South Korean president addresses World Cooperative Congress in Seoul

Moon Jae-in praised the movement’s work on solidarity, sustainable development and empowerment

The president of South Korea, Moon Jae-in, was a keynote speaker at the World Cooperative Congress in Seoul, where he emphasised the importance of the social economy, including co-operatives.

Mr Jae-in gave his speech in person at the opening day of the International Cooperative Alliance to a combined physical and online audience of more than 1,000 co-operators.

He highlighted the scale of the co-operative sector in his country and around the world and had warm words for the movement’s work on solidarity, sustainable development and empowerment.

“The world is paying attention to the co-operative movement. The key to sustainable development lies in co-operatives, which prioritise community values. I hope this Congress will serve as a catalyst to spread the value of solidarity and cooperation far and wide,” he said.

It is important that co-operatives collaborate with the wider social economy as well as with other co-operatives, he said, and pointed to support mechanisms available to the movement, such as funding and training.

“Now, the spirit of co-operatives must spread as a widely accepted social value in every corner of the world. When co-operation among co-operatives and other social enterprises grows closer, it will enable them to achieve economies of scale and make mutually beneficial collaboration more competitive,” he said.

He added that Korea had “a tradition of solving community issues through co-operation”, and described how consumer and producer co-operatives emerged in Korea during times of crisis, enabling people to achieve economic self-reliance.

Since the Korean government adopted a social economy policy in 2017, the number of social enterprises in the country has grown from 20,000 to 30,000, operating in sectors ranging from finance and retail to renewable energy, social care, services and research. South Korea is home to 5,100 co-operatives with over 313,00 members and more than 22,000 employees.

“The Walk Together Medical Welfare Cooperative, which was jointly organised by doctors and local residents, opened a community hospital to protect the health of our neighbours in need. The Citizens’ Solar Power Generation Cooperatives established nationwide are spearheading the efforts to protect the environment by installing solar photovoltaic power plants. Usisan, a social enterprise, is spreading the message of saving whales by making whale dolls out of plastic waste.

“The Korean Government will help the social economy, including co-operatives, grow further. To provide systematic and continuous support, we will work to ensure that the three laws related to the social economy – the Framework Act for Social Economy, the Social Value Act and the Social Economy Consumer Base Support Act – pass the National Assembly as soon as possible. We will also actively join cooperative efforts within the international community,” he said.

He added that the co-operative movement was based on the idea of putting people first and building a more inclusive economy where everyone prospers.

“If we understand each other a little more and show consideration, we will be able to turn that hope into reality. My support goes to co-operative movements that – with the power of solidarity and co-operation – are ushering in a better future,” he concluded.

Congress also heard from the minister of economy, Hong Nam-ki, who said the social economy is a growing sector in Korea, employing over 300,000 people. The government will continue to support the sector, he added, and promote participative business models.

Co-operatives operate within the national Framework Act on Cooperatives, adopted in 2012 to strengthen the social and solidarity economy. Following the adoption of the act, a First Master Plan for Cooperatives was introduced to build a favourable environment. Further co-op policies were adopted in 2015, including research to identify the difficulties facing the sector; redirecting policies to support the sustainable development of co-operatives; exploring successful co-operative models; and intensively fostering strategic sectors.

The Second Master Plan for Cooperatives was introduced in 2017 to strengthen the autonomy of co-operatives, improve awareness on co-operatives, enable the creation of jobs through co-operatives, and strengthen the overall co-operative market.