By Sng Ler Jun
The Higher Council of Cooperatives of the Basque Country, alongside Basque Country co-op federation Konfekoop and Spanish worker co-op federation COCETA, held a conference in Donostia, Spain to showcase how co-ops drive impact by supporting and progressing the various Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
The hybrid conference took place on the 101st International Day of Co-operatives, or Co-op Day, on 1 July 2023. This year’s theme ‘Cooperatives for sustainable development’ highlighted how the co-operative way of working, empowered by their values and principles, can help achieve the SDGs.
The Singapore National Co-operative Federation attended the international conference virtually.
The following discussions exemplified how cooperativism can advance different SDGs.
In one plenary discussion, the conference highlighted how co-ops mobilise self-help mechanisms, create opportunities, extend protection, and facilitate empowerment. In doing so, co-ops are instrumental in alleviating poverty among people, families, and communities.
Consumer co-ops do so by making nutritious food accessible and affordable. “What we eat has a direct impact on our health,” said Alejandro Martinez Berriochoa, health and sustainability director of Spanish co-operative supermarket chain Eroski S. Coop. “Workers and consumers are (decision-makers) of our co-operative; we have a democratic loop concentrating on the health of our consumers.”
Berriochoa elaborated that co-ops can tap on new technologies to attain certain SDGs. “New technology has allowed us to customise the way we work; we have leveraged them to create eco-friendly packaging.”
Healthcare co-ops do good by providing quality healthcare coverage. Deputy director of Spanish healthcare management co-op Espriu Foundation Jose Pérez explained that the backbone of co-ops is their members. “As co-ops, we have a democratic way of managing ourselves. In healthcare co-ops, this means everyone, from patients to healthcare workers, have to participate. This helps us develop our activities.” Good governance, Pérez added, is essential.
Speakers also discussed how co-ops champion inclusivity, from alleviating gender inequalities, providing quality education to enabling employment for all. All of which are functional pillars that build a better society.
Mirai Chatterjee, President of Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) Co-operative Federation, India, said: “Co-operatives are the way for economic empowerment and self-reliance of the poorest of women in India and their families.” To date, SEWA has 2.1 million women in the informal economy, which comprises economic activities that occur outside the formal labour market.
Co-ops also play a role in advancing the sustainability agenda. Co-operative collaboration between co-ops and other relevant stakeholders can promote sustainable value. Some conference speakers spoke about renewable energy and energy efficiency. Finland’s consumer co-operatives, The United States’ electric co-operatives, and other countries shared on generating and marketing renewable energy.
“We live in a coastal community where our people are heavily reliant on our ocean and our land resources. The climate threats that impact our community, we see it every day,” said Alisi Lutu, Chairperson for Bia I Cake Women’s Co-operative Limited, Republic of Fiji. The impact of climate change affects the community’s health and their ability to grow food, she added.
Developing narratives based on cooperation and inter-cooperation not only brings diverse stakeholders together but also helps further the transformative agenda, said several speakers at the international conference.
The importance of education and partnerships between co-ops and the educational world were also highlighted as crucial elements for the future of the co-operative movement and the social economy.
The last plenary presented how youths have a part to play in advancing the co-operative movement.
“Co-ops allow young people to be entrepreneurial and generate social impact,” said Elena Pérez Mordgado, Chairperson of Mexico’s credit co-operative Caja Popular Mexicana. “Although modern cooperativism is represented by the pioneers, the aims and values are still very much alive and they offer solutions to today’s problems.”
The roundtable concluded with a call for increased participation and awareness among young people in shaping the future through co-operatives. The round table was moderated by Ana Aguirre, ICA Youth Committee President.