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What Do Cooperatives Have To Do with the Post- 2015 Development Framework and Proposed Sustainable Development Goals?

27 Sep 2013


What Do Cooperatives Have To Do with the Post- 2015 Development Framework and Proposed Sustainable Development Goals?
Cooperative enterprises are instrumental in providing opportunities for productive employment as well as offering services such as health care, education, credit, improved infrastructure and sustainable energy. They are guided by values of social dialogue and democracy, and are often rooted in local communities, making them a sustainable option for achieving development. However, recognition within UN processes crafting the post-2015 framework of the current and potential role of cooperatives in achieving sustainable development, reducing poverty and creating employment is patchy. To remedy this situation, the ILO, in collaboration with the International Cooperative Alliance (ICA), UNRISD and other partners has launched an initiative to assess and promote the contribution of cooperatives to sustainable development.

Emery Igiraneza studied International Relations and Globalisation at Salford University with the main focus on political economy, geopolitics and human rights. He has previously worked on community development projects in Europe and Africa.

What is the Post-2015 Development Framework About?

In 2000, the United Nations launched the current global development partnership, centered on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). 2015 was set as the target to achieve the eight goals in the areas of poverty eradication, education, gender equality and empowerment of women, child and maternal health, environmental sustainability, reducing HIV/AIDS and communicable diseases, and building a global partnership for development.

In 2013, the challenges to achieving the MDGs remain substantial despite considerable improvements around many of the goals in numerous countries. At the same time discussions on what follows the MDGs is gaining momentum. The UN Conference on Sustainable Development, also known as Rio +20 and held in 2012, started a process to design a sustainable development framework building upon the MDGs.

In follow up to Rio+20, the UN General Assembly established an Open Working Group to prepare a proposal on Sustainable Development Goals for consideration during its 68th session in September 2013. In May 2013, a High Level Panel appointed by UN Secretary-General Ban-Ki Moon published its report on its vision and recommendations for a post-2015 development agenda including a set of 12 proposed goals to achieve sustainable development while better reaching the poorest and most excluded people. The ILO is actively involved in the new global partnership to meet common economic, socio-cultural and environmental needs for the post-2015 development framework.

What about Cooperatives and Sustainable Development Goals?

Cooperative enterprises are instrumental in providing opportunities for productive employment as well as offering services such as health care, education, credit, improved infrastructure and sustainable energy. They are guided by values of social dialogue and democracy, and are often rooted in local communities, making them a sustainable option for achieving development.

Rio 20+ recognized the current and potential role of cooperatives in achieving sustainable development, reducing poverty and creating employment. The High Level Panel report, however, does not place any real emphasis on cooperatives despite the fact that the global cooperative movement is now more than one billion members strong.

Cooperatives and Poverty Reduction


Poverty reduction has been at the top of the international development agenda since the Second World War (Sachs 1997). Cooperatives have been contributing to the achievement of that universal goal ever since. Evidence from different regions around the world shows that cooperatives have an important role to play in reducing poverty in local communities where they are embedded. For Example in India, dairy cooperatives generate employment for 13.4 million rural households. Cooperatives’ potential to contribute to poverty reduction is explained by the fact that they are membership-based organizations owned by their users (Birchall 2004). Since cooperatives are still the main channel for rural people to access financial services, get lower cost inputs, storage, transport and get their products to market, they serve to secure livelihoods and reduce poverty. Cooperatives are one of the largest providers of microfinance services to poor people, allowing them to access the financial support they need to improve their livelihoods. Cooperatives have played and continue to play an important role worldwide in poverty reduction, facilitating the construction of homes, the provision of agricultural loans, economic growth and social development.

Cooperatives and Employment Creation


One of the major global concerns is the achievement of full and decent employment. All over the world, unemployment is growing and there are fears that it will continue to increase in the next few years due to the current financial crisis. The challenge ahead is not only to create good quality jobs for millions of unemployed women and men, but also to maintain jobs for those who are still in employment. As sustainable enterprises, cooperatives can help to overcome this challenge. It is estimated that cooperatives provide employment for over 100 million people worldwide, according to the ILO. Cooperatives place more emphasis on job security, pay competitive wages, promote additional income through profit-sharing, distribution of dividends and other benefits, and support community facilities such as health clinics and schools, than do private sector businesses (Logue and Yates 2005).

Cooperatives are major providers of employment in rural areas where private investors have no or little interest and where agriculture is the main employment generator. While agricultural cooperatives have played a central role in job creation in agricultural production, processing, marketing, purchasing and sales, rural cooperatives have also boosted employment in other sectors like financial services, energy, housing, tourism and handicrafts (ILO 2008). For example, over 257,000 jobs have been created by agricultural cooperatives in Japan’s rural areas, and 65,215 jobs in the Philippines. Contrary to other forms of investment, cooperatives are less likely to relocate to lower wage areas, but instead prefer to find innovative ways to retain jobs and remain competitive (ILO 2007). Recent research also shows that during the global financial crisis, financial cooperatives can provide a credible alternative to the investment-owned banking system hence securing jobs and creating new ones in the financial sector (Birchall 2013). With the ability to create and maintain jobs, cooperatives have made considerable contributions to employment creation.

