NCBA CLUSA’s Doug O’Brien addresses United Nations Commission for Social Development


The 62nd session of the United Nations Commission for Social Development (CSocD62) explored how social policies can accelerate progress on the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Held at the United Nations headquarters in New York, the session included a multistakeholder panel on February 8 featuring Doug O’Brien, president and CEO of NCBA-CLUSA, a member of the International Cooperative Alliance (ICA).

During his remarks, O’Brien described cooperatives as an innovative and proven strategy to advance social development, providing examples from around the world.

“Today, approximately 12% of all humanity, more than a billion people are members of cooperatives,” he said. “There are 3 million cooperatives worldwide, providing 10% of jobs around the world. Here in the United States, one out of every three people is a member of a cooperative, of a business that they own, that they control through a democratically-elected board, and that benefits them directly.”

As the apex association for cooperatives in the U.S., NCBA CLUSA has been working with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to use co-ops to create economic opportunities around the world.

NCBA-CLUSA is currently implementing 26 projects in 16 countries, including the Atitlán Recicla Cooperative in Guatemala, a women’s recycling cooperative that provides sustainable waste removal in 13 municipalities of the Lake Atitlán basin, creating dignified employment and income for indigenous women sanitary workers. 

Another example is the Cooperativa Café Timor, established 30 years ago by 450 coffee farmers. Today, the co-op benefits more than 44,000 coffee-growing households, providing critical access to international specialty markets and serving more than 2 million people through its expansive network of health clinics.

O’Brien also highlighted the importance of a supportive public policy environment to enable more people to use cooperatives to advance their social development goals. To this end, he encouraged UN Member States to use the Cooperative Law and Regulatory Initiative (CLARITY) developed by the U.S. Overseas Cooperative Development Council to assess the regulatory and legislative environment within their respective countries. O’Brien explained how many countries have been able to use this tool and change their legislative environment, including Kenya, the Dominican Republic and Ecuador.

Going back to examples from the U.S., he explained how a supportive policy environment in the 1930s and 40s enabled rural Americans to use cooperatives to supply electricity.

Likewise, CoBank, a cooperative bank created in 1989, is today one of the largest private providers of credit to the U.S. rural economy. Its most recent Sustainability Report highlighted how its work around diversity, equity and inclusion, disaster relief, advocacy and industry support the Sustainable Development Goals.

The presentations were followed by a question and answers session. O’Brien reiterated the importance of having UN Member States implement policies that are favorable to cooperatives. He added that the most impactful and compelling messages to policymakers are a mixture of qualitative and quantitative.

“If we can bring good data around the needs and the potential for change, that can be very compelling, but data itself I do not think is enough,” he said. “Policymakers also need to hear stories from people on the ground about strategies that would help them use cooperatives to build more inclusive economies, or help ensure that more people have access to safe and affordable housing.”

O’Brien also reminded delegates that 2025 has been declared the UN International Year of Cooperatives.

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