Activist Ela Bhatt to address the World Cooperative Congress in Seoul

The UN’s Olivier De Schutter, Iñigo Albizuri Landazabal from Mondragon and Basque politician Idoia Mendia will also be speaking

The International Cooperative Alliance (ICA) has announced that co-operative organiser and activist Elaben Bhatt will be one of the keynote speakers at the World Cooperative Congress in Seoul this December.

Ms Bhatt is a pioneer in women’s empowerment, having played a key role in setting up the Self-Employed Women’s Association of India (SEWA) in 1972. Her long involvement with SEWA saw her serve as general secretary from 1972 to 1996; she also helped set up India’s first women’s bank, the Cooperative Bank of SEWA.

A qualified lawyer, she is the current chancellor of the Gujarat Vidyapith and is a member of The Elders, an independent group of global leaders working together for peace, justice and human rights. Her efforts to empower women brought her numerous accolades, including the Global Fairness Initiative Award in 2010 and the Indira Gandhi Prize for Peace, Disarmament and Development in 2011.

She will deliver the keynote speech at the third plenary of the Congress, in which she will explore the role of co-operatives in coping with changes in the world of work, a topic she explored in her most recent book,  Women, Work and Peace.

“Deepening our co-operative identity is a topic that is very close to my heart. Co-operation is indeed a worthwhile idea in the present times of economic crisis,” she said.

Congress will also hear from Olivier De Schutter – professor at UCLouvain and Sciences Po, co-chair of the International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems (IPES-Food) and UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights – and Iñigo Albizuri Landazabal, global head of public affairs at Mondragon Corporation in the Basque Country of Spain and president of the International Organisation of Industrial and Service Cooperatives (CICOPA).

At Congress, he will speaking on ways to strengthen the co-operative identity during a session that will also feature Idoia Mendia, deputy president and regional minister for labour and employment in the Basque government led by Iñigo Urkulu.

In April, the ICA announced award-winning Canadian film director John Houston as a speaker. He will discuss his most recent film, Atautsikut/Leaving No One Behind, which tells the story of Inuit communities of the Hudson and Ungava coasts of Québec, who empowered themselves by setting up co-ops.

Congress takes places in Seoul, Republic of Korea, from 1-3 December. The provisional congress programme is available at