United Nations focuses on how cooperatives contribute to social development

NCBA CLUSA’s President and CEO Doug O’Brien identifies three key factors to supporting co-ops at the federal level.

During the 57th Commission for Social Development at the United Nations last week, cooperatives and their representatives spoke with UN officials during a side event specifically organized to lift up cooperatives’ contribution to social development.

Keynoted by NCBA CLUSA’s President and CEO Doug O’Brien, “Assessing the Contribution of Cooperatives to Social Development: Successes, Challenges, The Road Ahead brought together leaders from the cooperative movement with UN ambassadors, staff, policy experts and civil society organizations to discuss how cooperatives address inequality, as well as support for more enabling policy environments.

“We need to make sure that cooperatives are more central in the conversation about the need to build a more inclusive economy,” O’Brien said. “Many policymakers and thought leaders do not yet understand that cooperatives are a proven strategy—a strategy that has gone to scale in many places—to enable people to climb the economic ladder.”

The event highlighted case studies from Guyana, Uganda and the U.S., including remarks from HealthPartners in the health sector and CUNA Mutual and ACCOSCA in the financial sector. CUNY’s Jessica Gordon Nembhard, a member of NCBA CLUSA’s Council of Cooperative Economists, moderated the discussion, which included remarks from the UN’s Director of the Division of Inclusive Social Development Daniela Bas and Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary Rudolf Michael Ten-Pow, representative to the UN for the Co-operative Republic of Guyana.

“We see [cooperatives] as embodying an economic model that has the potential to empower the marginalized in our societies and promote social inclusion, while at the same time remaining viable business enterprises,” said Ambassador Ten-Pow.

Cooperatives are central to social development, providing a model for social inclusion and confronting growing inequalities in the world. Co-ops’ international body, the International Co-operative Alliance (ICA), was also the first business sector to formally embrace the Sustainable Development Goals. For the Commission’s theme, addressing inequalities and challenges to social inclusion through fiscal, wage and social protection policies, the event provided an opportunity to address UN Member States on the kinds of support needed to encourage growth and success.

“[Considering] sustainability and stability, co-ops seem to be able to do both,” said moderator Gordon Nembhard. “They stabilize situations, whether it’s a person’s healthcare or an actual business community issue and are sustainable both ecologically and economically.”

Enabling legislation, technical assistance and access to credit are the three key factors that the U.S. Federal Government was able to provide to support the rural electric cooperatives going to scale, O’Brien noted as an example of how public sector engagement could support cooperatives.

The Commission for Social Development (CSocD) was established in 1946 to advise the United Nations on social policies in general. Since the World Summit for Social Development in Copenhagen in 1995, the Commission has been the key UN body in charge of the follow-up and implementation of the Copenhagen Declaration and Program of Action. It is also the main forum for discussion on the social dimensions of sustainable development.

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