The Asia-Pacific Cooperative Forum is a biennial event which brings together partners and stakeholders in the cooperative movement to assess progress, discuss challenges and arrive at decisions to strengthen cooperative enterprises as models of sustainable development. The Forum was established in 2000 and is conducted regularly in conjunction with the ICA-AP Regional Assembly to take advantage of the presence of members and partners.
The 3 million cooperatives around the world account for 12% of the human population on earth which contributes to sustainable economic growth. As people-centered businesses, they provide job opportunities for 10% of the working population worldwide. The ICA Statement on Cooperative Identity (SCI) unites cooperatives to work for the common good. The values and principles give people control of their own lives, and their future, and serve as the base that sets cooperatives apart from other types of enterprises. The ICA is the global steward of the SCI which was adopted during its centenary year in 1995.
The cooperative enterprise model with its focus on the economic, social, and environmental development of members and strong democratic principles offers a viable solution to the social and economic issues of our times. In the Asia-Pacific region, cooperatives in their over 100 years of existence have weathered economic, social and political challenges, and continue to expand despite the odds. The need for cooperatives in building sustainable and resilient societies is ever more urgent given the concerns about widening inequality, narrowing space for inclusion, and an increasing sense of insecurity, especially among the marginalized and vulnerable communities.
The year 2023 marks the mid-point of the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the 17 SDGs. Cooperatives across the Asia-Pacific region are actively involved in the implementation of the SDGs and there has been a focus on SDG1 (no poverty), SDG5 (gender equality), SDG8 (inclusive growth), and SDG13 (climate action). The efforts of cooperatives have been recognized and are reflected in national SDG plans and in the Voluntary National Reviews (VNR) of many countries.
The post-pandemic world has shown organizations the importance of diversity (how well they reflect the communities they serve), equity (everyone has access to the same opportunities), and inclusion (sense of belonging). In the post-pandemic world, these are more relevant to address the needs of a changing demography. Cooperatives with their inclusive structure create avenues for anyone willing to join the cooperative movement although there is a need to re-look at the enabling environment providing better opportunities and addressing the needs of women, youth, and marginalized communities.
To deliberate on how the cooperative business model continues to be relevant in addressing global challenges and how we accelerate the cooperative identity.
To discuss the extent of collaboration between civil society and the cooperative movement in addressing current socio-economic issues and working toward attainment of SDGs based on the findings of the recent identity survey.
To develop new thinking and innovative approaches to create an enabling environment for cooperatives to grow, sustain, and better respond to internal challenges and the rapidly changing external environment and be inclusive of diversity.
To devise a set of concrete action items to forge a stronger partnership between the cooperative stakeholders that are implementable within a mutually agreed time frame.
Thematic Background – Cooperatives: Our Common Agenda
The 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) look at cooperatives as an actor that can help build sustainable and resilient societies given their triple role: as economic actors, they create opportunities for jobs, livelihoods and income generation; as people-centred enterprises with social goals they contribute to social equity and justice; and as democratic institutions, they are controlled by their members, playing a leading role in society and local communities.
The 2023 SDG Summit will be convened on 19-20 September 2023, during the United Nations General Assembly high-level week. Heads of State and Government will gather at the United Nations Headquarters in New York to follow up and review the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the 17 SDGs. The Summit will also bring together political and thought leaders from governments, international organizations, the private sector, civil society, women and youth and other stakeholders in a series of high-level meetings with the Heads of State and Government.
The latest progress report indicates that the world is far off track from meeting the Goals by 2030. A review of scientific evidence shows the political impact of the SDGs has been limited. Scientists have found that the “transformation” brought on by the Goals has been mainly a rhetorical one – affecting the way people understand and communicate about sustainable development, but not so much how they do things. The course we take from now on will set an example of how international agendas and global goals fare in terms of leading us to a more sustainable future.
