What world do we want as cooperators? And is the work done?

Now is the time for cooperatives to embrace youth, and for youth to raise their voices about the future, says Simel Esim, Chief of the Cooperatives Branch at the...

Now is the time for cooperatives to embrace youth, and for youth to raise their voices about the future, says Simel Esim, Chief of the Cooperatives Branch at the International Labour Organization in Geneva, who reports from New York . . .

There is some solemnity to the United Nations International Year of Cooperatives Official Closing Ceremony at the New York City headquarters of the UN.  It has a more reflective nature than the festive notes of the International Cooperative Summit in Québec or the Cooperatives United in Manchester.

One could say this is not surprising as it is an official closing ceremony of a UN international year. And it does not have the power of numbers that were in Quebec (3,000) or in Manchester (12,000). One simply cannot expect the same type of energy from a hundred plus people gathered around a UN HQ conference room.

But then again there are a lot of young women and men in the room. A Rabobank delegation of 19 young women and men from Netherlands is participating in the closing ceremony. They are listening and engaging actively. They are representatives of the 1.2 billion young women and men between the ages of 15 and 24, the largest generation of young people that the world has ever known.

They are saying we are not only the future of cooperatives, but we are here today. Listen to us, hear us, engage with us, transfer your knowledge to us and make space for us. Their sentiments are in line with those young women and men who were in the streets asking for change in Arab countries, and the 99 per cent and Occupy movements. In fact, throughout the International Year of Cooperatives there has been increased attention to the role of youth in cooperatives. There is a young cooperator on the International Co-operative Alliance board. And the international cooperative movement has been working on establishing a young cooperators network.

I try to understand the air of solemnity in the room. There is more to it than just numbers. From the actual panel presentations and questions from the floor to the ensuing discussions conversations on the sidelines, there is a thoughtful reflective feeling to this occasion. What next seems to be the question on everyone's minds.

Representatives of the different institutions present articulate how they are planning to follow up on enhancing the existing role of cooperatives to reach their potential in the years to come in their respective areas of work. I imagine we are all in different streams moving toward and feeding into the same larger sea. From the Dunsany Declaration for rural cooperation to the Declaration emerging from the 2012 International Summit of Cooperatives in Québec (Canada), the Blueprint for a Co-operative Decade launched at Co-operatives United in Manchester (UK), and the United Nations International Plan of Action that is being introduced at this closing ceremony in New York. In each of our institutions, we have our strategies as well. In the ILO, we have the cooperative strategy for 2013-15 where we outline how we plan to address the multiple outcomes and priority areas of our institution from youth employment to informal economy through cooperatives.

It is going to be hard work says someone. Getting cooperatives on the agenda of governments, international donor agencies, education institutions is simply going to be a lot of hard work.

"But if you believe it to be the right thing to do then you do it," says Jack Wilkinson said from Canadian Nipissing-Sundury Cooperative. "If you live in a remote area where the private sector does not see the value of investing in, or where the public sector does not have the reach, then the people of the community need to go ahead and join forces in a cooperative enterprise to secure the electricity the day care center," he added.

The representatives of cooperative institutions, UN agencies, national, regional and international institutions in this conference room are serious and genuine about translating the commitments made throughout the year into concrete actions. This is obvious from the way they engage. I think of the larger sea that all our different streams are moving and converging toward, that is the goal of realizing the potential of cooperatives. 

In the last session of the first day, Monday, Ravi Kankara from UN Habitat and the Co-Chair of the UN Interagency Network on Youth Development appeals to us to go to the website of the "The World We Want" and share our voices as to the kind of world we want. This is a website that will gather the priorities of people from every corner of the world and help build a collective vision that will be used directly by the United Nations and World Leaders to plan a new development agenda to be launched in 2015, one that is based on the aspirations of all citizens, he says.

Why not go to www.worldwewant2015.org and join in the global conversation and add our voices as cooperators, and steer that conversation to flow toward the sea of cooperative potential realized.

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