Youth Realities & Responses

relationships of solidarity handstyle







Albanyan CICS


Savings & Credit



Alchemy Collective Cafe


Wholesale/Retail (Food & Beverage)

United States of America (USA)


Gencisi / Youth Deal Cooperative


Service (Education & Communications)



Green Campus Cooperative

Multi- Stakeholder

Wholesale/Retail (Fairtrade Textiles)



ICA Youth Committee (fka Global Youth Network) 





Knowledge Worker


Service (Technical Assistance)



La Ventanilla


Service (Ecological Preservation & Tourism)



Master Minds Producer Cooperative





Comite Regional de Juventud (CRJ)





Red Root Cooperative


Service (Multimedia Design & Production)



Repaired Nations

Multi- Stakeholder

Service (Advocacy & Technical Assistance)

United States of America (USA)



Manufacturing (Cleaning Products)



Youth Cooperative Hub

Multi- Stakeholder

Service (Advocacy & Technical Assistance)

South Africa







International Year of Cooperatives Closing Ceremonies Statement 


United Nations International Year of Cooperative Closing Ceremonies

New York City, New York, USA

Cooperate to Transform Society


International Summit on Cooperatives

Quebec City, Quebec, Canada

Youth Statement on Cooperative Leadership


ICA Global Congress & Conference

Antalya, Turkey, Europe

ICA Global Youth Network Resolution


ICA Global Congress & Conference

Kigali, Rwanda, Africa


The 2015 Youth Statement on Cooperative Leadership written and presented at the International Cooperative Alliance (ICA) Global Conference and Congress states, “future panelists at movement events need to be representative of those most impacted by the success or failure of our cooperative work: youth, women, citizens of island nations, people of color, residents of the Global South, the LGBTQ community, un- and under- employed, and other marginalized peoples. Their participation should be funded and prioritized.” This sentiment expressed not only the solidarity coopyouth feel with other marginalized groups, but also that the participation and engagement of the expertise of marginalized peoples were of the utmost importance to the legitimacy of the Cooperative Movement and its convenings. The identities and experiences of those whose participation should be prioritized, from the coopyouth perspective, is in stark contrast to the three keynote speakers at the event that year - all older white men considered to be economic experts according to their awarded credentials, though all were explicitly lacking in meaningful, firsthand cooperative experience. This kind of speaker selection promotes an expert model that asks people with little to no stake or familiarity in the lived realities of marginalized people what should be done to help marginalized people, that further implies marginalized people are oppressed by some fault of their own that they could address if they had the correct skills. Coopyouth express solidarity with marginalized people in the collective statement that assert people are the experts in their own experiences, marginalized people have a right to self-determination, that the denial of marginalized people’s self-determination is the problem, and, accordingly, the Cooperative Movement needs to provide a platform for the voices and work of marginalized people if it is actually going to build a world free of coercion and oppression. It is especially notable that at the same conference at which the 2015 coopyouth statement was created, a direct action was led by coopyouth in attendance to demonstrate opposition to the policies and actions of the host country’s recently elected president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, especially with regard for Turley’s oppression of the Kurdish people. An intergenerational group of mostly youth held signs with messages such as “cooperation not coercion” and “solidarity with the Kurds.” This action was also a critique of the Cooperative Movement and ICA, insofar as they invited Erdoğan to speak at the event, despite the evils he had and continued to commit. The Kurdish people, who have experienced violent repression by the Turkish state for a century, utilize cooperatives in all aspects of their communities - from self-defense to education. Following the action and the conference, the worker cooperative organization within the ICA, CICOPA, issued a statement critiquing the ICA’s choice of hosting the event in Turkey during a time of tremendous political conflict and called on the organization to take greater care in selecting conference locations in the future.

Raison d’etre

For Gencisi (Worker, Turkey), solidarity in a common struggle against injustice and marginalization explicitly shapes their reason for existing. To shape their work, the cooperative conducted a great deal of background research and authored strategy papers outlining how they can best serve and cooperate with various different under-served groups (e.g. migrants). Interestingly, and as outlined in “Alignment with Social Transformation,” Gencisi very diligently and conservatively assesses the timing and the language of expressing solidarity with communities facing oppression and deprivation in the country.