Cooperatives and Social Inclusion


A fundamental cooperative principle, as defined by the International Co-operative Alliance, is open membership, without discrimination, to all who can contribute to and benefit from the activities of a cooperative. Social service cooperatives promote inclusion through offering an appropriate organizational platform that provides services to vulnerable groups such as indigenous people, refugees, youth, the elderly, migrants, women or people with disabilities. Joining a cooperative is often a first step to gaining a voice and enhancing political empowerment. This is for instance the case for ethnic minorities that are organizing through cooperatives in Orissa, India. Many members of such minorities are illiterate, landless, and often exploited by outside moneylenders. Ethnic women are particularly marginalized. The success of cooperatives in these communities shows that by providing flexible and innovative solutions to unmet social needs, cooperatives can help empower vulnerable populations to make them more inclusive (Birchall 2003).

Cooperatives have also played an important role in peace building in the aftermath of violent social conflicts which have occurred around the world. For instance, credit cooperatives have often emerged as sources of positive social capital, fostering a strong sense of community, participation, empowerment and inclusion among their members (van Bastelaer 2000).

This in turn may lead to confidence building and eventually self-reliance. Social cooperatives reinvent sustainable development models that embody the strengths and values of civil society, either as an alternative to state and market mechanisms or complementary to them.

Cooperatives and environmental sustainability


Cooperatives contribute to the protection of the environment for future generations. Some cooperatives are dedicated to helping individuals adopt more responsible patterns of consumption, thereby consuming fewer resources. Renewable energy cooperatives, for instance, offer consumers a local option to have clean energy while investing socially and economically in sustainable development (ILO, forthcoming). Others are supporting practices that return value to our environmental resources. For instance in Kenya, paper and plastic recycling cooperatives have helped all residents of target neighborhoods (including those living in slums) to benefit from a cleaner environment and affordable services. As member-owned enterprises embedded in their communities, cooperatives are better placed to help community members respond to environmental degradation and to protect and responsibly manage available resources.

What Next?


In order to bring cooperatives’ voices into the post-2015 development agenda process, the International Labour Organization’s Cooperatives Unit, in collaboration with the International Cooperative Alliance (ICA), the United Nations Research Institute for Social Development (UNRISD) and other partners has launched an initiative on the contribution of cooperatives to sustainable development.

As a part of this initiative, a background study is being drafted to be presented in policy round tables, conferences and seminars during 2013-14. The study will be informed by an online survey and in-depth interviews with representatives of the cooperative movement from around the world to gather information on how cooperatives have contributed to sustainable development and their potential to contribute to the achievement of the soon to be proposed new development goals.

To find out more about the initiative, please visit the of ILO’s Cooperatives Unit website.

Take the Survey


If you would like to contribute to the success of the initiative, please take the survey by clicking on the following links:

English
https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/ilo-coop-english

Français
https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/ilo-coop-french

Español
https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/ilo-coop-spanish


REFERENCES

Birchall, Johnston. 2003. Rediscovering the Cooperative Advantage: Poverty Reduction through self-help. ILO, Geneva.
http://www.acdivocacoopex.org/acdivoca/CoopLib.nsf/dfafe3e324466c3785256d96004f15a8/e23f0c803fc6060485256ef400575ed8/$FILE/Rediscovering%20the%20Cooperative%20Advantage.pdf, accessed on 26 September 2013.

Birchall, Johnston. 2004. Cooperatives and the Millennium Development Goals. ILO, Geneva.
http://www.ilo.org/public/english/support/lib/resource/subject/coop/birchallbook_2004.pdf, accessed on 26 September 2013.

Birchall, Johnston. 2013. Resilience in a downturn, The power of financial cooperatives. ILO, Geneva.
http://www.ilo.org/empent/Publications/WCMS_207768/, accessed on 26 September 2013.

ILO. 2007. Cooperatives for People-Centred Rural Development. Rural Policy Brief. ILO, Geneva.
http://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/@ed_emp/documents/publication/wcms_158998.pdf, accessed on 26 September 2013.

ILO. 2008. Promotion of Rural Employment for Poverty Reduction. Report IV at the 97th Session of the International Labour Conference.
http://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/@ed_norm/@relconf/documents/meetingdocument/wcms_091721.pdf, accessed on 26 September 2013.

ILO. Forthcoming. Providing Clean Energy and Energy Access through Cooperatives. ILO, Geneva.

Logue, J. and J. Yates. 2005. Productivity in cooperatives and worker-owned enterprises: Ownership and participation make a difference. ILO, Geneva.

Sachs, W. 1997. The Development Dictionary. 6th ed. Witwatersrand University Press, Johannesburg.

van Bastelaer, Thierry. 2002. "Annex 2. Does Social Capital Facilitate the Poor's Access to Credit?" In Grootaert, Christiaan and Thierry van Bastelaer (eds.), Understanding and Measuring Social Capital. A Multidisciplinary Tool for Practitioners. World Bank, Washington.
http://www-wds.worldbank.org/external/default/WDSContentServer/IW3P/IB/2002/07/31/000094946_02071104014990/Rendered/PDF/multi0page.pdf, accessed on 26 September 2013.

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This article reflects the views of the author(s) and does not necessarily represent those of the United Nations Research Institute for Social Development.