UN recognises cooperatives as key drivers of youth social entrepreneurship and development

02 Sep 2020

The 2020 United Nations’ World Youth Report: Youth Social Entrepreneurship and the 2030 Agenda underlines the supportive role of cooperatives for young social entrepreneurs. The report, which examines the capacity of social entrepreneurship to generate economic empowerment for youth and social development, recognizes the value of the cooperative model to offer decent work opportunities for vulnerable groups, especially for youth and women,  as well as to empower their members by ensuring capacity building and enhanced voice in society. The cooperative movement is viewed as a successful and democratic movement from which much can be learnt to better address some of the major challenges among youth: unemployment and precarious employment, particularly in the informal sector.

Aside from facilitating access to credit and mutualization the cooperative business model is reported to be critical in supporting the formalization of the informal economy. According to ILO, “organizing in cooperatives could ... be seen as one step on the path towards formalization. Many cooperatives start as informal group enterprises and later, as they grow and become viable business enterprises, are registered. As legal entities, they become part of the formal economy”. In addition, the cooperative principles guarantee youth’s skill development through education and training as well as participation.

Not only the whole cooperative movement, but also ICA and the Global Youth Forum Cooperative Entrepreneurship 2020 (GYF20), were prominently mentioned in the publication.

Addressing SDG4 and SDG8 through cooperative development

As people-centered enterprises, cooperatives lay the foundations for sustainable development. As acknowledged in the UN World Youth Report, cooperatives “are committed to offering decent working conditions, developing the skills of youth that have no prior work experience, and employing those who for a variety of reasons find it difficult to secure employment in traditional labour markets”. These aspects directly contribute to the achievement of two UN Sustainable Development Goals for youth: SDG4: “Quality education” and SDG8: “Decent work and economic growth”.

This holistic dimension responds to youth´s ambitions of not only building a sustainable project in economic terms, but also from social and environmental perspectives. Therefore, cooperatives represent a suitable business model for young entrepreneurs aiming at actively contributing to the prosperity and wellbeing of their communities.

Cooperatives: an empowering business alternative for young social entrepreneurship

The UN World Youth Report had already been presented by Isabelle Legare, Social Affairs Officer in the Programme on Youth Unit at the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA), at the online side event organized on the 16 July 2020 by the ICA-EU Partnership (#coops4dev) in the framework of the United Nations High-Level Political Forum (HLPF). The value of cooperatives as a vehicle of youth entrepreneurship was discussed during this HLPF side-event, in which the different speakers offered examples of revealing youth cooperative experiences. The debate particularly revolved around the topic on how the “cooperative difference” can contribute to inclusive youth employment, notably in the aftermath of the COVID-19 multiple crisis.

A cooperative #YouthWeek

This summer, youth has created a buzz on ICA’s social media accounts. All ICA global and regional offices shared various contents on youth and cooperative entrepreneurship to celebrate the World Youth Skills day and the International Youth Day: among others, they launched a campaign about the revamped GYF20 website (now including a number of training sessions to be watched online, and other relevant materials) and focused on promoting the aforementioned High-Level Political Forum online side event  "Cooperatives: A resilient model in time of crisis and beyond”.

Youth being a key priority, ICA, particularly via the ICA-EU Partnership, is fostering youth cooperative entrepreneurship through a diverse range of initiatives, such as the successful Global Youth Forum – Cooperative Entrepreneurship 2020 (GYF20), which gathered over 180 participants from 50 countries in February 2020 in Kuching, Sarawak, Malaysia (and where the Youth Agenda for Advocacy was adopted), to the experimental mentoring programme for young entrepreneurs called Global Cooperative Entrepreneurs (GCE), or the global research report on youth that the #coops4dev research team is currently producing.

All this, with the support of the ICA Youth Network, which has been strengthening the youth cooperative network for many years.