Youth to Youth Solidarity

Connecting with other youth unfamiliar or disconnected from cooperative philosophy and practice is a form of solidarity across a marginalized group that strategically grows the Cooperative Movement. Master Minds (Producer, Botswana) both participates in a general youth apex organization for their region, as well as nurtures partnerships with other, not explicitly cooperative, youth groups in order to facilitate educational exchanges. Master Minds is the only cooperative group within their network with the apex organization and their educational partnerships. As a result, Master Minds educates and informs many youth about cooperation for the first time. Peer to peer exchange and learning can be a powerfully persuasive way to engage new cooperators, and it tends to be more impactful than hearing about cooperation from someone with whom they don’t readily relate (e.g. an elder) or reading about cooperativism in a book. Additionally, Master Minds shared that they impart other, more general skills on other youth that they learned through their cooperative practice – specifically, participatory democracy skills such as facilitation, deliberation, and collective decision-making. Their solidarity relationships with other youth not yet familiar with cooperativism helps to create a more cooperative community and society by fostering cooperative individuals and relationships, even if more explicitly cooperative enterprises do not result.


Even cooperatives and cooperators are subject to the insidious creep of capitalism’s values into how we perceive what we have, what we need, and who we are, which ultimately impacts our relationships – especially those that involve capital. When elder cooperators or wealthier cooperative institutions redistribute money to youth or their cooperatives, this can be game changing – providing them enough capital to launch operations, scale significantly, or exist at all. Capital is much harder for young people to acquire compared to elders, so coopyouth frequently rely on the Cooperative Movement to fund them when conventional financiers reject them both for being young (e.g. lacking in credit or experience) and using an organizational model not universally understood or accepted as legitimate (e.g. many cooperatives – such as Knowledge Worker – found themselves ineligible for pandemic assistance funds because of these biases). Much more on this topic is included in the key issue section on “Capital.”

Redistribution of Wealth

The phrase “wealth redistribution” is used in many contexts to describe slightly different things, but its most general meaning refers to the transfer of financial capital or property (e.g. land) to others on a system-wide level via some compulsory mechanism (e.g. taxation by a government, provision of social services). Within the context of social movements, it is conceptualized as a way to lessen class disparities by the process of the wealthy voluntarily giving their excess capital to the poor, motivated by an ethic of community care and solidarity. Some overarching theories around this ethic conceive of it as one step on a path towards a much more equitable future society in which “rich” and “poor” are not discernible identifiers. In this practice of redistribution is necessary for the wealth to be redistributed without conditions; it is better conceived of as “transitioned” than as part of a transaction in which something is expected in return. While those interviewed did not provide many examples of the redistribution of wealth happening within the Cooperative Movement, wealth redistribution was called for by name in two international coopyouth statements - Cooperate to Transform Society (2014) and Youth Statement on Cooperative Leadership (2015). Wealth redistribution was even called for back in 2012, though in less technical terms, as part of the first documented contemporary coopyouth statement authored at the United Nations during the closing ceremonies for the International Year of Cooperatives. Wealth redistribution grows the Cooperative Movement equitably and sustainably and seeks to counterbalance some of the mechanisms within capitalism that maintain drastic wealth and power disparities, as when wealth is more equitably distributed, so is power.


