Co-ops need to define what ‘youth involvement’ means

While youth involvement remains a challenge for the Co-operative Movement, Gabriela Buffa (24), the youth representative on the Board of the International Co-operative Alliance, thinks that co-operatives should...

While youth involvement remains a challenge for the co-operative movement, Gabriela Buffa, the Argentina-born youth representative on the board of the International Co-operative Alliance, thinks co-operatives should start by defining what ‘youth involvement’ means for them.

“The definition of youth involvement is something all members of a co-operative need to decide on, facilitating all resources required to succeed,” she says.

Gabriela, now 29, has been involved in the co-operative movement from an early age, following in the steps of her mother who was working for Banco Credicoop, an Argentinian co-operative bank. While studying literature and philosophy at the University of Buenos Aires, Gabriela was also working as a part-time teacher in a co-operative primary school – Escuela Mundo Nuevo. She is now a member of the pedagogical team of IDELCOOP, a foundation specialising in promoting and developing co-operative education. Gabriela is also president of Youth in Cooperar, the Argentinian network of young co-operators.

“There are young people who get involved and pass on their knowledge about co-operatives, spreading it within the social environment where they are active, such as universities,” she says, but adds that the majority of Argentinian youth do not know much about co-ops.

Organisations can address this situation by choosing different ways to involve younger members, says Gabriela. They should also seek to attract young people from outside the movement. A successful youth involvement campaign needs to start from within the co-operative by enabling younger people to have a say in the decision-making process – but it also needs to look at how to gain the attention of the wider community.

“There are co-operatives that involve young people in decision making, but others do not know how to do it, and that is why it is important to change and experiment,” says Gabriela.

Greater participation, she adds, is something that should not only concern the youth, but all members of the co-operative. She argues that directors should take an active role in mentoring young co-operators and helping them become the leaders of the future.

Ways to get young people involved include school activities, training courses and artistic competitions. But, says Gabriela, young people who work may have a different perspective from students, so activities need to be tailored to the needs of each group. Similarly, each co-operative should assess whether its policies enable youth involvement and respond to its members’ needs.

Having just been elected to the ICA board, Gabriela recently met with other ICA Youth representatives in Mexico, where the discussion centred on how to develop a global network of young people active in the co-operative movement. She reveals that the ICA Youth would continue to develop various competitions for young co-operators and, with the increasing importance of social media, they would be looking at new ways to communicate the co-operative vision through online networks.

By promoting involvement and participation, co-ops can also help to address the issue of youth alienation. “Young people can help to achieve real transformation, leading to a truly democratic society,” says Gabriela.

She believes co-operatives could be the key to tackling global poverty, food security and unemployment, too, but in order to do so, they need to develop strong joint strategies with national governments.

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