Co-ops are vital in the poverty battle

A movement representing 800 million individuals should not be silent on one of the most pressing issues our time — that of poverty. 

With almost half of the world’s population living on less than two dollars a day, and 535 million working women and men surviving on one dollar a day or less, the need to reach out to the poor is imperative.


A large number live in rural areas or are part of the informal economy and have not had access to the benefits of economic and social development, nor have they had a voice in their futures.

Co-operatives offer these people ways to find solutions on how to co-operate out of poverty by tapping their own resources, knowledge and strengths.

Because co-operatives are democratic organisations owned by those who use their services, they are an ideal instrument for the empowerment of people.

They are participatory, responsive to local needs and able to mobilise communities. For instance, co-ops enable individuals to create economies of scale in the marketplace, they provide access to financial services, and they provide safe and reasonably priced consumer goods.

So when we talk about the fight against poverty as a global battle, we can not forget the important contribution that co-operatives can make.

Co-operatives facilitate the economic and social progress of their members, through self-help efforts and help in the fight against poverty.

The benefits and employment generated by co-operatives enable their members to achieve economic security and prevent millions from falling into poverty.

By helping to sustain income and employment opportunities, especially in remote areas where public and other private sector initiatives tend to be weak or absent, co-operatives contribute to generating sustainable livelihoods and to the overall development of local communities.

And yet, despite their proven track record in helping people out of poverty, there continues to be a lack of awareness on the scope and contribution of co-ops — although many international institutions both within the UN system and beyond are recognising how the model can help address the pressing issues of poverty and development in general, including the World Bank in its 2008 Development Report and the African Union.

Helping people understand the co-operative enterprise model is one of the main objectives of the International 
Co-operative Alliance. It works on making the co-operative model better known.

The ICA Global 300 programme for example has enabled it identify and demonstrate that the 300 largest co-operatives in terms of economic activity is equal to the 10th economy of the world — that is one trillion US dollars.

It is also in the process of compiling information on what is called the “developing 300”, identifying economically successful co-ops in developing countries and showing their contribution to national economic and social development.

Another of its initiatives is the Co-operating Out of Poverty Campaign, which highlights the role and contribution of co-operatives in poverty reduction. Jointly developed by the ICA and the International Labour Office (ILO), the campaign is a call to action to the world co-operative movement to join hands in fighting poverty.

It aims to strengthen the capacity of co-operatives to make a significant contribution to poverty reduction by increasing their role in achieving the Millennium Development Goals particularly with regard to reducing poverty by half by the year 2015.

The campaign further seeks to build new partnerships to support co-operatives. And has already initiated an action research project, Co-operative Facility for Africa, which has led to the project Co-opAfrica which has funding of nearly �£5 million by the UK Government’s development arm. The project is being implemented by the ILO, with ICA and its members in Africa working closely.

Through the campaign, the ICA is able to provide concrete examples of how co-ops are improving lives in both developing, but also industrialised countries.

The capacity of the movement for creating viable and sustainable enterprises that secure productive employment and self-employment, and generate income and the payment of decent wages and salaries is huge.

Financial co-operatives provide the means for escaping from indebtedness and for effective financial management. Their provision of insurance and services for health and social care, as well as affordable and appropriate housing, and their contribution to food security are clearly major contributions to the alleviation of poverty, no matter what definition you wish to apply.

With a greater understanding of the co-operative form of enterprise, policy makers will take the necessary steps to put appropriate policies and legislation in place to enable people to choose this model of enterprise.

By identifying common interests and uniting them with shared values, people can make a difference for the better, in their own lives and in the lives of those around them through the co-operative form of enterprise.

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