Reparations is a specific form of wealth redistribution that speaks more to addressing past harms and wrongs created by capitalism and its accompanying ideologies (e.g. white supremacy). The initial form of reparations took place between nation-states following wars, when some nation-states were mandated by treaty to pay damages to others (e.g. Germany following World War I). Over time, this concept has been evolved as a transitional and corrective method for other harms, most notably slavery and other forms of racialized violence. Tragically, many slave owners throughout the world actually received “reparations” themselves as part of passed emancipation legislation (i.e. slave owners were compensated relative to how many people they “possessed” and “lost” when enslaved people were freed). Many individuals and groups continue to press for reparations for descendents of enslaved people, especially in the United States and Canada. The “Land Back” movement that focuses on returning land stolen by colonizing forces from indigenous peoples throughout the world is another notable contemporary call for reparations. There are cooperatives throughout the world that both directly and indirectly owe their past and current financial success to the practices and processes of slavery and colonization. These cooperatives and cooperators have a responsibility to repair those harms to the best of their ability; fiscal and property reparations are the most immediate and effective forms of repair. Still further, the statistically knowable reality that certain identity groups (e.g. white, settler, men) possess and can more easily acquire wealth in the current economic system is an outgrowth of slavery and colonization. Those who enjoy more power and wealth within the current system by virtue of identity can intentionally redistribute the wealth to which they disproportionately have access as a form of reparations, whether or not they have personal ties to racial violence.   

Participation & Non-Participation

A complementary transformative approach to redistribution and reparations within capital relationships is prioritizing relationships with cooperative parties and endeavoring to not engage in capital relationships with non-cooperative parties that ultimately perpetuate harmful and inequitable economic systems. For (Worker, Greece), strategic participation and non-participation takes the form of exclusively utilizing suppliers, distributors, and other vendors that share their same values of social transformation. In this way, they starve the capitalist economy of their collective wealth, and they strategically strengthen economic and social relationships that can ultimately constitute a cooperative commonwealth in communities beyond capitalism. Green Campus Cooperatives (MSC, Canada) makes similar choices as to with which people or institutions they will enter into any type of relationship. They maintain a special focus on ensuring all those with which they participate in some way fully operate in an ecologically sustainable fashion. More generally, the majority of the coopyouth interviewed indicated their cooperatives maintained some degree of implicit ethical guidelines for participation with others - in selecting projects, clients, and vendors. Such guidelines safeguard the priority within cooperatives to build a fully cooperative society, while endeavoring not to perpetuate capitalism - even at times to the point of increasing expenses. In the words of Father Arizmendiarrieta, “today, the revolution is called ‘participation’” (1999, 81).


Many cooperatives are generally “better neighbors” and community members than other forms of organization. For example, in cooperatives in university communities, students often live in large numbers in neighborhoods that also include families and non-students; most of these student households are very transient and, as result, remain largely unknowable and thereby unaccountable to their neighbors. Student cooperative houses, such as the Sheffield Student Housing Cooperative (User, UK), have a consistent identity and presence that is knowable to its neighbors and therefore helps to facilitate more caring relationships (e.g. respond to complaints about noise, negotiate use of common resources like parking) in their community ecosystem. As discussed in more detail above, assessing all the potential impacts of an enterprise’s operation is not always “good for business,” as it can reveal externalities that the enterprise then has the responsibility to take on rather than simply letting the broader community absorb those costs (e.g. pollutant byproducts from manufacturing and processing). Accordingly, considering a cooperative’s ecosystem of impact is incredibly progressive and truly strives towards a cooperative society. (Worker, Greece) shared their admirable practices of engaging their broader ecosystem in their work in an especially intimate and consistent way; first, by asking the surrounding community to decide what the cooperative factory was to produce at the outset of the cooperative’s founding, and secondly, by holding weekly “solidarity meetings” with community members to allow dialogue in order to ensure that everyone in their cooperative ecosystem - well beyond just their membership - was having their needs met without complication.


Interestingly, the surveyed experiences of coopyouth throughout the world revealed a pattern that the most successful intra-movement solidarity relationships youth have are with individual elders, and many youth experience challenges endeavor to work in solidarity with cooperative institutions (specifically those that function as representational bodies for the Cooperative Movement).\

