United Nations: What is a co-operative?

At the launch of the International Year of Co-operatives on October 31st, the United Nations issued a document outlining what a co-operative is.

At the launch of the International Year of Co-operatives on October 31st, the United Nations issued a document outlining what a co-operative is.

What are cooperatives?

Cooperatives, as economic enterprises and as autonomous self-help organizations, play a meaningful role in uplifting the socioeconomic conditions of their members and their local communities, as well as running major international businesses. Over the years, cooperative enterprises have successfully operated locally-owned people-centred businesses while also serving as catalysts for social organization and cohesion. Within the membership of the International Cooperative Alliance (ICA) alone, more than 800 million people are members of cooperatives.

Cooperatives represent a model of economic enterprise, which when effectively implemented, promotes democratic and human values as well as respect for the environment. It is compelling to consider cooperatives as another model of economic enterprise that promotes community self reliance and benefits society in general. Cooperatives help create, improve and protect income as well as they generate employment opportunities and contribute to poverty reduction.

As of 2007, cooperatives were responsible for more than 100 million jobs world wide. Cooperatives also promote social integration and cohesion as they are a means of empowering the poor and marginalized groups. As such, they also play an ever-increasing role in the promotion of gender equality and the social and economic empowerment of women. The cooperative sector, especially in developing countries, can therefore contribute to the realization of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by 2015.

Why an International Year of Cooperatives?

The United Nations has long recognised the importance of the cooperative movement as an important partner in the implementation of the United Nations development Agenda, defined by the UN global conferences and summits since the 1990s. In light of the current global economic crisis, the IYC draws on the potential of cooperatives for job creation and income generation, local empowerment, and the linking of local populations to local and global markets.

The IYC will give visibility to the contributions of cooperatives in addressing food security, social inclusion and gender empowerment. The IYC will also raise awareness of the strength and reach of cooperative in both developed and developing countries. This awareness is vital for promoting cooperatives formation and growth which will help leverage cooperative contributions for development and the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

The 2012 IYC is a concrete step towards promoting and strengthening cooperatives and recognizing their important contributions to socio-economic development. The IYC has three main objectives:

1. to increase public awareness about cooperatives and their contributions to socio-economic development and the achievement of internationally agreed development goals, including the MDGs;
2. to promote the formation and growth of independent and sustainable cooperatives for socioeconomic empowerment; and
3. to encourage Member States to establish policies, laws and regulations conducive to the formation, growth and stability of cooperatives.

For more information from the United Nations visit: social.un.org/coopsyear

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