Comment: How Charlie Co-operation can keep co-operatives alive

Youth. It seems a tough age to crack. We know that we need the participation of youth to keep the co-operative dream alive, but why would youth want...

Youth. It seems a tough age to crack. We know that we need the participation of youth to keep the co-operative dream alive, but why would youth want to participate?

How are we going to succeed with engagement and what makes us so different that we will achieve in doing so? Society is more favourable toward youth today, but at the same time youth is now feeling more disenfranchised with society.

This gap is not a new problem, though. During a visit to the Co-operative Heritage team last year I heard an interesting observation: “Engaging youth has always been a problem.”

So how are our generations going to make a difference? The first step is surely education, which has made remarkable progress in recent years.

Midcounties Co-op runs over 40 nurseries – and Co-operative Childcare has created five characters to espouse co-operative values in a subtle way. They are: Charlie Co-operation, Ping Openness, Ebo Social Responsibility, Alice Equality and Ela Democracy – a hopeful inspiration to five-year-olds everywhere.

Top marks are also awarded to the Co-operative College and Co-operative Group for getting the word ‘co-operative’ emblazoned on more than 700 schools. Universities are also adopting a more co-operative curriculum, and the creation of a true co-op university may not be that far away with the College actively studying the idea.

Next is action and providing the tools. Already some co-operatives have established youth boards/committees to show how democracy and business works – but many more need to follow the example of the International Co-operative Alliance and appoint/elect a youth representative direct to the main board.

Recently we have spoken to Gabriela Buffa about her role as the ICA’s youth director. She raises an interesting point about the definition of youth. One of the many things I adore about co-operatives is that I’m still considered a youth is some quarters! Age isn’t necessarily important, but some consistency (rather than quoting any number from 16 to 39), will help foster inclusiveness.

Then there are organisations such as the Motherwell-based CETS, which creates engaging tools for youth – and helps to establish youth co-operatives. Its latest venture has been to commission Co-operative News to write and produce a Student’s Guide to Starting a Co-operative, which has inspired our focus on youth in this edition.

As part of the guide, Lucy Erskell writes about the challenges facing a student – and previews her dream to create the UK’s first student-owned housing co-op. All she needed was the idea that the co-operation can work.

So has the problem with youth engagement been that we want youth to engage in our structures, when in reality they just need the tools to build the next evolution of our social movement?

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