The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Sustainable Development Goals are at the core of Our Common Agenda in the mainstream. The 2030 Agenda is a plan of action for people, planet, prosperity and peace, that seeks to realize the human rights of all and to achieve gender equality. The Sustainable Development Goals are integrated, indivisible, and balance the three dimensions of sustainable development: economic, social and environmental.
To strengthen global governance for present and future generations, the UN Secretary-General has come up with recommendations to advance the common agenda and to respond to these challenges. The Our Common Agenda report looks ahead to the next 25 years and represents the Secretary-General’s vision for the future of global cooperation. It calls for inclusive, networked, and effective multilateralism to better respond to humanity’s most pressing challenges. It was launched in September 2021 by UN Secretary-General António Guterres, following a mandate in the September 2020 declaration on the commemoration of the UN’s 75th anniversary. Many of the actions proposed in this report by the United Nations seek to accelerate the achievement of the SDGs, not least in the light of gaps and delays caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and other global challenges. The report contains approximately 90 proposals and recommendations. It makes a strong call for all policy and budget decisions to be “backed by science and expertise.”Common Agenda for Cooperatives
The Covid-19 pandemic, soci0-political conflicts, worsening economic conditions, and irreparable climate change have given a wake-up call to the world that we are indeed sitting on a ticking bomb! If the people of this planet do not act now, they will only be faced with catastrophic results. Cooperatives, with their human-centric model, concern for community, and cooperatives values and principles, have proven time and again that a better world is possible with cooperation. This is why having a common agenda and working collaboratively towards it will only strengthen the cooperatives’ mission.
The ICA has created avenues and platforms to build a common agenda for cooperatives, advocate for the promotion of the cooperative business model, and build the capacity of members. Since the UN declaration and observance of the International Year of Cooperatives in 2012, the ICA has taken steps to utilize this ‘momentous recognition’ to the advantage of its millions of members worldwide. The ICA Strategy Plan 2020-30 seeks to position cooperatives as the acknowledged leader in economic, social and environmental sustainability, the model preferred by people and the fastest-growing form of enterprise. In December 2021, the 33rd ICA World Cooperative Congress in Seoul, with the theme, Deepening the Cooperative Identity, celebrated and deepened the understanding of the SCI. The recent survey conducted by ICA on SCI suggests that the respondents agree that SCI has an impact on their cooperatives and is relevant in expressing the distinct purpose and nature of cooperatives and in capturing cooperatives’ responsibility to society at large and to future generations. The ICA and its member network worldwide are committed to promoting cooperative identity and supporting cooperatives in contributing to the common agenda and positioning them as players in building sustainability.
Cooperatives are an important part of India’s growth story. The cooperative movement in India dates to 1903 and plays a major role in India’s economy. With 98% coverage in rural India, 8.5 lakhs cooperatives, and 21.7% of the population, cooperatives are the backbone of the rural economy ensuring sustainable livelihoods and income for people. The efforts made by Indian cooperators resulted in the 97th amendment of the Indian Constitution in 2011 and recognized forming of cooperatives as a fundamental right of citizens. State governments were mandated to make a conducive legal environment for the promotion of autonomous cooperatives. In a recent turn of events, parts of this amendment were struck down in 2021 as it conflicted with the Indian federal-state structure. In 2021, the Indian Government established the Ministry of Cooperation to provide a separate administrative, legal and policy framework for strengthening multi-state cooperatives. The Ministry is now working with the concerned stakeholders to create a National Cooperative Policy in India.
Cooperatives are the backbone of Japan’s rural economy through their presence in agriculture, fisheries, and even forestry. From rural to urban, farmer to consumer, and junior to elderly, cooperatives play a critical role throughout the Japanese economy. Since 1900, the Japan Agriculture Cooperative Group has been present in every village and nearly 100 per cent of farm households join the cooperatives; every rural village has a cooperative store and access to cooperative financing and cooperative insurance. In Japan, specific laws on cooperatives have helped in the growth of agriculture, consumer and credit cooperatives and the recently passed Workers Cooperatives Act 2020 has given an added boost to the sector.
