Summit to put young co-operators on an equal footing

Youth involvement is a priority for many co-operatives around the world, and to reflect this, the International Summit of Cooperatives is running a Young Leaders Program. The project...

Youth involvement is a priority for many co-operatives around the world, and to reflect this, the International Summit of Cooperatives is running a Young Leaders Program. The project is open to co-operative leaders of 35 and under who wish to participate in the summit, held in Quebec on 6-9 October.

The package includes an opening act exclusively for young leaders, three breakfast conferences and a networking event where young leaders will have the opportunity to present the work of their co-ops and the details of their projects. Young people registering with the Young Leaders get a discount of CAD $600 on original price.

Lara Emond, co-ordinator of the Young Leaders’ Program, is a member of the Consultative Youth Group of the Canadian Commission for UNESCO and has worked on various youth-related projects. She says the summit aims to enable young leaders to gain professional experience and extend their network.

“No sessions are aimed towards young people,” she explains. “The vision of the summit is to include youth as part of the international community of co-operatives so they are included among the speakers of the conference. In that way, they are on an equal footing with other co-operative leaders.”

Some young leaders have also been selected to speak at the event. Rhiannon Colvin, founder of AltGen, will take part in a panel discussion focused on attracting new talent through com pension, mission and organisation culture. Altgen helps 18-29 year olds set up worker co-ops as a collaborative and empowering solution to youth unemployment. Mohammed Ashour, chief executive of Aspire Food Group, will be speaking on a panel on boosting productivity through agricultural organisation. Gabriela Buffa, youth representative on the board of the International Co-operative Alliance, will be engaging with other young leaders at one of the summit’s conference breakfasts.

This year’s Young Leaders’ Program builds on the Future Leaders’ Program at the 2012 Summit. Ms Emond explains why the name of the programme had been changed.

“Many young people are already leaders within their co-ops. While there is consistency with the first edition of the summit, more activities will enable young people to build networks and establish new connections at this year’s edition,” she says.

“Attending the summit could help young leaders gain access to an international network of co-operatives,” she added. She feels it it will also let them find out more about the practices of big co-operatives, and gain an international perspective on the co-operative movement.

“They will be the first to learn about research studies that can be very valuable information for young leaders in co-ops and help them move forward. We are expecting 200 international young leaders.”

With the cost of travelling to Canada and attending the summit so high, the summit’s team have worked with organisations to secure funding for some young people who cannot afford to take part.

They have partnered with the Office Franco-Québécois pour la Jeunesse (OFQJ), which will be sponsoring 30 French and francophone young people to attend the summit. Desjardins Foundation is also offering five scholarships of $900 to Canadian and international students wishing to attend.

The summit’s organisers are inviting young leaders with funding issues to contact them. “Young people need to be involved in the process, but the summit’s team is there to help them and to support them to do so,” said Ms Emond.

She thinks the co-operative message can be sent out to young people by incorporating more technologies and harnessing the power of social media as well as having the co-op model taught in school among other business models. Young people who cannot attend are also encouraged to join the discussion on social media.

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