The International Cooperative Alliance (ICA) in collaboration with the Italian Cooperative Alliance held a webinar on 7 July to explore the movement’s potential contributions to the G20 engagement groups.
The G20 is the premier forum for international economic cooperation, which will culminate with a Leaders’ Summit in Rome on 20-31 October 2021.
Cooperatives are represented in the Business 20 (B20) – the official G20 dialogue forum with the global business community – and the Civil 20 (C20), the G20’s engagement group for civil society actors. Cooperators are taking part in four of the eight B20 task forces and all the eight task forces of the C20.
The first panel discussion featured a video message from ICA President Ariel Guarco, who said: “We are not enterprises with social responsibility but social responsibility made enterprises. This is the message I am sure we can take to each of the meetings.”
Mr Guarco added that the ICA is committed to strengthening the cooperative identity and invited participants to discuss this at the World Cooperative Congress in Seoul, the Republic of Korea on 1-3 December.
The ICA created the ICA G20 Working Group to bring the voice of cooperatives to G20 Summit discussions. This will build on previous participation, advocacy and recommendations submitted to the G20 leaders, which have referenced and impacted cooperatives.
The Chair of the ICA G20 Working Group, Howard Brodsky, revealed that the ICA is planning a side event during the C20 Summit in October. “We think globally, but without a question, we act locally. The cooperative model is entrepreneurial by its very nature, inclusive, and with shared wealth, and shared ownership,” he said.
“This is the beginning of an ongoing engagement. We hope to be part of this very important work of the G20, the C20 and the B20.”
Vincent Marangu, Director, Cooperatives Banking Division at the Cooperative Bank of Kenya, talked about the role of the movement in his country, which is home to over 24,000 cooperatives. Almost 70% of Kenyans depend on their cooperatives. The bank itself has 8.8 million customers, supporting over 15 million members and their communities through local savings and credit cooperatives. These cooperatives extend financial services, such as debit cards, check books and ATMs, to underserved rural communities.
Alexandra Wilson, a member of the ICA Board and Vice-President of the Cooperatives and Mutuals Canada (CMC), has spent over 40 years developing, managing, and providing services to housing cooperatives. She is CEO of the Agency for Cooperative Housing, a director of the Funeral Cooperative of Ottawa and vice chair and chair of the Risk Committee of The Cooperators, a large Canadian insurance cooperative.
Canada has over 8,000 cooperatives, which range from small to very large enterprises; together they make up about 3.5% of Canada's gross domestic product, employing 200,000 people.
“Cooperatives today are not sitting on their laurels - in Canada, they are trying to meet contemporary challenges,” she said, explaining that the movement is working to bring the full diversity of Canadian society into its membership and leadership, and to achieve gender parity in working conditions and representation and leadership. For example, finance cooperative Desjardins has adopted a strategic goal of achieving senior leadership gender parity by 2024.
Osamu Nakano, International Relations Officer of Japan Workers' Co-operative Union (JWCU), gave examples of worker cooperatives in the Asia-Pacific region, such as Uralungal Labour Contract Co-operative Society in India, which was set up in 1925 by 14 day labourers and has grown to be an industry leader, with over 7,500 major projects completed. In the Republic of Korea, taxi and bus drivers have set up their own cooperatives, while in Japan, worker cooperatives provide elderly care and childcare. Mr Nakano expects more worker cooperatives to emerge in Japan over the coming years after the adoption of new worker cooperative legislation last year.
Dr Carlos Zarco, President of the International Health Co-operative Organisation (IHCO), talked about the potential of health cooperatives to meet global challenges. During the pandemic, health cooperatives made their hospitals available to prevent the collapse of the public health system, he said.
“It’s essential that co-ops participate in the G20 discussions,” he added. His own organisation, Fundación Espriu, a network of medical co-ops, serves 2.6 million people. Around 100 million households worldwide have access to health services through co-operatives, in 76 countries.
“The pandemic has made health the highest priority on governments’ agenda,” said Dr Zarco. He argued it was important to spread the message that co-ops can be a powerful tool to rebuild better together.
“We must remind the G20 countries that there are fairer, and more innovative and democratic ways to do business. We must claim that cooperatives are key to implementation of global policies to redistribute income and wealth,” he added.
A second panel featured Italian C20 Sherpas Riccardo Moro and Valeria Emmi. Mr Moro praised cooperatives for their role in building peace and strengthening social fabric through economic activity. “What you do every day is something I consider very relevant,” he said.
“It’s important to continue building social fabric – but it’s important to be able to raise political demands that are for everybody not just to facilitate your presence even if sometimes this is needed. You can help us in providing political demands that are for everybody and giving credibility.”
Valeria Emmi shared key recommendations from the C20’s eight Working Groups, thanking cooperatives for their input. “We are tackling the different issues you raised,” she said, mentioning recommendations around Sustainable Development, gender equality, and healthcare.
Simel Esim, Chief of the ILO’s Co-operatives Unit, said the ILO was working with the cooperative movement every day on policy advocacy and development projects, study tours, training activities and other events.
“We are very encouraged by what has been achieved in ensuring the participation and cooperatives in the B20 and C20 under the Italian presidency,” she added. “The ILO governing body decided to place a general discussion on the social and solidarity economy for next year's International Labour Conference. It's an opportunity for cooperative members in G20 countries and beyond to advocate with their governments to ensure that cooperatives are well represented in this discussion and this may mean that you are in those national delegations from the government side, workers’ side, the employers’ side, and that you are contributing to their thinking and what they say at that conference.”
The President of the Italian Cooperative Alliance, Mauro Lusetti, talked about the importance of social cooperatives in his country. Over 10 million people use social and health care services provided by cooperatives, which employ one million people.
“We believe that we are a movement that focuses on people and our wellbeing and also we believe that we are a movement that teaches democracy,” he said.
“We need to focus on social cohesion and the added fundamental elements of our cooperatives. That is why I hope to keep working with all of you for the wellbeing of the citizens, our planet, in order to give to the future generations, a more sustainable world.”
He invited participants to attend the ICA’s side event during the C20 Summit on 5-6 October.
Watch the full webinar here!