On Tuesday 15 October, during the ICA International conference in Kigali, Rwanda, four parallel sessions looked at how cooperatives can be key actors of collective action to achieve the UN’s Agenda 2030 and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Each session addressed a different goal, within the context of the significance of multi-stakeholder partnerships.
Parallel session I: Tackling inequalities through the cooperative movement (SDG10)
This parallel session focused on how the cooperative enterprise model can tackle inequalities, and measure or assess the impact of their efforts. The session included concrete examples of action, combining high level speakers with insights from the field.
Andrew Allimadi, of UN DESA, highlighted how “inequalities between countries has been decreasing – but it is within countries where now the biggest problems lie”.
This point was echoed by Graciela Fernández, Cooperatives of the Americas, who said that in the Americas, inequality is indicated as the main barrier to sustainable development. But, she added, “Social cooperatives are providing the possibility of inclusion for an important population sector by giving decent work to families for reducing inequalities.”
And Balu Iyer, regional director of ICA-Asia Pacific, emphasised that cooperatives should not only focus on income, because they do so much more. “Cooperatives create ownership,” he said.
Parallel session II: Women’s empowerment at the forefront of sustainable development (SDG5)
The second session focused on how the cooperative model can better support women’s economic and political participation, with the objective of raising awareness among both male and female participants, including leaders and decision makers in cooperatives.
The main message of the session was that the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals are impossible to achieve unless rural women are empowered. Delegates heard how they are the “unsung heroes” of the agricultural revolution, poverty alleviation, climate action and resilient communities – and are also custodians of natural resources.
“Equality is giving everyone what she or he needs to reach their potential,” said Maria Eugenia Pérez Zea, from Colombia’s Coomeva, and President of the ICA gender committee. But this need will vary from place to place, sector to sector and person to person. Delegates also heard from Oral Kaya of the Troya Environmental Association, who said that in Turkey, 50% of agricultural workers are women, which in turn impacts other sectors such as renewable energy.
Parallel session III: Co-operative entrepreneurship and lessons of innovation (SDG8)
During a session on decent work and equal opportunities, delegates learnt about innovative cooperative projects, from a cooperative school in Indonesia to a sacco (savings coop) in Kenya using automatised payments to farmers.
Delegates heard from Angelina Anggraeni Hapsari from Koperasi Edukarya Negeri Lestari from Indonesia, who talked about Wikikopi, a cooperative school for those interested to find out more about agriculture and coops. Students, workers, farmers or anyone who is interested in learning can join this forum and become members of the coop.
Next, Mutulu Amisi from Kwakyai Rural Cooperative – a sacco of 320 members in Kenya – said his co-op enabled members to market their products and receive fast payments for their crops. As part of the process, the produce is received, sorted and graded, washed, sliced, dried, packaged and sent to the market in the Netherlands. Payment is done within 24h via the sacco portal.
In Costa Rica, a worker co-op called Coosuperación employs people with disabilities who own and run the enterprise. The co-op provides customer support services for a number of telecom businesses, working in partnership with local actors.
“The barriers they face are within their environment, not in their minds,” said Julio Rojas Chavarría, general manager of the co-op.
Similarly, in Sweden, the Yalla Trappan social enterprise employs refugee women, so they can gain new skills, learn a new language and gain confidence. The enterprise also matches those skills with employers.
Only 20% of women work and support themselves after five years of being in Sweden. The venture started in 2006 as a two-year project financed by the EU.
Looking at what innovation might mean for the sector, independent cooperative consultant and retired ILO official Jürgen Schwettman said coops needed to train workers to enable them to take full advantage of emerging technologies. He called on the sector to bring its cooperative approach to new technologies.
“What if we inserted coop principles into drones so that they operate cooperatively not competitively?”, he said, challenging to build a cooperative robot for the next 20 years.
Also looking at innovation, Michal Tsoran described how the Kibbutz community in Israel is driving innovation. The coop ran a hackathon event, bringing together 100 people from different backgrounds from one region to work together as an ecosystem to solve problems that have to do with circular economy and sustainability.
Another example is the Kinneret Innovation Centre – an agri-hub built by Zemmach, a farmer coop, in partnership with the local college to create highly paid positions to make young people stay in the region rather than move to Tel Aviv or abroad.
Alberto Masetti Zannini, Impact Hub Global, a network based in Italy challenged delegates to rethink how they promote the cooperative model to startup entrepreneurs.
Bill Kayonga, CEO of Rwanda National Agricultural Export Development Board (NAEB), said his government supports coops as they implement modern financial management systems. Farmers receive training to understand why deductions are made to the price they receive for their crops. Once they agree to them the deductions are taken electronically automatically.
Mr Kayonga confirmed the country had ambitious plans in terms of cooperative development, which include creating a cooperative bank.
Parallel session IV: Globalisation of inclusive ethical value chains (SDG12)
Cooperation among cooperatives was the lead focus of this session, which looked at the relationship between cooperatives and like-minded people-centred enterprises – and how they can create more inclusive, transparent supply chains. This has mutual benefits for producers and consumers and can also accelerate a shift towards sustainability across the supply chain, delegates heard.
The session was moderated by Wangeci Gitata, Senior Advisor on Social Justice through Trade, Kenya, who spoke about how cooperation between both producers and consumers is crucial in order to ensure sustainability and inclusivity across the entire value chain. Alex Serrano of NCBA CLUSA, USA talked about how cooperatives facilitate individual producers’ collective voice and negotiation power with key players across the supply chain for fairer returns to their members and communities.
Patrick Develtere from the European Social Policy at the European Political Strategy Centre, European Commission, agreed that cooperatives at both ends of the supply chain have been joining forces to shorten value chains, improve product traceability and adopt environmentally friendly practices. He mentioned that the EU has been one of the partners of the SDG Fund, a collaboration with multiple partners to promote more responsible consumption and outsourcing practices, with a particular focus on ensuring that local farmers can obtain a fairer share of the value generated across the value chain. He gave the example of how for new EC president, Ursula von der Leyen, there is a zero-tolerance policy on child labour; “but for this to be achieved, we do need multilateral partnerships”.
Chris Oluoch, Fairtrade Africa and Eastern – Central Africa Network, Kenya, spoke about how strengthening cooperation between cooperatives, like-minded people-centred enterprises and multilateral institutions can create more inclusive, transparent supply chains, result in mutual benefits for producers and consumers and accelerate a shift towards sustainability across the value chain.
Mark Blackett from Agribusiness Market Ecosystem Alliance (AMEA), the Netherlands talked about the role for AMEA in the framework of South-South Cooperation and how a partnership with the cooperative sector would be of added value.
Case studies were provided by young cooperators Ms Mirian Andrea Cu Ical representing FEDECOVERA from Guatemala, and Mr Baudouin K. Kola representing Actors for a Solidarity Economy in Togo. The last case study was shared by Ms. Mirai Chatterjee, Director of the Social Security Team at Self-Employed Women’s Association, (SEWA), India who discussed her organisation, where cooperatives facing high trade costs and limited market access go on to improve the livelihoods of many women and youth running cooperatives and the communities where they are operating.
The parallel sessions were organised within the Framework Partnership Agreement (#coops4dev🌏) signed between the ICA and the European Commission in March 2016. The program seeks to strengthen the cooperative movement and its capacity to foster international development, through policy, knowledge building and sharing, networking, and visibility actions.
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