Sustainable societies through cooperation


Ranjan K Baruah
(With direct inputs from UN publication and feedback may be sent to bkranjan@gmail.com)

Team building or team work is a must to achieve our goals. There are many activities which cannot be performed well by any individual but the same can be done through a team or group. People come together and form association or societies to address certain issues to bring solution or change. One of the classic examples of this is none other than cooperatives. Well, we have to understand what a cooperative is and how it works and its power in the society or in bringing sustainable change.

A cooperative (also known as co-operative, co-op, or coop) is “an autonomous association of persons united voluntarily to meet their common economic, social, and cultural needs and aspirations through a jointly-owned and democratically-controlled enterprise”. It may include non-profit community organizations, businesses owned and managed by the people who use their services (a consumer cooperative), organisations managed by the people who work there (worker cooperatives), organisations managed by the people to whom they provide accommodation (housing cooperatives), etc.

The co-operative principles are guidelines by which co-operatives put their values into practice and includes Voluntary and Open Membership, Democratic Member Control, Member Economic Participation, Autonomy and Independence, Education, Training and Information, Co-operation among Co-operatives and Concern for Community.

The co-operative movement has been also recognized as a distinct and major stakeholder in both national and international affairs. Co-operatives’ open membership model affords access to wealth creation and poverty elimination. Co-operatives also foster external equality as they are community-based; they are committed to the sustainable development of their communities – environmentally, socially and economically. The cooperative movement is highly democratic, locally autonomous, but internationally integrated, and a form of organization of associations and enterprises whereby citizens themselves rely on self-help and their own responsibility to meet goals that include not only economic, but also social and environmental objectives, such as overcoming poverty, securing productive employment and encouraging social integration.

The earliest record of a co-operative comes from Fenwick, Scotland where, in March 14, 1761, in a barely furnished cottage local weavers manhandled a sack of oatmeal into John Walker’s whitewashed front room and began selling the contents at a discount, forming the Fenwick Weavers’ Society.
In 1844 a group of 28 artisans working in the cotton mills in the town of Rochdale in the north of England established the first modern co-operative business – the Rochdale Equitable Pioneers Society. The weavers faced miserable working conditions and low wages and they could not afford the high prices of food and household goods. They decided that by pooling their scarce resources and working together they could access basic goods at a lower price. Initially, there were only four items for sale: flour, oatmeal, sugar and butter. The Rochdale Pioneers are regarded as the prototype of the modern co-operative society and the founders of the Co-operative Movement.
In 1994, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution 49/155 of 23 December 1994 on cooperatives which not only called on governments and international agencies to “consider fully the potential of cooperatives for contributing to the solution of economic, social and environmental problems in formulating national development strategies and consider reviewing legal and administrative constraints on the activities of cooperatives with a view to eliminating those constraints that are not applied to other businesses and enterprises,” but also invited “…governments, relevant international organizations, specialized agencies and national and international cooperative organizations to observe annually the International Day of Cooperatives on the first Saturday of July starting from 1995, as proclaimed by the General Assembly in its resolution 47/90.” Since that date the global community celebrates United Nations International Day of Cooperatives and ICA’s International Cooperative Day on the first Saturday of July.
The theme for this year is ‘sustainable societies through cooperation’. At a time when income inequality is rising around the world, it is good to be reminded that solutions to inequality do exist. The co-operative model is foremost among these solutions, since it contains aspects of sustainable development at its core and is based on ethical values and principles. On July 7, 2018, members of cooperatives around the world celebrate the International Day of Cooperatives. In the past the United Nations General Assembly has declared 2012 as the International Year of Cooperatives, highlighting the contribution of cooperatives to socio-economic development, particularly their impact on poverty reduction, employment generation and social integration
There are many cooperatives in our country too. Amul is one of the best example of cooperative movement. There are cooperatives banks, agriculture cooperatives, etc which are engaging and helping many individuals and families in the country. Agricultural cooperatives work to maintain the longevity of the land where they grow crops through sustainable farming practices. Consumer cooperatives support sustainable sourcing for their products and educate consumers about responsible consumption. Housing cooperatives help ensure safe dwellings. Worker and social cooperatives aim to provide goods and services in an efficient, planet-friendly way, while creating long-term, sustainable jobs. Its important for us to strengthen the cooperatives movement. We may be part in the movement directly or indirectly as cooperatives have power to bring sustainable change and development.