In spite of the Covid-19 pandemic, 2020 has been a busy year for the International Co-operative Alliance’s Youth Network.
Set up in 2003, the network represents, connects and advises youth interested in co-operatives. Some of its latest initiatives include a campaign to map youth co-ops, a replication project and a publication featuring best practices.
President Sébastien Chaillou became the first elected representative for young co-operators on the ICA board in 2017. He discovered co-operatives as a student at Paris-Sorbonne University when he helped to set up the first student-led co-operative in France – Solidarité Etudiante.
Allowing the network to elect its president meant its members felt more included, he says, and were more likely to take part in projects and provide resources.
As part of the replication project, the network plans to select at least eight projects – two per ICA region – and invest a maximum of €10,000 into each project. It will also assign mentors to help develop the project.
Mr Chaillou says the network in interested in collective and co-operative projects led by young people and with an impact on youth. These could be co-ops inspired by other existing co-ops.
The network has already received around 30 applications mostly from three ICA regions. Applications for the replication project remain open until 16 August and the winners will be announced in mid September.
Over a dozen co-operators have expressed interest in acting as mentors.
“The mentors need to be matched to the projects selected,” says Mr Chaillou. “We were surprised by the quality and the number of the mentorship applications we received.
“We will see if these match the projects we are going to select and if we are missing mentors for specific sectors or regions we are going to look for additional mentors.”
Throughout 2018 and 2019 the network carried out a campaign to map youth co-ops and initiatives to support youth co-ops. As part of this, it launched a survey that had input from hundreds of respondents. The responses are being analysed and will help to create the map and a publication featuring best practices.
The map will serve to identify youth co-ops and initiatives and the booklet will help to explain what methods young people can use to replicate successful youth co-ops. Case studies will not only focus on successful co-ops set up by young people but also initiatives – such as youth boards –within existing co-ops to promote youth engagement.
Canadian financial co-op Desjardins runs a youth board, which acts as a training platform for young people aspiring to become board members of big co-operatives. The youth board is also able to make recommendations to Desjardins’ official board.
The youth network’s executive committee will present a final report of the three initiatives in December, outlining the acheivements of the past three years as part of its action plan.
Over half of the members of the current executive committee will reach the age limit of 35 years next year, which means new members will be taking their place.
“Being able to present a report on what we have done will be very important for the next generation to come,” says Mr Chaillou.
“We aim to present between 12 and 20 initiative that ICA members or big co-ops can replicate, not projects but a methodology they choose to be more connected with the youth in their movement or in their company.”
The findings will be presented at the ICA Cooperative Congress in Seoul in 2021.
“The idea is to use the Congress as a place where we can present not just another study about youth, but also provide a list of good practices and methodologies participants can take back home, test and replicate in various enterprises and movements,” adds Mr Chaillou.
It will be up to the next executive committee to decide the course of action going forward.
“The Congress will be a great moment in the co-operative history,” says Mr Chaillou. “We would like to use it as a good opportunity to engage with the movement and have a large number of young people attending.”
At its 2019 General Assembly in Kigali, the ICA adopted a resolution from its Youth Network, asking its board to review the bylaws, articles and budget regarding youth. The resolution calls for the inclusion, with voting rights, of a youth representative on the boards of the ICA regions. The Africa and Americas regions already have youth representation on their boards.
It also suggests including the youth action plan in the ICA global strategy, with an allocated budget. The network expects an answer on the resolution proposals from the ICA global board in the coming months.
Another key aim is to keep attracting new members. After the Global Youth Forum in Kuching, the network increased membership by 50%.
“The main task we have before the end of this youth executive committee mandate is to continue to enlarge the number of members of the network to be able to include them tomorrow in a new global strategy, and to have them vote for their representatives, and give their insight for what we could be the next four-year objective,” says Mr Chaillou.
“But the idea is to use the Congress as a moment, to redefine the strategy of the youth committee. And my job as the representative whose mandate will finish in 2021 is to present a report of what has been done over the past years, and show that the reason we’ve done so many projects is not just because the team and the people were great, but also because it’s the first time the youth movement chose its own representatives and we want to prove that when you choose the people to lead you are also more inclusive and available to help, join projects, provide resources and join a real movement.
“So the idea is to use what we’ve done as a proof that the ICA and the co-op movement in general should improve and strengthen the youth participation and democracy within the movement to get more and more people and included and also to have more action done.”
Has the role of youth increased within the global co-operative movement? Mr Chaillou thinks important achievements have been made over the past 10 years.
“It’s interesting to see that youth is no longer just about the future of the movement. It is now described as the present of the movement, as something we need to do now and not in the future.”
His place on the global board of the ICA has given him the chance to contribute to setting out the ICA’s strategy, he adds.
“I don’t feel like someone who would just have to talk only about the youth aspect. So, at the global level I think it’s done,” he says, adding that more things could be achieved on regional and sectorial boards, some of which do not currently have youth representation.
“I discovered the movement six years ago. I see a huge difference in between co-operative concerns six or seven years ago and now in terms of inclusivity. Things are moving in the right direction.”
Applications for the replication programme are now closed. The Youth Network has received a total of 154 applications (9 from Europe, 56 from Asia Pacific, 24 from the Americas, 61 from Africa). The awarded projects will be presented in mid September.