At a time when youth unemployment stands at 21.2%, co-ops can empower youth to set up enterprises with a social mission.
During the International Cooperative Alliance’s (ICA) Global Youth Forum, held in Kuching, Malaysia, participants explored youth-led solutions to some of the world’s greatest challenges, from climate change to growing inequality and the changing world of work.
“In 2020 we are celebrating 125 years of the ICA, but awareness of co-ops is lacking, especially around youth,” said Balu Iyer, regional director for the ICA Asia-Pacific region. Internal challenges relate to governance, transparency and professionalism, he added.
Mr Iyer explained that governments across the Asia-Pacific region are looking at entrepreneurship models that empower young people, while youth are keen to work for enterprises providing them with a voice, a sense of belonging and where they feel equal. However, the wider movement needs to continue raising awareness about the co-operative model and push for changes such as including co-ops in schools’ curricula.
Sébastien Chaillou, president of the ICA Youth Network explained how the network existed to try to address issues faced not only by youth, but also by co-operatives in general. He added that young people should not just be perceived as a target group that co-ops needed to recruit.
“If more youth knew about co-ops, we would have more co-ops in general,” added Ana Aguirre, the vice president of the network.
The Global Youth Forum (GYF) was designed to enable young people to gain new practical skills through a series of interactive sessions with trainers from across the world.
Marc Noel, international development director at the ICA, also pointed out that co-ops needed to work with other civil society organisations and form new partnerships in order to achieve systemic change and be able to provide solutions to global issues. Such work is already being conducted at the ICA through the Young Co-operative Entrepreneurs programme, which brings together entrepreneurs interested in the co-operative model with youth organisations. Similarly, added Mr Noel, the ICA is working with Fairtrade organisations to promote sustainable consumption and trade unions to support decent work.
Addressing the GYF during a final session, Mr Chaillou said the event – coupled with the network’s advocacy agenda and a new fund to help young people start co-ops – should help to drive youth engagement in co-ops. Eight projects will be selected as part of this programme, which is being funded by the International Summit of Cooperatives. Each project will receive a maximum of €10,000. The programme will be launched in March and a mid-term evaluation of the project will take place at the ICA Congress in Seoul in December.
Calling on GYF participants to join the Youth Network, he added: “This is the beginning of something, a new co-operative world.”
The Forum adopted a resolution in which they highlighted the key areas of work going forward.
“You can’t change the system by convincing it. You can’t change it either by ignoring it, but by doing good things your own way. With what we learnt here, the connections we made, we are ready to act more than ever,” added Mr Chaillou.
This article has been edited – an earlier version stated the programme would be launched in September.