Movement prepares for ICA World Cooperative Congress in December

There’s less than two months to go until co-operators from around the world gather in Seoul and online to discuss the co-operative identity

The 33rd World Cooperative Congress is set to take place in Seoul, the Republic of Korea, from 1-3 December.

Co-operators from around the world, including activist Ela Bhatt, UN special rapporteur Olivier De Schutter and filmmaker John Houston, will engage participants in discussions on the co-operative identity. 

Hosted by the International Cooperative Alliance(ICA), World Cooperative Congresses are scheduled around the co-operative movement’s historical landmarks. This year’s congress, originally planned for 2020 but postponed due to the Covid-19 pandemic, marks the ICA’s 125th anniversary and the 25th anniversary of the Statement on the Cooperative Identity. The ICA adopted the Statement on the Cooperative Identity in 1995, which includes the definition of a co-operative, co-operative values, and the seven co-operative principles.

The hybrid event will be an opportunity for delegates gather in-person and online to discuss, network and plan action around the theme of “Deepening our Cooperative Identity”. This will be tackled across four key areas related to the co-operative identity: examining its values, strengthening its actions, committing to its principles and living its achievements.

ICA president Ariel Guarco said: “We have one billion members who are part of three million co-operatives on all continents. This global reach gives us an unprecedented chance to make our influence felt. Congress offers us the opportunity to do that by bringing together thinkers, doers, activists, and storytellers who will lead conversations on four sub-themes.” 

The first day of the Congress, Wednesday 1 December, will explore the sub-theme of examining the co-operative identity through an opening plenary, a roundtable discussion and five parallel sessions looking at how co-operators can build and maintain a strong cooperative brand, inclusive governance, educational opportunities, cultural heritage and partnerships with governments.

Speakers include award-winning Canadian filmmaker John Houston, who will take part in a roundtable discussion on how the ability to leverage the co-operative identity can be viewed as a unique opportunity in times of crisis. Houston will also help launch the congress on 30 November with his film, Atautsikut / Leaving None Behind, which documents the struggle and triumph of co-ops in the Inuit and Cree communities of Nunavik (Northern Quebec).

Day two kicks off with a plenary and roundtable discussion on strengthening the co-operative identity, featuring Idoia Mendia, the Basque government’s deputy president and regional minister for labour and employment, and Iñigo Albizuri Landazabal, global head of public affairs for the Mondragon Corporation. Mendia and Landazabal will share the view from the Basque Autonomous Region, which is home to the world’s largest group of worker-owned co-ops, Mondragon.

Following this will be five parallel sessions,  seeking ways to strengthen the co-operative identity by taking advantage of the digital age, supporting ethical value chain management, building a strong entrepreneurial network, meeting future capital needs, and encouraging innovative entrepreneurship.

Later in the day, Thursday’s focus will move to the third sub-theme of committing to the co-operative identity. Setting the stage for these discussions will be renowned activist and founder of the Self-Employed Women’s Association of India (SEWA) Ela Bhatt. She will deliver a keynote address on the changing world of work and how co-operatives can respond to these changes. This is a topic Ms Bhatt explored in her most recent book, Women, Work and Peace.

Congress attendees will then engage in discussions on how to commit more deeply to the co-operative identity, for the survival of the planet, peace and equality, co-operative development across the world, strengthening communities, and facing crises with strength.

The final day of the congress, Friday 3 December, will largely focus on living the co-operative identity. UN special rapporteur for extreme poverty and human rights Olivier De Schutter will join an opening plenary and roundtable discussion on how the UN’s 2030 Sustainable Development Goals(SDGs) are being turned into effective local actions by co-operatives around the world. ICA sectoral leaders will also present their ideas for meeting the SDGs, giving attendees an opportunity to feed back and contribute their own views to the discussion.

Congress will then split into five parallel sessions to reflect on the ways in which the co-operative movement is living its co-operative identity through rewarding jobs, accessible health and social services, enhanced food security, affordable housing and energy as well as within the social and solidarity economy.

Ariel Guarco will close the congress with final remarks and a look ahead to the next steps that will follow. 

In a message earlier this year, ICA director general Bruno Roleants pointed towards next year’s ICA General Assembly as a place of action to take learnings from the 2021 World Cooperative Congress. 

“Your voices will continue to be heard, and, as always, your opinions will matter, said Roleants. “Not just at this historic event, but also after its closure in December through continued debates and conversations within our cooperative movemen t… ultimately culminating in our next General Assembly in June 2022, where the outcome of the debates will come to fruition.”

One of the key aims of the World Cooperative Congress will be to showcase and find ways to harness the power of co-operation in responding to the multiple crises of this century, including climate change,  sustainable development, conflicts and violence, migration, inequality and the future of work.

“We have evidence going back hundreds of years that shows us that cooperation is not only for emergencies,” said Ariel Guarco, president of the ICA. “Co-operation is a proven way to build a fairer, more balanced and a fundamentally less fragile economy in the face of global challenges. I look forward to engaging in many discussions in Seoul and showing the world that the cooperative way can lead us to a stronger future.”

The Covid-19 pandemic will inevitably serve as a dark backdrop to the event, but will also offer an opportunity to celebrate the many achievements co-ops have made in the face of the crisis and to look ahead to the role of co-ops in the rebuilding process. 

Mr Guarco said: “The pandemic has claimed so many lives – and has also accentuated the existing inequalities in the world. Today, more than ever, the world needs an economic model with community leadership at its heart, focused on the common good. In short, the world needs to embrace the co-operative way of doing business and together, we can help to make the needed shift. To emerge better from this pandemic, I passionately believe that the world must learn to cooperate better with each other.”

Organisers of the World Cooperative Congress have assured attendees that all of the necessary precautions are being made to ensure a safe experience at the congress. Delegates can find up to date information on covid travel requirements here. Those who are unable to attend in person this year will be able to access the programme of events online, due to the hybrid nature of the event. 

Registration for the World Cooperative Congress is now open. For those attending online, the deadline for registration is 22 November. For those attending in-person in Seoul the deadline for registration is 11 November. You can find more information accessing sessions online here and more about planning your visit to Seoul here.