Co-ops and the SDGs: No. 10 – reduced inequalities

‘The SDGs are a commitment of the global community and we need to actively engage with others to ensure the goals are met’

We speak to Balu Iyer, regional director of ICA Asia Pacific, who will sit on a panel at at the ICA global conference in Kigali to discuss the role of co-ops in achieving SDG 10.

How are the ICA Asia-Pacific region and its members working to tackle inequality?

Since 1990, the Asia-Pacific region has lifted 1.1 billion people out of extreme poverty. Still, the region has 400 million people in extreme poverty, and is seeing a rapid rise in inequality.

Economic growth alone is not sufficient to reduce inequality, which results from unequal access to education, finance, health, and technology; lack of resilience in the face of environmental hazards and natural disasters; lack of information to services; and lack of opportunities.

Balu Iyer

Co-ops in the Asia-Pacific focus on people being left behind; they look at the real economy, long-term job creation and increasing wealth – and combine these with social inclusion and the environment. 

In the region, agriculture is the main source of work, and co-ops are at the forefront of doubling farmers’ incomes. Ageing is a growing challenge; co-ops in Singapore and Japan are working to meet health needs, and building social networks to ensure individuals live in their communities and continue to do things they enjoy. 

Co-ops are building resilience in earthquake-affected Nepal and cyclone-hit Vanuatu. In China and Korea, they are investing in tech to connect rural producers to urban consumers and cutting out the middle men to save income. The concerns of youth and the representation of women are
also key.

What are the big obstacles to progress?

The global growth outlook has weakened amid unresolved trade tensions, elevated international policy uncertainty and disillusionment with globalisation. Across developed and developing countries, growth projections for 2019 have been downgraded. But the latest UN report on the global outlook finds that overall economic growth for the Asia-Pacific region remains strong compared to other developing regions. 

This does not mean we can sit back – growth is slowing, as is job creation in China and India, which are economic drivers in the region; household and corporate debt is increasing in parts of East Asia; the drop in oil prices is fuelling concerns in the Middle East and ongoing conflicts are adding to tensions; the effects of climate change are seen across the region.

How can co-ops generate and share consistent data to support evidence-based research?

This is a challenge. Examples we have tend to be mostly through case studies. This is not to say there is no research being carried out; but this tends to be sample based and data collected is as part of the study. What we need, as you have asked is consistent data which can support research. Data, where available is very macro. It is not very disaggregated. What we need is consistent data which can support research. Apex organisations need to work with government departments and statistical agencies to ensure data on co-ops is systematically collected. 

Should co-ops work with other organisations?

Co-operation among co-operatives is one of the principles which needs strengthening. Credit, agriculture and consumer co-ops need to work together to build the co-operative ecosystem. 

A good example is the Uralungal Labor Contract Cooperative Society (ULCCS) in India. When ULCCS wanted to raise US$31m (£25.11m) as a security deposit to bid for road reconstruction work in Kozhikode, it reached out to the primary co-op banks in the area. 

These formed a consortium, whose principles were to use co-operative funds for co-operative development; to develop co-op credibility – ULCCS won the project competing with many multinational corporations – and the financial participation from primary co-ops to make this project a collective
co-op venture.  

Co-ops have strong supporters in the EU, and in several UN agencies. We need to leverage on this.

Co-ops are active in the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals. The SDGs are a commitment of the global community and we need to actively engage with others to ensure the goals are met.