Youth leaders call for greater participation in co-op sector

Co-operatives have been urged by youth leaders to commit funding, knowledge and resources to young and other marginalised people. A document, Cooperate to Transform Society, was unveiled at the International...

Co-operatives have been urged by youth leaders to commit funding, knowledge and resources to young and other marginalised people.

A document, Cooperate to Transform Society, was unveiled at the International Summit of Cooperatives by its young leaders programme. It calls on co-ops allocate “resources to support young people to start and develop new and innovative co-operative businesses, not just develop young leaders within existing co-ops”.

It suggests co-ops should “make a concerted effort to create free, accessible, and useful resources and portfolios of knowledge for new and young people engaging in the co-operative movement to benefit and learn from”.

It also calls for an online platform where relationships can be built, and knowledge shared, between co-operative youth across the world, via the International Co-operative Alliance’s Youth Network.

The ICA’s youth representative, Gabriela Ana Buffa, told delegates in the final session of the Summit: “There are different solutions for different needs. Young people need to participate in the decision-making process. There are some young leaders who don’t have the opportunity yet – but they have the need and desire to feel like they fully participate.”

She added: “We live in a world of profound inequality, with youth not studying or working … How can we create employment, what tools can we share and what resources can we make available?”

During the discussion, ICA president Dame Pauline Green called on the movement to not recognise youth as leaders of tomorrow, but leaders of today. She said: “If what they’re saying is a bit edgy and radical, then remember – when my generation was taking over, we were edgy and radical to our parents. They’re going to take us into technological advances. Let them take us.”

The final panel, which summarised the three days of the Summit, stressed the need to integrate youth.

Jean-Louis Bancel, chair of Crédit Coopératif, France, said: “We need to integrate young leaders more into the event, we have to go further. This declaration from the youth has to be supported. We have to not only open the door for these young leaders, but recruit these young leaders too. We even have to allow youth to create co-ops, even if they are competition for our own co-operatives.”

The youth statement called for greater representation of young people at events like the Summit. “Our experience at the Summit has demonstrated to us the strength of the co-operative movement, the scalability and resilience of the co-operative model,” it said. “However, our visions and expectations for the co-operative movement, economy and community should be further represented in this event.”

Future events should have panelists representing those most affected by the success or failure of the movement, it adds – such as “youth, women, citizens of island nations, people of colour, residents of the global South, the LGBTQ community, un- and under- employed, and other marginalised peoples”.

Access and participation also need to be improved at future events, the statement says. “This could include open-space formats, peer-to-peer sharing of best practice and experiences, critical dialogue among participants and opportunities for identity and affinity groups to convene in an ad hoc fashion.”

The youth leaders also said conversations should be around “principles and values, rather than comparisons with outside systems”.

Bruno Roelants, secretary general of worker co-op body CICOPA, said the younger generation has already incorporated a “co-operative mentality” into its vocabulary. “This new generation has a different approach to collaboration and solidarity,” he added. “We have to work on this and use more direct language.”

• All people of all ages are invited to share and sign the youth declaration online:

• For all updates from the 2014 International Summit of Cooperatives, click here

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