The second phase of the ICA’s Youth Leadership Exchange Program took place between 30 September and 8 October in Washington, DC, USA.
Five participants – Misheyla Eugenia Ruiz Ramírez (Mexico), François Michel Hastir, (Canada), Francisco Gabriel Fernandez (Argentina), Jay-vee Pangan (Philippines), Jenni Illona Mayshiogie (Indonesia) – were joined by five other young people from the NCBA Young Scholars Initiative – Timothy Bisakaya, Olivier Mukulira, Kiran Kattel, Shadreck Matindike and Jean De Diew Sinziamuhara – and 15 young people from the ICA’s Cooperative Leaders and Scholars group from the United States.
As part of the program, they received training from the Cooperative Development Foundation, CrowdWork and the International Centre for Co-operative Management at Saint Mary’s University. They also visited a housing co-op (Ella Jo Baker Intentional Community Housing Co-op), a worker co-op (Re:Delicious), a purchasing co-op (Logan Hardware) and the Brighter Days Collective.
The program included a Short Governance Course delivered by the International Centre for Co-operative Management at Saint Mary’s University, and participants also attended NCBA-CLUSA’s Cooperative IMPACT Conference, an annual event that aims to re-energise the US cooperative movement and galvanise its champions around building the next economy.
The program forms part of a 10-day learning journey that had two pilot editions in 2023. An earlier edition saw five other young people meet in Spain, engaging in a series of activities and visiting local cooperatives. Learn more about that trip here.
The project is coordinated by the ICA Youth Executive Committee while the idea for the program was developed by ICA G20 C20 Working Group President Howard Brodsky and facilitator Danila Curcio, Head of International Institutional Relations at Confcooperative in Italy.
The young people who could not afford the travel and accommodation costs were able to apply for scholarships funded by a donation.
While the United States and Spain volunteered to host the first two groups, our hope is that this program will expand globally. Contact the ICA Youth Committee if the cooperative movement in your country is willing to host the next group or sponsor youth to participate in an exchange.
Francisco Fernandez, Cooperativa Obrera, Argentina
The programme was an incredible, enriching experience, not only on a professional but also on a personal level. I did not know many details about the North American cooperative movement. Through this experience, I was surprised to find a very united movement and a community committed to cooperative values and principles.
We were able to learn a lot about North American coops, and issues such as governance, and technology, youth, food, a lot of interesting topics. The course led by Saint Mary’s University at the premises of the National Cooperative Bank was also very interesting. We were able to look at issues faced by co-ops in Asia, Africa and Europe, as well as exchange experiences with colleagues from Keya, South Africa, Canada, Rwanda, Spain and many other countries.
Throughout the NCBA IMPACT conference, we were able to exchange with other colleagues, everyone was keen to engage with one another.
What I liked the most was the multicultural aspect of the experience, the fact that I met people from different countries, including the Philippines, Indonesia, and Mexico. It was a truly enriching experience because we could discuss different issues and solutions for various contexts that we could apply in our coops. So being able to exchange with 30 other young people was incredible.
I think living this type of experience is important to integrate youth in coops at the international level. It allowed us to exchange opinions and bring new values to our coops to continue on this road and try to improve our coops every day.
Jay-vee Marasigan Pangan, Youth Connect Cooperative, Philippines
I have only been in the cooperative sphere for two years and I must say that it's a steep learning curve. But I have met the most patient, most welcoming and most wonderful people who have all made significant contributions to my cooperative life. I feel so honoured to have been chosen as one of only five youth scholar delegates for the International Cooperative Alliance Youth Leadership Exchange Programme. Meeting so many people with diverse backgrounds was insightful. I also got to share the story of Youth Connect Cooperative (YCC), with other people and I also had a chance to hear their coop stories. So it was really this kind of exchange that made my experience truly special.
What I liked the most was the cooperative Hall of Fame Award Ceremony, because it highlighted the diverse and powerful ways in which cooperatives can impact lives. It was truly inspiring to witness these remarkable individuals being recognised for their outstanding contributions to the cooperative movement.
I also liked the coop tours because we met different kinds of coop leaders and people working in the coops, from housing coops to dog walking coops, cafés and library coops, the diversity is just truly insightful, and I got to see that firsthand and look at how they communicate and work with each other. I also had the incredible honour of joining cohorts from the Young Scholars initiative, the cooperative leaders and scholars and my fellow Youth Leadership Exchange Programme scholars. It was truly inspirational. The recognition of outstanding individuals in the Cooperative Hall of Fame [and] the global dialogue on cooperative leadership affirms that our collective efforts can shape a future where cooperative principles drive societal progress.
Jenni Illona Mayshiogie, Institute for Indonesian Cooperative Development Studies, Indonesia
The 2023 ICA YLEP trip to Washington DC was a transformative experience that enriched my perspective as a dedicated cooperativist, and a proud Native Bornean Dayaknese Woman.
Beyond the invaluable co-op governance course, and the enlightening 2023 Coop IMPACT Conference, the highlight for me was delving into the histories of African American, Native American and people of colour cooperatives and economic movements in the US. Engaging with the vibrant narratives of resilience and collective empowerment in these communities provided me with profound insights and inspiration. The opportunity to witness firsthand the achievements and challenges faced by these cooperative movements was truly eye-opening. I extend my heartfelt gratitude to the NCBA CLUSA and Cooperative Development Foundation for presenting me with the Collective Courage book by Jessica Gordon Nembhard. This gesture was more than a mere souvenir, it was a treasure trove of wisdom. The ICA YELP programme has left an indelible mark on my journey as a cooperativist and I carry the lessons I learned in Washington DC with profound appreciation and a renewed commitment to fostering inclusive and impactful cooperative initiatives, the profound impacts of cooperative endeavours and a reminder of collective courage that fuels transformative change.
Misheyla Eugenia Ruiz Ramírez, ECOS Escuela de la Economia Social, Mexico
For me, the experience was incredibly enriching and very fruitful because I was able to meet other young people who, like myself, are trying to promote the sector from their different roles. In addition, while I had researched and read about the development of the cooperative sector in the USA, seeing it for myself, exchanging experiences and speaking with other people changed the impression I had about cooperatives there. For example, the student housing and retail cooperatives have such great potential so that inspires me a lot to promote them here in Oaxaca, where I am based, in the South of Mexico, and also continue generating more networks and putting the principle of intercooperation in action. I would like to conclude by thanking all the people who made this possible and I hope there can be more editions so that more young people participate, be inspired, make connections and strengthen their convictions because coops build a better world.