At Cooperatives of the Americas conference, charting the future of co-ops in the region

From left: Doug O’Brien, Carla Decker, Daniella Preisler, Annabell Guzman and Camila Piñeiro represented the U.S. co-op sector at the event.

More than 900 cooperators, government officials and representatives from international organizations gathered in Comayagua, Honduras last month at the 23rd Regional Conference of Cooperatives of the Americas to envision a sustainable, inclusive economy.

A regional body of the International Cooperative Alliance (ICA), Cooperatives of the Americas supports and links about 100 co-op entities in the north, central, south and Caribbean regions of the Americas.

Hosted by the Honduran Educators Savings and Credit Cooperative, the conference explored a range of strategic issues, including the role of cooperatives in the circular economy, decent work, youth empowerment, advocacy and public policy, affordable housing an entrepreneurship.

In their opening remarks, Graciela Fernández Quintas, president of Cooperatives of the Americas; and Ariel Guarco, president of the ICA, made the case for a community-led co-op economy animated by the movement’s principles and values. Let’s “permanently put the economy in the hands of the people and at the service of each community,” Guarco said.

Representing North America at the event were Doug O’Brien, president and CEO of NCBA CLUSA; Annabell Guzman, country director of NCBA CLUSA’s Farmer-to-Farmer (F2F) program in Honduras; Carla Decker, president and CEO of SkyPoint Federal Credit Union and a member of NCBA CLUSA’s Board of Directors; and Daniella Preisler, co-founder of Colmenar Cooperative Consulting and a member of the boards of CICOPA and the U.S. Federation of Worker Cooperatives. The delegation shared their expertise on food systems, financial inclusion and decent work, among other topics.

During a plenary session, O’Brien encouraged attendees to participate in the ICA’s Cooperative Identity Consultation Process, an invitation to host focused conversations on key issues at the core of our shared cooperative identity. These discussions—including a webinar series co-hosted by NCBA CLUSA and ICA—will help determine whether the Statement on the Cooperative Identity has stood the test of time, or needs a refresh to better reflect what it means to be a co-op in the 21st century.

Regional collaboration

F2F Field Coordinator Andres Marin with members of COMSA, a coffee farmer association guided by the cooperative principles. 

While in Honduras, the NCBA CLUSA team met with two regional Farmer-to-Farmer partners: a coffee farmer association called COMSA; and a women-owned coffee cooperative called APROLMA that helps its members diversify their crops for improved income and nutrition. Guided by the cooperative principles, COMSA helps farmers grow and market sustainable coffee. The team toured several state-of-the-art coffee processing facilities and two schools operated by COMSA that were created to ensure that coffee farming families have access to quality education. Students from these schools are on track to study at prominent U.S. and European universities like the University of California, Berkeley. The schools are also a “key strategy to achieve COMSA’s vision of transforming the communities in the region over the long-term,” O’Brien said.

On November 28, the NCBA CLUSA delegation spent time with government and university officials. At Programa Nacional de Desarrollo Rural y Urbano Sostenible (PRONADERS), a government agency focused on rural and urban development, the team learned how co-ops could be leveraged to build more robust and sustainable economies. In conversation with the Deputy Secretary for Agriculture, the team surfaced opportunities for partnership with F2F. Both meetings raised NCBA CLUSA’s visibility in the region and opened the door for future collaboration.

Later, during a meeting with Facultad Latinoamericana de Ciencias Sociales (FLASCO) NCBA CLUSA learned about the impact of migration on the Honduran economy. Fully 26% of the Honduran economy is fueled by remittances from Hondurans working in the U.S. for a total of $8 billion.

“These contacts and conversations are invaluable as NCBA CLUSA continues to develop our strategy around how we can be a positive force in the very complicated dynamics of immigration in the region,” O’Brien said.

A new paradigm

Back at the conference, two high-level UN representatives galvanized the closing panel. Paula Narváez Ojeda, president of the UN Economic and Social Committee; and Mario Lubetkin, FAO Deputy Director General and regional representative for Latin America and the Caribbean fully endorsed plans developed by Cooperatives of the Americas to leverage co-ops in achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals, including the reduction of inequalities and the promotion of food security across the region.

Fernández Quintas, who closed out the conference, called for a “new paradigm” that would unify the region and help it emerge from economic stagnation. “We need to create an ecosystem based on cooperative entrepreneurship,” she said, citing the 2023 UN Secretary General report on cooperatives in social development. The report sets out the entrepreneurial ecosystem approach as a key way to support cooperatives in fulfilling their potential to increase economic and social well-being for all.

Read more coverage of the 23rd Regional Conference of Cooperatives of the Americas here

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