The International Day of Cooperatives is an observance set aside by the United Nations to recognize cooperatives and their contributions to their local economies. It’s marked every year on the first Saturday of July.
It had its beginnings with the passing of a resolution by the UN General Assembly in 1982, which dedicated the day to cooperatives around the world. In 2019, this day is Saturday, 6 July.
According to the International Cooperative Alliance (ICA), there are about 3 million cooperatives on the planet, and they employ over 279 million persons- at least 10% of the global workforce. This makes them an important constituency in many of the world’s economies.
But it’s not just these numbers that make them worth spotlighting. The real crux of the observance is that cooperatives represent a people-centered business model. Because they are set up to achieve objectives that benefit every one of their members, they tend to be more considerate of the welfare of the people they employ.
In this sense, they contrast with many regular corporations, which operate by the dictates of shareholders and board members. Sustainability experts say that while these other strictly hierarchical business models foster socioeconomic inequality, cooperative enterprises are more likely to involve everyone who has a role in them. And when whole communities function like this, the dividends from business tends to spread more broadly.
This business model has also helped to lift numerous people out of poverty. This is especially true in Nigeria’s agricultural sector, where financial aid and extension programs have encouraged local farmers to organize themselves into cooperatives so that they are able to access loans and reap benefits from the resultant economies of scale.
Current concerns about social diversity and environmental sustainability have spurred calls for less decentralized and more inclusive economic and business models; cooperatives appear to be a viable option for people who would prefer that the present commercial systems are replaced by sustainable alternatives.
This year’s observance highlights a more basic concern- working conditions. In line with this, activities marking the day will run with the theme ‘Coops 4 Decent Work’. There’s a strong tinge of social justice in the messaging about the day, but it’s just as it has been from its beginnings.
This is also the year in which the International Labour Organization (ILO) has its centenary celebrations. It will be collaborating with the ICA to call the world’s attention to issues surrounding working conditions, the future of work, and what could be learnt from cooperatives’ approach to these issues.
Featured image source: ica.coop