Brazil’s Co-operative Congress explores movement’s role in driving SDGs

‘Our challenge as co-operators in the Americas is to speak with a single voice before international organisations’

Co-operators across the Americas have been urged to work together and take a leading role reaching the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

Speaking at the 14th edition of the Co-operative Congress of Brazil, Graciela Fernández, president of the International Co-operative Alliance for the Americas, talked about the global movement’s work on challenges such as poverty, hunger, youth unemployment and gender inequality.

The movement aims to align itself to the UN’s sustainable development agenda, Ms Fernández told the audience in Brasilia on 8 May.

“Our challenge as co-operators in the Americas is to speak with a single voice before international organisations,” she said, adding that co-ops across the Americas face different local contexts.

“We need to ensure the voice of co-operatives is heard in places where it is not currently present, in those places where international agendas are decided. America needs to be present and heard in these places since co-operatives are a valid vehicle for advancing development.”

Ms Fernández highlighted the importance of training co-operative leaders and academics, to help model cope with a range of legal challenges across the Americas – a region with 200,000 co-ops.

Ariel in Brazil
Ariel Guarco speaking at the congress in Brazil

ICA president Ariel Guarco told delegates the co-operative model is becoming more popular among young people looking to work for enterprises that care for people and the environment. He encouraged co-ops to think about how they can support the green and digital economies, sectors likely to generate future employment.

“We are a people-centred movement, guided by values and principles, with a set of international standards,” he said. “We differentiate ourselves by rightly prioritising the development of human beings over everything else. It is so common to see economic models that prioritise and value capital.”

The ICA is working with the International Labour Organization, he added, to explore how co-ops can address the challenges facing the world of work and provide viable options for young people.

The congress also featured a presentation from Roberto Rodrigues, former president of ICA Americas and current special ambassador for co-ops at the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization. Mr Rodrigues thinks the future is likely to increase competition for co-ops, particularly small ones, which will need access to new tools and technologies.

He also suggested that each co-op should have a woman and a young person on its board of directors. “After myself two women have been ICA presidents. Therefore, there is space and it is important that it is granted.”

The Congress, which ran from 8-10 May, was organised by OCB (Organisation of Co-operatives of Brazil) and focused on the future of co-operatives.