Elder Mentors

Several of those interviewed reported having an elder mentor who consistently supports their cooperative with education and counsel, and thereby strengthens intergenerational ties within the broader Cooperative Movement). The Albanyan CICS (User, Nigeria) schedules its meetings to accommodate the attendance of a cooperative elder in their community, who gives talks to the cooperative members and assists in mediating interpersonal conflict or addressing when an individual has lost motivation and decreased their level of participation. Similarly, Master Minds (Producer, Botswana) owes a great deal of its success in expanding the cooperative economy in their country beyond the confines of producer cooperatives with exclusively elder memberships to the support of an esteemed elder in their community. Before Master Minds was launched, elder agricultural cooperatives were by and large the only visible form of cooperation. As a result, the cooperative’s founders did not initially think they were of use to their work trying to create an enterprise. Their elder mentor explained to them the dynamism of the cooperative model and, as a result, Master Minds is a trailblazer in diversifying Botswana’s cooperative movement and showing young people that much more is possible via cooperation than they have likely thought. Similarly, Red Root (Worker, Philippines) reports that a member’s elder family member, a former officer in a cooperative, consistently provides them a great deal of expertise and support, particularly when it comes to navigating regulatory and governance issues. Repaired Nations (MSC, USA) enacts a theory of social transformation that places youth at the center of decision-making and organizational strategy, and orients participating elders in a role of providing supportive input and wisdom to the youth leaders in the form of advisor positions.

Cooperative Federations & Associations

A key area in which more effort needs to be expended to build solidarity relationships with coopyouth is among the organizations that comprise the representative infrastructure of the Cooperative Movement. This is made apparent by the fact that most of the coopyouth interviewed reported that their experiences with local, national, or regional cooperative federations and associations were marked by some degree of difficulty, both to initiate or to sustain in an equitable manner. All of those successful stories included in this section involve an individual youth developing or leveraging a personal relationship they have with an elder individual within the movement’s governance infrastructure to enact solidarity relationships, rather than the movement infrastructure itself being sufficiently accessible and proactive in expressing solidarity with new cooperators and cooperatives.

Personal Relationship → Formal Role → Respect

Knowledge Worker (Worker, Denmark) consistently reached out to both their national representational federation and large individual cooperatives within Denmark and were ignored; calls were not responded to and emails were left unanswered. Via a personal relationship with an individual with ties to the national federation, one of the cooperative’s founders did ultimately gain a position on the federation’s Board of Directors, alongside those cooperators who refused to acknowledge their presence or work. Once the representative from Knowledge Worker began attending federation Board meetings, federation representatives and people at larger cooperatives began to finally acknowledge the cooperative and its work. The cooperative was essentially only legitimized in the eyes of the cooperative community by obtaining their role on the Board via personal connections, which does not suggest that the federation functions with fully open or democratic governance. The perspective of the Knowledge Worker representative on the federation Board has been valuable, specifically in providing a unique perspective both as the youngest person in the room by far, as well as from a smaller, worker cooperative in the service sector, which is a key area in which cooperative development among young people is occurring. Most of the cooperatives represented are large consumer-owned enterprises, and are accordingly largely without the expertise or familiarity to support worker or youth cooperatives, likely the kinds to have the most growth in future years. Additionally, Knowledge Worker shared that they feel their participation has been successful in starting to shift the culture of the federation to be more in line with the values of the Cooperative Identity, as it has operated more as a conventional business association for as long as they have been aware of its work.

Formal Role → Personal Relationship → Funding

The first significant financial contribution to the Youth Committee (Network, Global; formerly Global Youth Network) came about as a result of a personal relationship the Network’s Chairperson developed while serving as the appointed youth representative on the global Board of the International Cooperative Alliance. That initial contribution was then leveraged to convince others to contribute additional funds, which - in total - was sufficient for the Youth Committee to execute the Action Plan it had written. Without having access to the global Board and being a respected member of that institutional and intergenerational space, the personal relationship would likely not have been established, the initial funding would likely not have been granted, and the current status of the Youth Committee – including this research project - may not have been possible. “When the necessary economic resources are lacking, the best ideas and the best projects often remain at the idea stage” (Arizmendiarrieta, 1999, 91).

