Reducing inequalities through cooperation

Updates from the parallel sessions at the ICA Global Conference in Kigali

Parallel Session V: Contributing to food security and sustainable production and consumption (SDG 12)

“16 October is world food day,” said Todor Ivanov, of Consumer Co-operatives Worldwide (CCW), opening a session at the ICA International Conference on how co-operatives can contribute to Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 12. This calls for responsible consumption and production as ways of contributing to food security.

“As member-owned and democratically governed entities, co-operatives have the full instruments necessary in driving change towards efficient use of natural resources, for cutting food and other waste, among other things, by implementing their principles and values,” he added.

This session explored the key challenges and successes of agricultural and consumer co-operatives in working towards the goal, including the scale of involvement.

Toshihiko Baba, of the Japan Co-operative Alliance, said co-operation between consumer and agricultural co-ops can provide reliable food for consumers, promote sustainable agriculture and revitalise local communities.

Delegates heard case studies from Shimelles Tenaw (University of Helsinki, Finland), who spoke about how shifting from informal co-operative models to primary co-operative enterprises is benefiting farmers, as well as Tarun Bhargava (Indian Farmers Fertiliser Cooperative), João Marcos Silva Martins (Organisation of Brazilian Cooperatives).

A panel discussion also looked at the challenges and opportunities in nudging consumers towards sustainable consumption.

Parallel Session VI: How health, industrial and service cooperatives contribute to reducing inequalities

Co-operatives have a long tradition of promoting equality, in both society and the workplace. The values of equality and equity go beyond members’ equal voting rights.

“Cooperatives guarantee that goods and services that are essential for a dignified life, such as health, social services and education remain accessible and affordable for everyone,” said Diana Dovgan of the International Organisation of Industrial and Service Cooperatives (CICOPA), who was moderating the session.

The afternoon brought together leaders, experts and representatives of cooperative experiences in the industrial, services and healthcare domain to review and reflect on the role that cooperatives play in ensuring healthy lives, promoting wellbeing, decent work and reducing inequalities.

The first roundtable discussion looked at how coops can reduce inequalities in terms of access to social services and at the workplace, and comprised Giuseppe Guerini (European Confederation of Industrial and Service Cooperatives) and Eslah Pazir (Rah-e Roshd Educational Cooperative, Iran).

The second discussion focused on how cooperatives can ensure healthy lives, reducing inequalities that way, with a conversation between Sarah Murungi (Party of Health Partners, Uganda), Mirai Chatterjee (SEWA Cooperative Federation, India) and Carlos Zarco (International Health Cooperative Organisation).

Parallel session VII: A co-op approach to housing and energy

Around, the world 1.8 billion people lack adequate housing and are living in informal settlements or on the streets. And with an estimated two thirds of humanity living in cities by 2050, ensuring access to housing and energy for a growing population will become increasingly more challenging.

“Housing and energy are two things that are intertwined,” said Julie LaPalme of Cooperative Housing International.

During this parallel session, delegates heard from Anna Tibblin from We Effect Sweden, a development body of the Swedish co-operative movement who talked about sustainable housing in Manilla, the Philippines.

“Solving the housing crisis is a precondition for sustainable cities,” she said. Last year WeEffect supported 225,000 people in the Philippines who are living in insecure settlements. In partnership with community groups, the organisation is building adequate shelters, enabling the dwellers to gain access to sustainable housing.

Similarly, in Kenya nearly 61% of urban households live in slums while urbanisation rate is 4.4%.

Tindi Sitati from Usaid’s CLEAR program global communities looked at the contribution of worker coops in the housing sector. She described a Usaid project in Kenya designed to support co-operatives.

Usaid provides tailored capacity building worker based c-ops looking at issues such as governance or management.

In 2017 they started working with a worker co-operative called Funditech Service Co-operative Society, from ‘fundi’, which is Swahili for artisan. The coop brings together carpenters, masons, plumbers and electrician. Every member is an owner of the business. Accessing the market remains a challenge so Usaid is supporting with capacity building and market linkages.

Next on Guido Schwarzendahl from Bauverein Halle and Leuna in Germany shared his co-op’s holistic approach to energy refurbishment.

The co-operative has built a completely new grid in the Lutherviertel Neighbourhood, enabling the replacement of gas-heating systems in various buildings across the neighbourhood. Members of the neighbourhood can also rent electric cars and load them at the heating centre.

Through five tenant-meeting centers the co-operative is communicating all changes, engaging with members to ensure they approve of the changes made.

Tenants have seen the price for heating lower due to the measures taken without having to pay more in rent. Emissions have been reduced by 60% compared to 1990 levels.

Dirk Vansintjan, who is president of REScoop EU, told the story of Ecopower, a Belgian renewable energy c-ooperative with 60,000 members. A founding member of the coop, he is an expert on community energy and well-experienced with European projects. The continent is now home to 3,400 renewable energy cooperatives (rescoops).

Ecopower has been supplying green electricity since 2003 and it has become the cheapest supplier for 60% of Flemish. It also supports members to renovate their houses. Once they join, members consume half of what the rest of households consume. “Once people join an energy co-op they start consuming less energy,” he explained.

The coop produces electricity in 500 different locations across Belgium.

“Don’t make our mistakes, skip gas and go directly to decentralised renewables,” was his message to African delegates.

In the USA electric co-ops are increasingly investing in renewable energy. Three coops are among the top ten electric utilities for solar installations per capital basis. Kauai Island Utility Cooperative was number one.

Citizens had to be educated about what co-ops were, explains Martin Lowery. “They could not imagine that the co-op model would work.” Once they joined they asked for the co-op to offer renewable energy.

Currently 55% of their energy comes from solar, hydro and biomass. Nreca also works in other countries through Nreca International, which was created during President Kennedy’s administration. He wanted to support a similar approach to that of Nreca in other parts of the world, says Mr Lowery.

Currently Nreca International works with 18 countries looking to enable them to minimise the use of diesel by using solar wherever possible.

Nationally Nreca is working on improving efficiencies and partnering with the government on various projects.

“Reverse engineering is possible. What we learn in a project in Liberia may well apply in the United States,” said Mr Lowery.

He added: “We need to accelerate our efforts and we need to scale. And we need to do that soon.”

Another housing co-op working to improve energy efficiency is measure environmental sustainability is ABZ Switzerland, which was founded in 1916 by 15 workers facing acute housing shortage. They raised funds from locals who invested knowing that only after a number of years they would be able to receive something back. It has grown to become Switzerland’s largest coop with 7,000 members. They build, administer and maintain 5,000 apartments in and around Zurich, including approximately 11,000 people living in 60 different residential areas.

So far ABZ has installed 15 photovoltaics on the roofs of their houses and are exploring ways to reduce consumption of resources. Members are also educated to use less energy.

By sharing knowledge, partnering and creating synergies, co-ops across different sectors can take sustainable development to a new level, said Julie LaPalme.