Over 1,500 delegates from more than 50 countries met in Buenos Aires, Argentina, for the 5th Co-operative Summit of the Americas region, from 23-26 October.
The event concluded with the adoption of a declaration that calls on the world’s governments to work towards the Paris Climate Change Agreement and the UN’s 2020 sustainable development agenda objectives.
Ariel Guarco, president of the International Co-operative Alliance (ICA) welcomed delegates with a speech on global issues such as climate change and overuse of natural resources, arguing that international co-operation was key to a solution.
The Summit, organised by the ICA’s Americas region, focused on three main themes – co-operatives and defending the planet; co-operatives and financial systems for sustainable development; and Integrating the social and solidarity economy to respond to global challenges.
Mr Guarco said co-ops could play a key role in changing the way societies produce and consume by placing real economies at the heart of the process.
“In every territory we can build a global economy to protect us all, and which responds to the necessities, aspirations and projects of each community,” he said.
“Another global economy is possible and the axis of our efforts is local sustainable development.”
Mr Guarco called for new legislation and regulation to support and enable co-operatives across the continent, incorporating co-operative entrepreneurship into education curricula and taking co-operatives into account when it comes to public procurement.
He said it was time for co-ops to become agents for global change, adding: “We say no to the commercial war, we say no to the walls, we say no to a global economy subject to the speculative movement of financial capitalism, we say that no country is first, because humanity is what comes first.”
The Summit also saw the launch of a continental inter-parliamentary forum where co-operative leaders will join politicians to discuss legislative proposals.
And it presented the Regional Platform for Co-operative Development, part of the Co-operatives in Development (Coops4Dev) project run by the ICA and the European Union.
EU ambassador to Argentina, Aude Maio-Coliche, attended the official signing of the launching document, alongside leaders of the Americas region, organisations involved in the project and observers.
Graciela Fernández, recently elected ICA regional vice president of the Americas, said the continent’s institutions and regional organisations needed the passion and commitment that co-operative members have.
“Co-operatives speak another language. We must build shared capabilities,” she said.
Another keynote speaker, Eve Crowley from the Food and Agricultural Organisation, said: “The inclusion of family farming in the co-operative movement will lead towards a more efficient, inclusive and healthy agro-food system.”
The declaration reaffirms the movement’s commitment to defend the planet, promote democratic financial inclusion and achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.
To achieve the first goal, the declaration calls on all co-ops in the region to take measures, such as promoting sustainable practices and certifications, lobbying for legislative changes and democratising the agri food sector.
In terms of democratic and financial inclusion, it suggests national regulations should take into account the specific nature of credit and savings co-ops, particularly when it comes to tax on earnings. It adds that co-operators should aim to exchange experiences, use new platforms to promote financial inclusion and incorporate sustainable development principles in credit evaluations.
The document invites ICA Americas members to promote international economic co-operation, monitor the implementation of recommendations from global organisations into national policies, and set out co-operative development plans at national and regional levels. The declaration suggests incorporating gender equality and youth initiatives into international co-operation projects.
Finally, the regional assembly of ICA Americas brought together 57 organisations with 208 votes. Vce president Ramón Imperial, who is set to retire from the role, said that since 2008 the organisations had grown from 69 to 91 members. While participation by countries like the USA and Canada has increased, more involvement is required from Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua, he said.
Graciela Fernández, who will take over from Mr Imperial for a four-year term, is the first woman to be elected ICA vice president for the region.
Mr Guarco praised Mr Imperial for contributing to growing the movement over the past 10 years and welcomed the election Ms Fernández.