Formal Role → Personal Relationship → Organizational Partnership

The CRJ (Network, Americas) connected with the national Uruguay federation (CUDECOOP) in order to work with youth in that national movement to focus on creating peer-education programs to serve the entire region of Spanish speaking coopyouth. This partnership was enabled by their full, empowered participation in the regional ICA-Americas federation, as the President of the CRJ holds an appointed role on the regional Board and connected with someone within CUDECOOP by virtue of that role. The Cooperative Movement’s governance structures and spaces are powerful ways to connect people and cooperatives in solidarity partnership; however, coopyouth have found that they struggle to access those spaces, except via the very few formalized roles that exist for young people in some of the structures.


Some examples of solidarity relationships beyond the scope of the formally identified Cooperative Movement but still cooperative in nature are considered within “Solidarity with Other Marginalized.” A more challenging task of building solidarity relationships outside the Cooperative Movement involves institutions that are inherently uncooperative in nature or those that cannot be wholly depended on to consistently share a commitment to the cooperative values in word and deed.

Educational Institutions

Many educational institutions are considered “non-profit” or “not-for-profit,” making them much more friendly to solidarity relationships with cooperatives than profit motivated institutions. However, these institutions are often funded by a variety of sources that can compel them to act in ways that are similar to expressly competitive institutions; government funding may require certain structures or practices (similar to those asked of cooperatives seeking to incorporate), donations from individuals or organizations can impact the academic culture (e.g. university may sanction pro-Palestinian faculty when courting contributions from Zionist organizations), the reliance on tuition can cause the institution to prioritize marketing and expenditures that make it more appealling to wealthy students able to pay full price (e.g. sports programs), and still more. While educational institutions may be public (e.g. State funded), private, or a mix thereof (e.g. Charter Schools that may accept government money but do not have to adhere to any governmental standards), they are not unaffected by capitalism.

Solidarity System

Green Campus Cooperative (MSC, Canada) operates within the campus system of York University, and it maintains a mixed membership of students, faculty, and staff. They have many clients within the university system (e.g. academic departments) which buy the organic cotton garments and goods that they wholesale. The cooperative has transformed their educational institution into a mutually beneficial solidarity system.

Recruitment & Training

Green Campus Cooperative (MSC, Canada) runs an annual semester-long course on cooperative philosophy and practice that functions as the main recruitment mechanism for cooperative members. Students, who are typically transient members of cooperatives, generally struggle to assist in the recruitment of new members because they are often departing the cooperative by the time they have fully learned how best to participate in their cooperative, as well as advocate for it to others. By essentially institutionalizing a recruitment system as a college class, the sustainability of the cooperative’s membership base is strengthened. Further, as a long-term educational program, it fully informs and empowers youth more quickly with the knowledge and skills necessary to be an active and effective cooperative member.

Labor & Education Exchange

Ventanilla (Worker, Mexico) has developed relationships with research universities throughout the world that will send funded groups of students and faculty to the cooperative. While staying with the cooperative, the visiting researchers help to run the cooperative and, in exchange, learn about Ventanilla’s system of watershed restoration and preservation by propagating mangroves native to the ecosystem. Some visiting researchers are also able to provide insight or information that can help the cooperative to do their work with greater ease or effectiveness.

Alternative to Privatization of Campus Services

At many post-secondary educational institutions, there is a strong trend to privatize various aspects of campus operations. This process mirrors the same that has occurred across governmental institutions in response to the pressures of neoliberalism, which has amounted to the privatization of many services that were at one time or are still considered to be throughout much of the world to be the purview of the government to provide; healthcare is an industry in which significant disparities in services exist in countries that have privatized versus those with public health systems. In practice on educational institution campuses, this oftens involves universities selling their campus bookstores or hospitality/student centers to large corporations in the retail book and hospitality industries, respectively. Additionally, student housing has become increasingly privatized, forcing students to find a place to live in the housing market near the institution's campus. By cooperativizing these campus services and amenities, it showcases a viable alternative to broad-scale privatization that can degrade the culture and identity of an educational institution, no longer fostering a sense of “school pride” that can be a significant factor for students in selecting a post-secondary school. Sheffield Student Housing Cooperative (User, UK), like many other student housing cooperatives, provides the most affordable housing for students in the local marketplace. In the past, some post-secondary institutions have provided support in some form or another to local independent cooperatives because they view them as providing a considerable service. If the development of student cooperatives were supported by educational institutions in a way that ensured the autonomy and independence of those cooperatives, the reach and influence of the Cooperative Movement could grow exponentially.

