how we did it handstyle


    • Language & Culture
    • COVID
    • Contact Info & Communication Practices
    • Asia-Pacific


To create this toolkit, cooperative wisdom was drawn from a range of sources, past and present, including historical literature, recent research reports, coopyouth statements, and a series of narrative interviews with current coopyouth practitioners around the world. The pre-existing literature and reports were reviewed and included as the “What Came Before” section of the toolkit. The content gathered via longform interviews with individual coopyouth constitutes the bulk of the toolkit’s content, found within the eleven Key Issue chapters. Representation of the regions among those interviewed is, unfortunately, not consistent, some reasons for which are outlined later in this section. 


The bulk of this toolkit’s primary content was generated via oral interviews with and online surveys completed by representatives from sixteen coopyouth organizations throughout the world. Interviews were conducted and surveys were collected from July of 2020 to May of 2021; respondents were offered compensation of either 10usd or a coopyouth t-shirt to be sent out after the completion of this publication, though several respondents refused compensation.

Representation of the sixteen interviews or surveys is as follows:


  • Africa: 3
  • Americas: 5
  • Asia-Pacific: 2
  • Europe: 5
  • Global: 1


  • Multi-Stakeholder: 3
  • Network: 3
  • Producer: 1
  • User: 2
  • Worker: 6


  • Only Youth: 4
  • All Youth: 5
  • Mostly Youth: 2
  • All Ages: 5


  • 1-5: 3
  • 6-10: 4
  • 11-20: 4
  • 21+: 4

Interviews and surveys were offered in English, Spanish, and French, though all respondents elected to engage with the process in English. Videochat was the preferred medium for interviews and was used whenever possible. However, in many instances, sufficient internet connection for videochatting was not available, in which cases the interviews moved to phone. Six of those representatives solicited for input elected to submit responses to the interview questions via an online survey. All respondents were asked to provide clarifications and further information via email following the completion of the interview or survey, though some questions were not answered, resulting in a few gaps in information. Interviews ranged from ninety minutes to three hours. While a uniform set of interview questions was the foundation for every interview, opportunities to explore specific topics in more depth or to ask questions about adjacent issues were taken whenever time and interest allowed. As a result, the data collected is primarily qualitative and narrative in nature, which helped to define the storytelling tone used in the Key Issue chapters.


To ground the research described above, a literature review, located in the “What Came Before” section of this toolkit, was undertaken in order to orient the coopyouth philosophy and practice revealed in the broader context of existing cooperative philosophy, other coopyouth research endeavors, and coopyouth contributions to the international movement discourse. The literature begins by detailing four research projects and reports on coopyouth by movement institutions (e.g. #coops4dev,1 CICOPA2 ), in order to connect this research with that pre-existing work, as well as articulate how and why this toolkit is distinct from those existing texts. Second, six foundational philosophical texts are assessed and summarized, including movement canon curated by the ICA (Cooperative Identity, Guidance Notes), as well as commentary from key researchers and thinkers (Father José Arizmendiarrieta, AF Laidlaw, Ian MacPherson). The literature review’s final and most essential component is a compendium of identity statements made by coopyouth, in which young cooperators defined their own motives and objectives as participants in the cooperative movement.

The selection of coopyouth research, cooperative philosophy, and coopyouth statements constitute a digest of coopyouth literature upon which current and future cooperative practitioners will continue to build. Such a collection can help establish a coherent chronicling of the evolution of interpretations and applications of cooperative philosophy and practice among and by coopyouth. This digest supports the “Words Mean Things” section of the toolkit that follows the literature review. “Words Mean Things” identifies, defines, contextualizes, and frequently reinterprets decades-old terms and concepts from movement discourse. The goal of this glossary-like section is to support readers in understanding the contemporary coopyouth worldview.


  • 1 Partnership between the International Cooperative Alliance & European Union
  • 2 International Organisation of Cooperatives in Industry and Services


Language & Culture

Much of the motivation for developing the “Words Mean Things'' glossary came out of the limitations resulting from communicating across language, culture, time, and space. There are stigmas around certain words in certain cultures, there are concepts that don't translate into every language, and there is the risk of repression for individuals and cooperative enterprises by authoritarian actors (e.g. government, funder) that use certain terms or concepts in their work. The glossary sections seek to speak out the base values and philosophies of coopyouth interviewed, as well as those voices represented in youth statements while acknowledging this text was authored from a western, english language perspective. It attempts to serve as a fair representation of the foundational beliefs of most coopyouth who directly or indirectly contributed to this project, no matter their individual relationships to specific words or concepts. No matter the best of intent, there are inherent limitations in endeavoring to unite subjective visions from different languages, cultures, and contexts into one collective representation. 


