Co-ops and culture at Mondiacult 2022

ICA side-event: Co-ops are Key Stakeholders in advancing SDGs through Culture and the Creative Sector

The International Cooperative Alliance is hosting a hybrid side event as part of the UNESCO World Conference on Cultural Policies and Sustainable Development – Mondiacult 2022

The Mondiacult Conference, which will take place in Mexico City from 28 to 30 September 2022, aims to consolidate progress and set clear new pathways for the future of cultural policies. The event will feature over 100 ministers of culture, and more than 150 inter-governmental organisations, UN system agencies and civil society organisations. The first Mondiacult conference was held 40 years ago in Mexico City (Mexico) to expand the horizons of what is meant by culture.

Due to take place on 26 September under the heading  “Cooperatives are Key Stakeholders in advancing SDGs through Culture and the Creative Sector”, the ICA’s side-event will advocate for including co-operatives in global policy processes and dialogues concerning culture and sustainable development. It will feature round tables, panel discussions and keynote presentations on the importance of co-operative culture and the role of co-operatives in safeguarding cultural heritage.  

Speakers will share research and case studies on how co-ops are a viable alternative with a proven track record for organising workers in the cultural and creative sectors and will share how co-operatives can collaborate on policies for sustainable development. It will also explore how education can be a tool for promoting the culture of co-operation as an intangible cultural heritage of humanity.

“I am delighted that the application by the ICA to organise a side-event at the historic UNESCO Mondiacult 2022, which was developed in close coordination with CICOPA and Cooperatives of the Americas, was accepted by the screening committee,” said Bruno Roelants, director general of the ICA.

The side-event evolved out of a session at the ICA World Cooperative Congress (Seoul 2021), examining the opportunities resulting from the UNESCO Inscription of the idea and practice of organising shared interests into co-operatives as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2016. 

One of those participating in the side-event is Stefania Marcone, a member of Legacoop National Commission for Equal Opportunities and the Italian Alliance Commission on Women and Equality. “Co-operatives, culture and sustainable development are very interconnected,” she says, adding that culture in its broadest sense “represents a transversal dimension of sustainability and is fundamental to meeting the challenges ahead of us … Moreover, culture builds bridges, contributes to inclusive social development, and promotes dialogue and understanding among people, mutual respect and peace. It empowers people.”

In turn, “co-operatives, as enterprises focused on people and set up to meet their common economic, social and cultural needs, are by their nature, critical actors of sustainable development and agents of cultural promotion and empowerment,” says Marcone.

“It is clear that co-operatives have a pivotal role in this area, and can bring strong contributions to the issues under debate in the UNESCO Mondiacult 2022 Conference.”

Joining the event online is Fabíola da Silva Nader Motta, general manager of the Organization of Brazilian Cooperatives, who sees sustainability as “the main challenge of our time”. 

“Being able to improve the living conditions of our communities, while generating economic development and protecting our environment, is the main goal of the 2030 Agenda,” she says. “We strongly believe that co-operatives are the best economic model to face that challenge.

“[They] can help humankind to strengthen a culture of sustainable business and inclusive growth. It is human essence to come together to achieve opportunity-generating development. Co-operatives go further, as it is the strength of each member that brings financial returns to them, generating prosperity for everyone around them. So, co-operation is a human practice and must be increasingly evidenced and encouraged for the benefit of society.”

Representing UNESCO at the event is Christine M Merkel, head of the Division of Culture, Communication, Memory of the World at the German Commission for UNESCO, who was part of the team that developed the files and ensured the enlisting of co-operation in UNESCO’s Representative List of Intangible Heritage.

“The strength of co-operative enterprises around the globe is their capacity to provide common public goods which are essential for human development and well-being, such as housing, food security, health and financial services and energy provision,” she says. “Culture as a public good is essential to achieve the overdue turnaround towards sustainability. 

“If swift action is taken, humanity may survive. This is not sure and time is running out.”

She believes it is important to preserve the culture of co-operation as an intangible cultural heritage because “the culture of co-operating in co-operatives has shown an extraordinary capacity for innovation, adaptability and resilience — all vital elements for the necessary turnaround towards more sustainable futures.”

Another participant, Caroline Woolard, is a US-based artist, educator, author and the director of research and programs at Open Collective, a technology platform that supports 15,000 groups to raise and spend US$35m a year in full transparency. Woolard is also a founding co-organizer of which exists to grow the Solidarity Economy movement by centring systems change work led by artists.

For her, without cultures of co-operation, the co-operative movement will fail “because most of us have no practice of direct democracy at school, at home, online, or at work. We have to learn how to do this together, and often this happens through cultural practice.”

She describes how a scan of the arts and culture landscape in 2021 “reveals a growing demand for education and training about co-operative forms of enterprise”. 

“In co-operatives, creatives can learn technical artistic skills alongside racially just and solidarity business practices by following internationally recognised principles,” she says.

“BIPOC-led co-ops have been proven to offer low-cost models for learning, high-quality jobs, and to build intergenerational wealth. Despite a strong presence of arts and culture workers in the co-operative sector of the economy—with an estimated 1 in 5 worker-owned businesses in the arts and culture sector—presently there is no co-operative training program designed by and focused on the particular needs of BIPOC creatives, artists, and culture-bearers—the same communities who hold and shepherd healing for the entire ecosystem. 

“The co-operative and art sectors are uniquely positioned to advance education for creatives about co-operative enterprises. To succeed, grantmakers and leaders in higher education, the public sector, arts institutions, and co-op developers must support collaboration across sectors and follow the lead of BIPOC creatives who are innovating the co-op model now.”

The ICA side-event takes place on Monday 26 September, 12.00-16.00 BST (13.00-17.00 CEST). The full programme for the side-event is available here. Online participation is free – register here to join the webinar.

For more information, visit the event website,

Full Q&As with some of the side-event participants are available on the ICA website. Click their names to read more from Stefania Marcone (Legacoop, Italy), Christine M Merkel (UNESCO, Germany), Caroline Woolard (, USA) and Fabíola da Silva Nader Motta (Organization of Brazilian Cooperatives (OCB), Brazil).