The cooperative sector is one of the three pillars of Nepal’s economic development. In 2015-16 there were 33,599 cooperatives with six million members. This sector has collected $2.82 billion in deposits and invested $2.76 billion in the production and service sectors. The financial contribution of these cooperatives was estimated at 18% of GDP in 2014. Cooperatives play an important role in reducing poverty by providing economic opportunities for their members, empowering weaker members and mediating members’ access to credit.
In Iran, Principle 43 and 44 of the Iranian Constitution recognizes that Iranian national economy is based on three sectors: government, cooperatives and private. The cooperatives play a vital role in the national economy by balancing the economic activities and preventing centralization of wealth control, promoting public participation and ownership, and creating equal opportunities. The government is obliged to provide financial support and loan to cooperative entrepreneurship and SMEs. Cooperatives are active in sectors such as housing, consumer, agriculture, transport, mining and handicrafts. The Iran Chamber of Commerce Vision-2020 aims at professional management of cooperatives by inclusion of and promotion of educated, technically qualified youth leadership; equal participation by women and men; introduction of IT, and e-commerce; and concern for environmental issues.
Cooperatives have been ESG (Environmental, social, and corporate governance) actors since their inception. Being both social and enterprising, coops are an alternative to capitalist businesses. Coops are businesses that consider their environmental impact while carrying out activities, they care for their relationships with the members, communities, and employees, they promote diversity and inclusion, and they work with an open, voluntary, and democratic governance structure that is compliant with the cooperative laws and is considerate of the relations with internal and external stakeholders. What is needed more is proactive communication about the same to the world, as being done by BCCM in Australia.
Cooperatives in Singapore have been promoting the use of technology for sustainable development, the future of work and cooperative development, and further promoting exchange among technology spaces and cooperatives, particularly worker co-ops with a conscious inclusion of young professionals. The role of different forms of organizing of informal economy workers such as unions and co-ops plays a crucial role in enabling workers access to life-long learning, creating worker-owned and managed supply chains, playing a role as aggregators to access technology and plugging into global supply chains. Almost thirty years after the inception of the World Wide Web, platform ownership is more concentrated than ever. The new generation of cooperatives propose an economic, political, and cultural alternative that responds to today’s challenges by driving the economic domain into more humane and equitable directions.
In the Philippines, the Cooperative Development Authority (CDA) Guidelines on Mainstreaming Gender and Development (GAD) in Cooperatives aims to ensure the promotion of gender equality and the institutionalization of GAD policies, programs, and mechanisms to monitor. The GAD is to advance gender equality in the cooperative sector by ensuring that everyone is given an equal opportunity to participate in and benefit from cooperative activities. It also emphasizes the importance of empowering women and girls in enhancing the efficiency and sustainability of cooperatives.Focus areas to build the common agenda for Cooperatives
The ICA is the global steward of the SCI – the Values and Principles of the cooperative movement. ICA’s recent survey on Coop Identity found that there is strong but not universal familiarity with the foundational cooperative identity documents . In a run-up to the 33rd World Cooperative Congress, the ICA Asia and Pacific (ICA-AP) Regional Office organized a series of online consultations with members in 2021 to reflect on the SCI in their day-to-day operations and engagement with stakeholders. It was found that the SCI continues to be seen as foundational and integral to the sustenance and growth of the cooperative movement. The implementation of SCI in the region has been dependent on a suitable policy environment that enables the practical application of the principles. There is a need for the coops to enhance their understanding of the cooperative identity and take actions consistent with SCI to address the problems facing today’s world.