NGOs & Governmental Relationships

Working with government institutions or their counterparts, Non Governmental Organizations - which exist to provide services similar to those of governments but those that the governments fail to provide, can be very challenging for cooperatives. Both governments and NGOs conceive of themselves as constituting a world government and civil sector that is tasked with organizing and serving society on the global level from the top-down. This sector does include some cooperative organizations, including the International Cooperative Alliance. However, no matter the intended benevolence or humanitarian aims of those involved in these structures, if they embody the described orientation towards the world and the people in it, it creates a fraught power dynamic between the governors/service-providers and the governed/served. That said, there is potential for solidarity that some coopyouth have managed to achieve mutually beneficial relationships with various governmental and NGO actors.

Personal Relationship

Over time, Master Minds (Producer, Botswana) has developed personal relationships with several specific staff members within the municipal government. They report that those relationships support their sustainability, as they have – through these relationships – educated and acclimated elder government workers in how to nurture respectful relationships with both youth and cooperatives. Master Minds feels that those individual staff people would be willing and able to help other youth create new, autonomous cooperatives using what they’ve learned through their relationship with Master Minds or support additional youth cooperatives that form independently. The confidence the cooperative has in their partnerships rests in trustworthy personal dynamics with specific people, not in the institution itself, which mirrors situations coopyouth face in navigating relationships with Cooperative Movement institutions.

Leverage External Relationships for Intra-Movement Respect

After consistently struggling to be acknowledged and respected by their regional Cooperative Movement federation, the ICYC (Network, Asia-Pacific) sought out a collaboration with the International Labor Organization (ILO), an agency of the United Nations that sets international labor standards. The ILO was receptive to the ICYC, and when news of this partnership reached the regional Asia-Pacific Board and staff, it legitimized the network in their eyes and resulted in a brief period of acknowledgment and productive exchange between the two parties.

Share Cooperation with Value-Aligned

Similar to demonstrating an alternative to privatization within educational institutions, some governmental and NGO relationships offer an opportunity to teach people working within these institutions cooperative methods of approaching “development” and governance. Many governmental institutions or NGOs do not live out their highest values since they wage wars, oppress the marginalized by denying access to social services, and  execute paternalistic forms of “development” in “underdeveloped” countries; still, they theoretically exist to serve and empower all people, just as cooperatives do, so they are more receptive to learning cooperativism. Red Root (Worker, Philippines) takes this to heart in pursuing contracts with their federal government. The projects for which they apply are typically informational or educational (e.g. designing a poster for rural areas sharing information about financial assistance programs for farmers). Red Root maintains an attitude that, no matter the other activities of their government that are deserving of critique and even active resistance, the programs they selectively support align with their values. Additionally, they know that someone is ultimately going to do them, and it is better if an enterprise with cooperative values completes the projects both to imbue them with cooperativism, as well as to prohibit an enterprise with profit-seeking motivations from completing the project and potentially leveraging competitive and harmful language or cultural cues in the public resource they design.

Build Youth-to-Youth Infrastructure

Members of the CRJ (Network, Americas) were invited and their participation fully funded by the School of Economy in Adalusia, Spain to attend a social economy conference in Spain. While there, several coopyouth connected with others and ultimately formed a partnership they call “the Alliance of Youth in the Social Economy (Allianza de Jovenes por la Economia Sociale).” The CRJ Chairperson is a strong proponent of pluralism in approaches, and this partnership flows from this perspective. Within the alliance, cooperators are interacting with young people advocating for various iterations of social and mutualist enterprises (e.g. public benefit corporation) as well as advocating for the adoption of value-aligned organizational processes by all types of enterprise (e.g. participatory budgeting). Through this solidarity alliance, they are able to educate others about cooperativism, as well as learn and employ other complementary practices and philosophies into their cooperative praxis.