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Celebrating the Contributions of Cooperative Enterprises

Cooperatives have two centuries’ experience building sustainable and resilient societies. Credit: International Co-operative Alliance.

By Fran McCrae

On July 7, 2018, the world will celebrate the International Day of Cooperatives (IDC), an annual observance of the contributions of cooperative enterprises to sustainable development.

To appreciate the significance of the IDC, it is important to understand what sets cooperatives apart from other enterprises. A cooperative is a people-centered business model, in which the members, be they workers, producers or customers, are the owners of the enterprise. Members, rather than shareholders, participate democratically in the cooperative’s governance to make decisions about how to manage the business. The purpose of the co-operative is to serve members’ economic and social needs.

Cooperatives are based on a set of values, which include self-help, democracy, equality, solidarity and openness, among others. To put these values into practice, all co-operatives subscribe to seven principles, among which are voluntary and open membership, member economic participation and autonomy and independence.

Driven by people’s needs rather than just the bottom line, cooperatives have shown their ability to help people pull themselves out of poverty, improve access to basic goods and services, provide decent and stable work and invest in environmental sustainability and community development.

The cooperative movement represents an important economic and social force. According to the 2017 World Cooperative Monitor, the largest 300 cooperatives and “mutual” in the world generate a combined annual turnover of almost $2.2 trillion, more than the GDP of Brazil.

Despite their impact, cooperatives are still one of the best-kept secrets in the development toolbox. By highlighting a different aspect of the cooperative identity every year, the IDC works to change that.

Celebrated on the first Saturday of July, the IDC has been observed by the cooperative movement since 1923 and became, in 1992, an official International Day of the United Nations through a resolution passed in the General Assembly.

In 2018, the International Day of Cooperatives will focus on the theme of sustainable consumption and production with the slogan “Sustainable societies through cooperation.”

Cooperatives have sustainability in their DNA, with ‘concern for community’ as the seventh of their guiding principles. The International Day will showcase how cooperatives run successful businesses while respecting our natural environment and building sustainable and resilient societies.

This theme echoes the twelfth Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) on responsible consumption and production. The seventeen SDGs were adopted by the UN Member States in 2015, in an ambitious global initiative to build a better world by 2030.

To learn more about cooperatives or get involved in the IDC, please visit www.copac.coop.

Fran McCrae is Coordinator of the Committee for the Promotion and Advancement of Cooperatives (COPAC). COPAC is a global partnership made up of the United Nations Department for Economic and Social Affairs, the International Labour Organization, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the International Co-operative Alliance and the World Farmers’ Organization, with the goal of championing cooperative enterprises as leaders in sustainable development.

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