Advancing the Goals
Year 2023 marks the mid-point of the implementation of the 2030 Agenda. This Agenda on Sustainable Development and its 17 SDGs looks at cooperatives as an actor that can help build sustainable and resilient societies given their triple role: as economic actors, they create opportunities for jobs, livelihoods and income generation; as people-centered enterprises with social goals they contribute to social equity and justice; and as democratic institutions, they are controlled by their members, playing a leading role in society and local communities. Cooperatives across the Asia-Pacific region are actively involved in the implementation of the SDGs and there has been a focus on SDG1 (no poverty), SDG5 (gender equality), SDG8 (inclusive growth), and SDG13 (climate action). Their efforts have been recognized and reflected in national plans and Voluntary National Reviews (VNR) of many countries. How do we continue to advance the role of co-ops in the implementation of the SDGs and give more visibility and recognition to their efforts?
Address Internal Challenges
Cooperatives have been ESG (Environmental, social, and corporate governance) actors since their inception. Being both social and enterprising, coops are an alternative to capitalist businesses. Coops are businesses that consider their environmental impact while carrying out activities, they care for their relationships with the members, communities, and employees, they promote diversity and inclusion, and they work with an open, voluntary, and democratic governance structure that is compliant with the cooperative laws and is considerate of the relations with internal and external stakeholders. What is needed more is proactive communication about the same to the world.
Complicating the issue is the lack or absence of development plan, budget and operational policies. All cooperatives regardless of size or category must have a crafted manual of operations or policies that provides the safety nets especially in the internal control on use of funds and the allowable limits of exposures to individual members. This situation can also be viewed on the governance and management practices employed by the cooperative officers and staff. While the cooperative may have crafted policies some elected or appointed officers and hired management staff fail to implement probably because they don’t understand their functions.
Despite their demonstrated resilience, viability and potential, cooperatives are not mainstream economic players in most of the economies because of internal (lack of governance know-how) and external (legal and regulatory) impediments. The cooperative model is one of the diverse sets of economic actors that can help achieve more sustainable futures, as noted in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The UN Secretary General recognised the importance of coops as key economic and social actors in the global recovery strategy in his 2021 Report on Cooperatives and Social Development. The ILO Recommendation 193 on the Promotion of Cooperatives also encourages governments to promote the potential of cooperatives in all countries, irrespective of their level of development. Cooperatives need to be developed with an eye for the rights and protection of workers, members and users. The cooperative movement has a role to play in supporting the emerging sectors and populations adopting the model.
Cooperatives believe in the power of the youth and women. ICA’s report, “Young people and cooperatives: a perfect match?” demonstrates that cooperatives can play a crucial role in solving the challenges of young people, while contributing to the UN SDGs, including SDG8 on decent work and SDG4 on quality education. By improving their knowledge of cooperatives, communicating their benefits effectively, and by developing democratic and inclusive cultures of cooperation, the co-op business model can be a viable alternative to solve the challenges facing young people . They also contribute to the SDG5 by increasing women’s access to resources and economic opportunities. In Japan, consumer cooperatives have 95% of women members, and are in key governance positions. Co-ops have an increasingly positive impact on women and their inclusion in the labour force and formal economy, they empower women by collaborating with civil society and gaining Government recognition, and contribute to developing policies that support women from within .
Promote the use of technology for Sustainable Development, Future of Work and cooperative development, and further promote exchange among technology spaces and cooperatives, particularly worker co-operatives with a conscious inclusion of young professionals. he role of different forms of organizing of informal economy workers such as Unions and Cooperatives will play a central and crucial role in enabling workers access to life-long learning, create worker owned and managed supply chains, play a role as aggregators to access technology and plug into global supply chains. Almost thirty years after the inception of the World Wide Web, platform ownership is more concentrated than ever. The new generation cooperativists propose an economic, political, and cultural alternative that responds to today’s challenges by driving the economic domain into more humane and equitable directions.
The 11th Asia-Pacific Cooperative Forum will deliberate upon key opportunities and challenges to build a common agenda for cooperatives and chalk out concrete and achievable action points.