.

Related: We speak to John Duda about the co-op response to populism

Additionally, we’re re-evaluating the role of data and statistics to get a better picture of our economic and social contribution in various parts of the world.

If we are an integrated movement, united in all its diversity, we will be in a stronger position for governments and other international organisations to listen to our proposals and warnings about the global situation.

We can’t stress enough that the world urgently needs forms of social organisation that prioritise caring for the environment and putting people at the centre of the economy. Otherwise, social and environmental damage will be increasingly irreversible.

Since the founding of the Alliance in 1895, right up until today, co-operatives have transcended wars, economic crises, different political regimes and natural disasters. And in all these years they have demonstrated that, in the midsts of many different circumstances, they always serve people and their communities.

In 2012, the United Nations recognised that co-operatives can help build a better world. We have demonstrated the ability to generate work, produce goods and services, distribute wealth and improve people’s quality of life. We do it with our own resources and tools, and sometimes in association with our governments.

Clearly, the current economic model will not solve the inequalities that it has created, and governments alone cannot provide all the answers. So co-operatives remain a genuine and effective tool for achieving a sustainable world.

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