Cooperatives make a substantial contribution to achieving the SDGs, UN report says


Delivered to the UN in September, the report details cooperative contributions to universal access to healthcare and financial inclusion. [photo: ICA]
Cooperatives make a substantial contribution to achieving the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda, according to a new report by United Nations Secretary General AntĂłnio Guterres.

Called “Cooperatives in Social Development,” the report was submitted by Guterres to the 74th session of the UN General Assembly in New York this fall.

The report reviews the role of cooperatives in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), with a particular emphasis on the contributions made by co-ops to universal access to healthcare and financial inclusion, noting the work of the International Cooperative Alliance’s sectoral organization for health cooperatives, the International Health Cooperative Health Organisation (IHCO).

Around 100 million households worldwide enjoy access to healthcare through cooperatives. Health co-ops vary from health workers’ cooperatives set up by doctors and healthcare professionals to those that distribute pharmaceutical products or provide health insurance.

The report mentions some of the advantages brought by the cooperative enterprise model, such as not having to pay returns to shareholders and being able to adapt to the different governance models of healthcare systems. It features a number of successful examples from the healthcare sector in Brazil, Spain, Belgium, Argentina, Japan, Lesotho, Rwanda and Uganda.

Cooperatives are also mentioned as critical actors in promoting financial inclusion, which is an important objective of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The report looks at the work of some credit unions in remote areas, helping previously unbanked individuals become more trusting of financial institutions. For example, the report describes how cooperative insurance services promoted by the Cooperative Alliance of Kenya provide affordable health services with investments from credit unions.

The report highlights the size of the global cooperative sector, based on data available from the World Cooperative Monitor, which is published annually by the International Cooperative Alliance and the European Research Institute on Cooperative and Social Enterprises.

“Around the world, cooperatives promote sustainable development in all three of its dimensions—social, economic and environmental,” the report says, adding that co-ops have a significant presence in both developed and developing countries, serving more than 1 billion members and employing more than 100 million people worldwide. However, the report adds that only 11 cooperatives from developing countries are included in the top 300 list and argues that emphasis should be placed on promoting cooperative growth in developing countries and developing capacity provision as needed.

The document also looks at emerging issues around cooperative development, such as the platform economy, climate change and the refugee crisis. It argues that platform cooperatives have the potential not only to help to improve working conditions for their members, but also to take part in the dialogue on the social impact of changing technology and the world of work. Meanwhile forestry, renewable energy and waste management cooperatives are helping to protect the environment and tackle climate change, the report says.

With the world facing its largest refugee crisis since the Second World War, the report highlights that cooperatives have played a critical role in post-conflict reconstruction by creating jobs for returning minorities and ex-combatants, rebuilding businesses and homes, giving refugees and internally displaced persons access to markets and facilitating reconciliation and peace building.

On the role of cooperatives in realizing the Sustainable Development Goals, the report says enabling environments need to be strengthened further.

Suggestions include a call on governments to ensure a supportive legislative framework for cooperatives, and on UN member states to continue to strengthen their capacities for collecting comprehensive and internationally comparable data on the role of cooperative enterprises in economic and social development and the implementation of the SDGs. In addition, the report asks member states to create policies and programs to assist in scaling up the provision of cooperative healthcare services and further promote the role of co-ops in bringing financial services to underserved groups and communities.

The report also adds that the UN itself should continue to provide technical support and capacity-building assistance to cooperatives and national governments to promote their continued growth.

Read the full report.

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