UN Secretary General urges governments to strengthen co-op ecosystems as strategy to accelerate the 2030 Agenda


Despite their “huge potential contribution,” UN Secretary General Antonio says co-ops play a “relatively small part in overall economic activity. [photo: ICA]
The 2023 UN Secretary General report on cooperatives in social development has been released. 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. The recommendations focus on research, data, policy dialogue, technical support and capacity-building.

The report outlines key policies and actions that can help cooperatives realize their full potential to help UN Member States achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including by providing decent jobs, advancing poverty eradication, and promoting environmental sustainability. The report will be presented to the 78th UN General Assembly being held September 18-26, 2023 during which delegates will adopt a new resolution on cooperatives in social development.

In the report, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres applauds how cooperatives promote sustainable development in its three dimensions of social development, economic development and environmental protection contributing to “social inclusion and the eradication of poverty and hunger.” Although UN Member States have recognized cooperatives as key partners for sustainable development, according to the 2023 UN Secretary General report, “they continue to play a relatively small part in overall economic and social policies and practice, compared with their huge potential contribution.”

“[Co-ops] continue to play a relatively small part in overall economic and social policies and practice, compared with their huge potential contribution.” – UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres

“Increasingly, the United Nations is recognizing our business model as a key player in advancing towards the Sustainable Development Goals,” ICA President Ariel Guarco said. “This is no coincidence; it is the result of the integration and power that we are demonstrating in each community to respond to the main challenges of the global agenda. We hope that this call by the UN Secretary General to governments will allow us to continue consolidating a cooperative paradigm in each country, in each region and at the global level. The people of the world and the environment urgently need to strengthen a system of economic relations that ensure prosperity, equity, democracy and peace.”

The cooperative entrepreneurial ecosystem, as described by the UN, includes 5 key actions:

  • Policy and regulatory environment
  • Education and capacity-building
  • The culture of cooperation
  • Funding and finance
  • Building networks and partnerships

Two case studies are given as examples of successful cooperative ecosystems that embody all key elements: the worker cooperative examples of Mondragon Corporation in Spain and the Kibbutz movement in Israel. Other examples mentioned can be found here. “It is necessary to understand the particularities of the ecosystem for alternative types of enterprises and strategize how and through which mechanisms they can be empowered at the policy level and bring greater benefit to their communities,” the report says.

The report highlights 4 key recommendations for UN Member States on how to support and strengthen cooperatives as successful business enterprises to increase their ability to support sustainable development and increase economic and social well-being:

  • To use the entrepreneurial ecosystem approach, as well as support for further research, in order to build a firm foundation for evidence-based policies;
  • To collect comprehensive and internationally comparable data on the role of cooperative enterprises in economic and social development and the implementation of the SDGs;
  • To integrate cooperatives in national development plans and Sustainable Development Goal reporting processes, in national consultations on social and economic policies and in voluntary national reviews submitted for the High-Level Political Forum on sustainable development;
  • To provide policy analysis, technical support and capacity-building assistance to promote the continued growth of cooperatives for the achievement of sustainable development.

This report is a result of the discussion within the Expert Group Meeting (EGM) on Cooperatives in Social Development that was organized by the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN DESA) in May, in which the ICA was involved. The experts were drawn from various fields including researchers from the academia, practitioners from the cooperative movement, and government departments in charge of cooperatives. More information is available here.

The UN has long viewed the cooperative movement as a key partner in enhancing social development and cooperatives as very suited enterprises to achieve the SDGs. The UN General Assembly has been adopting resolutions concerning cooperatives in social development since 1950s and systematically every other year since 1992. As a follow-up to these resolutions, the UN Secretary General submitted this 2023 report to examine their implementation. A previous report published in 2021, the UN Secretary General recognized the importance of cooperatives as key economic and social actors in the global recovery strategy following the COVID-19 pandemic. In April 2023, the UN approved the first ever Resolution on promoting the social and solidarity economy for sustainable development.

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