At the United Nations' Closing Ceremony for the International Year of Co-operatives, youth is a key issue on the agenda in a world where young people are three times more likely to be unemployed than adults and over 75 million youth worldwide.
The lack of opportunities for young people across the world has also led to an alienation among youths, with six million young people having given up looking for a job, according to the International Labour Organization.
The ILO expressed its belief that the co-operative enterprise model can help to overcome the current financial crisis and decrease youth unemployment across the world, contributing to social inclusion and poverty reduction.
Simel Esim, the chief of the co-operative branch of the ILO spoke of the importance of getting youth into co-ops and communicating the co-op message beyond the International Year of Co-operatives. She is also participating in the Youth Forum at the Closing Ceremony of the UN's International Year of Co-operatives in New York. At this forum an International Cooperative Youth Statement will also be issued.
Getting the youth into co-ops
Ms Esim said it is essential to see how young people participate in co-ops and whether they are actually involved in the decision-making process.
She said: “Young women and men around the world want to be a part of an environmentally, socially and economically more responsible world order. The principles of independence, autonomy and democracy enshrined in co-operative enterprises can provide a good match for the aspirations of young people."
She said that at the same time, co-operatives can provide young women and men with the advantages of economies of scale, and the power of collective voice to overcome the challenges of unemployment and limitations to their participation in the public realm.
“The dynamism and innovation of young co-operators can in turn help the international co-operative movement become more energised. It is a win-win scenario really,” added Simel Esim.
She continued: “We need to get co-operative education integrated into education systems, formal and informal, across countries of the world. And needless to say we need more young co-operative champions to join the ranks of existing co-operatives or establish their own co-operatives.
Communicating the co-op message beyond the International Year of Co-ops
The ILO’s Co-op Branch Chief said the IYC has showed that co-operative enterprises are more sustainable than others because it has stronger connections to the real economy, it is committed to its members and it does not involve taking great risks, as it is the case with the shareholders model. She said: “This sustainability aspect of the co-operative enterprise governance model should be better communicated. One important starting point is co-op education from high school to universities. Why are not more business schools, economics departments and law schools providing courses on co-operative enterprises?"
Ms Esim also said co-operatives can provide a collective voice to individual informal economy workers. They can also help grow informal enterprises to become stronger and more viable.
“The co-op movement may have had a tendency to feels comfortable in its connection to its members and the local economy, and not feel the need to do any advocacy for itself or work on alliance building with other movements.”
She explained how the co-op movement needs to engage more with the media, more in debates and discussions on the co-op enterprise model, whilst also publishing stats and research papers to show the strength of the model. She added it is also important to communicate this message to young people.
Asked whether the co-op movement should have a say within the G20/B20, Simel Esim said: “I think this is a great point that Dame Pauline Green makes. It would be great to have co-operatives take active part in national, regional and international economic decision making structures to have.“
She also added co-ops should make their voice heard not only within the G20, but also within the EU, regional development banks and other organisations.
Simel Esim is a political economist, working in the field of international social and economic development for the past twenty years. She has been with the International Labour Organization for the past nine years. Currently she is the Programme Manager of the Cooperatives Branch at the International Labour Organization in Geneva.
• Find out more about the Youth Statement and watch the web broadcast here: www.thenews.coop/iycclose