Cooperatives: Defining the movement

Cooperative movement gains global recognition via ICY 2012

ON October 31 last year, the United Nations (UN) proclaimed year 2012 as the International Year of Co-operatives (IYC) with a theme of ‘Co-operative Enterprises Build A Better World’.

The declaration entailed a UN resolution on the role of co-operatives in social development, of which the global body’s member states approved the resolution on Dec 18, 2009 during the 64th session of the UN General Assembly.

Dame Pauline Green

International Co-operative Alliance’s (ICA) president Dame Pauline Green commended the resolution towards recognising cooperatives as a business model which could serve as a major factor of economic and social development, as well as promoting the fullest possible participation in the economic and social development of people in both the developed and developing world – and that, in particular, cooperatives could contribute to the eradication of poverty.

Green, who is the first-ever woman president of the apex body for global cooperatives, assed that the resolution would also encourage all governments to create a more supportive environment for cooperative development, particularly with regards to securing finances for capacity-building.

“The IYC 2012 is a well-timed event that represents the depth of understanding of the entire co-operative movement,” she underlined. “The cooperative model is a better choice, and offers the basis for a more sustainable way to do business when compared to traditional capitalist models now under scrutiny.”

Marking the significance of the resolution, ICA had launched a new initiative late last year, designed to provide much needed finance to cooperatives in developing countries.

The Global Development Co-operative (GDC) would be slated towards supporting cooperative businesses in developing countries by raising US$50 million for the provision of access to low-cost loans for capital and infrastructure projects. It would target those with an interest in international development, as well as extending the reach and benefits of the co-operative model.

GDC has been developed by the UK’s The Co-operative Bank – part of the world’s largest consumer cooperative – and the ICA. The bank had devised the initiative as part of its parent’s – the Co-operative Group – pioneering ‘Ethical Plan’, a three-year rolling programme that would set out goals and targets to drive its ethical and cooperative aspirations. It would also provide administrative support to the GDC.

The GDC was unveiled at a special ceremony in New York in November for leaders from many of the largest 300 cooperatives in the world, organised by the ICA.

Amongst those who had already pledged their financial support for the initiative include the All China Federation of Supply and Marketing Co-operatives, Credit Cooperatif of France, Finlands’ SOK Corporation from Finland, the Indian Farmers Fertiliser Cooperative Ltd of India and Mid-Counties Co-operative.

In her view, Green added, “This initiative is a clear illustration of one of the founding principles of the movement – self-help amongst co-operatives.

“It will ensure that a positive and long-lasting legacy will remain from the  IYC, helping thousands of co-operators in the developing world. It will also continue our work to develop sustainable member-owned enterprises and embed civil society across the globe.”

The IYC 2012, as declared by the UN, would also strive towards drawing attention to major issues and encourage action; at the same time, raising awareness of cooperatives, seeking ways to leverage their contribution to socio-economic development and fostering more supportive regulatory frameworks. To date, the cooperative sector is estimated to have over one billion members in over 100 countries.

“This is why cooperatives have been resilient during the global financial crisis, employing over 100 million people worldwide, as well as enabling the development and welfare of societies in the most competitive economies,” underscored Green.

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