Young leaders give advice on engaging youth in co-ops

Engaging young people in co-operatives was a key topic at the International Summit of Cooperatives in Quebec, which ran a Young Leaders Program for people aged 20-35 involved in co-op businesses.

Two participants, François Hastir and Liliana Lemos da Silva, joined a session on the future of the co-operative movement. Ms Lemos da Silva is first manager of Clínica Médica Portuence in Portugal. She thinks co-ops can empower young people by giving them a platform and by improving education and internal marketing within their organisations.

“We need to open our doors and be more inclusive,” she said. “For this it is necessary to share. We need to provide answers to problems and communicate this.”

Mr Hastir, board member of Co-operatives and Mutuals Canada, agreed that marketing could help co-ops reach young people – who, he said, already shared their values and principles and are co-operating to set up marketing, transport or trade ventures in a world of shrinking resources and increased competition.

But, he added, youth engagement should be part of a wider programme to involve every community and boost the role of women.

It is also important to treat young members as equals, he said, arguing that they bring in new ideas to complement the experience offered by older members.

Co-ops can do this by providing the platform for everyone to engage, he added, and called on co-operative federations to take concrete action to implement the measures in the Young Leaders Declaration passed at the Summit.

Ms Lemos da Silva agreed. “If the future is ours, then we need to be part in the decisions of today,” she said.

“We need to learn from you. So share with us, empower your young leaders and give them space to take their own decisions.”

The facilitator of the debate, Desjardins chief executive Guy Cormier, gave examples of actions taken by his organisation to engage with young people.

Desjardins, a federation of credit unions, will create a youth committee with 12 young members and employees to exchange ideas.

“You have to be responsible for putting in place actions,” he told delegates. “Federations do not have any reason for not putting in place collaborative platforms to share knowledge.”