International Co-operative Day’s focus on sustainability comes at a ‘critical time’

Co-operatives around the world will celebrate how the sector achieves sustainable development for all. To mark the 92nd International Co-operative Day on 5 July, the International Co-operative Alliance...

Co-operatives around the world will celebrate how the sector achieves sustainable development for all.

To mark the 92nd International Co-operative Day on 5 July, the International Co-operative Alliance is encouraging co-operatives to show how the movement is at the forefront of modern sustainability actions and how concern for the community is one of the movements’ founding values.

For the past 20 years, the United Nations has also been commemorating the date. This year, secretary general Ban Ki-moon said the day is at a critical time as the UN works to complete the Millennium Development Goals in 2015, as well as achieve a new climate agreement and adopt an agenda for sustainable development through the Sustainable Development Goals, a set of ambitious new targets for the post-2015 period.

Ban Ki-moon said: “Co-operative enterprises can help further these objectives.  They are helping communities in both developed and developing countries to generate energy, manage water supplies and provide other basic services. Co-operatives are particularly important to agriculture, food security and rural development. In the finance sector, co-operatives serve more than 857 million people, including tens of millions who live in poverty.

“As member-owned, member-run and member-serving businesses, co-operatives can put social justice and equity at the heart of economic progress while helping to ensure that the production and provision of goods and services matches the needs and aspirations of communities.”

One of the goals of the Blueprint for a Co-operative Decade, published by the Alliance, is to “position co-operatives as builders of sustainability”. As such, the organisation is working to explain and show to the world that sustainability is part of its intrinsic nature, and that co-operative enterprises make a positive contribution to sustainability.

Co-operatives exist in almost every sector, in all world regions, and are especially prevalent in sectors critical to achieving sustainability. More than half of the world’s co-operatives are estimated to focus on agriculture and food production, cementing the contributions of the business model to food security and rural development.

Alliance president, Dame Pauline Green, said: “What we want from this day is to spread the message that co-operatives approach sustainability in a holistic way. By combining financial health, concern for the environment and social purpose, co-operatives are the ultimate sustainable enterprise. They can take a multitude of shapes and forms and the important thing to remember is that they are a proven self-help model in both good times and bad.”

Director-general, Charles Gould, added: “The Alliance takes co-operatives’ commitment to sustainability very seriously and as such we commissioned a scan last year of co-operatives from different sectors and regions around the world to see how closely linked they are to sustainability. Launched at our global conference in Cape Town in November 2013, the report concluded that co-operatives embed sustainability into their operating model and values, and that the United Nations can and should recognise this.”

In other messages, Guy Ryder, director-general of the International Labour Organization, said co-ops are “an old idea, but one that is more relevant than ever if we look ahead at the development challenges and opportunities the world faces over the coming decades”.

In tackling challenges of extreme poverty and deprivation, “co-operatives and mutuals can play a valuable role in turning the tide,” said Mr Ryder. “Many of the poor and excluded are reached neither by conventional markets for goods and services nor by government. Co-operatives and other social economy enterprises have shown that they have the necessary reach.”

He added: “Co-operatives have an outstanding track record in overcoming multiple forms of exclusion in rural areas, but not only there. Co-operatives are present in all sectors of the economy and adaptable to a range of contexts. They respond to the triple bottom line of sustainable development: economic development, social justice, and environmental protection.”

ACDI/VOCA, a non-profit that promotes economic growth, said this year’s theme highlights how co-ops do business while also providing for the social good of their members and greater communities.

Paul Guenette, the organisation’s executive vice president for communications and outreach, said: “When working to improve the productivity and livelihoods of rural farmers, international implementation partners like ourselves know that groups of farmers organised into co-operatives present an efficient, effective interface to markets, making them attractive and sustainable business partners.”

Co-operatives can also be models for greater inclusion in business. ACDI/VOCA’s Lindsey Jones, director for gender mainstreaming and women’s empowerment, said: “Women farmers don’t always see themselves as farmers, so agricultural extension services don’t reach them. Women farmers often have less access to traditional agricultural extension services, resulting in, for example, lower yields than men farmers.”

More empowered and higher-skilled women farmers can be achieved through a variety of means such as building or improving economic institutions, including co-operatives and associations. Women’s leadership in these institutions and networks is key for truly galvanising a sea change in women’s economic empowerment, according to Ms Jones.

In this article

Join the Conversation