At the project’s outset, thirty cooperative organizations were selected to participate in the research for this toolkit. These cooperatives were identified primarily using data collected by the 2018-2020 Coopyouth Movement mapping initiative of the ICA’s Youth Committee (fka Global Youth Network), and supplemented by personal connections to cooperatives maintained by members of the Executive Committee of the ICA Youth Committee and the toolkit’s author. The pre-selected cooperatives are summarized as follows:

PLANNED 8 9 10 9 1 37
ACTUAL 3 5 2 5 1 16

Interviews for the project began in July of 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic. When the final interview was conducted in May of 2021, vaccines had become available, but were being distributed inequitably throughout the world. For some of the potential interviewees, the pandemic context provided them more time to participate in the interview process, while many others found themselves with less capacity to participate. An exact number of how many were prohibited by the pandemic to participate is unknown, as that number overlaps with other limiting factors.

Contact Info & Communication Practices

Interview solicitations were initially sent out via email and, when the requisite contact information was available, follow-up inquiries were made via Whatsapp and Facebook. The transient nature of youth made it difficult to ensure contact info was up-to-date, and whether or not the means of communication was effective varied greatly by location and culture. Whatsapp communication with specific individuals (versus Whatsapp organizational accounts) was often the most effective, but general organization email addresses were most of what was available via the Mapping Project data and internet searches. While the Cooperative Movement and others generally fetishize the relationship between “technology” and youth, young people share in the struggle to be actively plugged into the digital world. Over half of the world’s population is “offline” (i.e. without a computer or consistent internet).1 Therefore, many youth are generally inaccessible via communication mediums beyond SMS text and telephone. Despite multiple efforts to contact interviewees or obtain additional contact information, in addition to the expansion of the contact list to over forty potential participants, only sixteen youth cooperatives were successfully engaged in the interview process.


It was most challenging to connect with coopyouth in the Asia-Pacific region, which is especially unfortunate given that the highest concentration of youth in the world is in that region. As a result, this region is the least represented and chronicled in our research. Accordingly, this limits the perspective and, potentially, the application of this work. The challenges encountered were in spite of the support of a few individuals within the ICA A-P structure (staff and volunteers), who dedicated time and effort to endeavoring to connect coopyouth to this research project. One notable reason for this challenge can be attributed to a culture of hierarchical deference within the region’s movement. Youth in the region reported that coopyouth and youth cooperatives will typically not respond to requests for participation or conversation from an outside party until those requests pass through a process of consideration by the regional Board and staff. Compounding the issues of hierarchy and bureaucracy is a notable lack of communication and mutual respect between elder leaders in the movement and its youth, making even intra-regional cooperation a challenge. For example, one youth cooperative wished to join the regional youth committee, but approval by regional leadership is required. To date, regional leadership has neglected to approve or even explain their decision not to approve their participation in the committee. In another instance, movement elders initiated a youth-specific event and did not engage the youth committee or other active youth. Whatever the tenor of intention behind these dynamics on the part of elder leaders, they are examples of organizational culture and practices that – unintentionally or not – hinder the kind and level of youth participation this research effort is seeking to empower. A deeper explication of some of these challenging dynamics between elder Boards and subordinate youth committees - which exist in other regions, as well - are included in several of the Key Issue chapters.


In consideration of the limitations encountered during this course of research with a global scope, it would be especially valuable for more coopyouth research to be conducted at regional, national, and local levels. One of the coopyouth research reports - Youth and Coops: A Perfect Match?, included in the broader literature review, leveraged staff labor from each of the four regional offices of the International Cooperative Alliance to distribute and collect online surveys. As a result, their rate of return was much higher than the research efforts for this publication. The Asia-Pacific and Africa regions would benefit greatly from receiving sufficient financial support to conduct their own research to document the challenges and progress of their individual movements, specifically given the high percentage of youth in those regions, and their consistently lower participation in all of the coopyouth research outlined in the "CoopYouth Reports" section of the literature review. This, in turn, would greatly help any future global research and coordination efforts, as the relationships and networks established via more localized research could be utilized.

The first coopyouth research endeavor of this century - Youth Reinventing Cooperatives - solicited relatively freeform contributions from people around the world, which resulted in an interesting and rich resource that had strong representation from all corners of the world. However, the report was less successful in presenting a coherent global analysis of coopyouth experiences and identifying patterns or shared practices. While it is difficult to evolve a coherent deliverable from the large range of responses inevitably gathered by such a solicitation approach, the flexibility does seem to ensure higher response rates. In releveraging this method for future research, the solicitation could maintain the open format for the style of responses, but refine the focus of the prompt to a specific issue or issues, rather than more general storytelling and feedback.

Given the foundational and broad-scope of the coopyouth research so far this century, it can serve as a solid base for more issue specific research in the future. Some potential research topics include, but are certainly not limited to:

  • an in-depth exploration of any one of the key issues outlined in this document,
  • an examination of gender roles and expressions within coopyouth communities,
  • asking coopyouth to provide personal reflections on and responses to specific cooperative canon (e.g Principles) and philosophy (e.g. review of “Pensamientos” by Father José Arizmendiarrieta),
  • critiques of national and regional movement structures and processes from the youth perspective, and
  • solicitations for feedback on the development of educational resources or events. 

The intention of this publication is to serve as a bridge between the first almost two decades of the global Coopyouth Movement work and the next. By summarizing the movement’s accomplishments and using that to shape a contemporary expression or perception of youth cooperative philosophy and practice, the movement is provided a way marker by which it can assess its progress. It can also use the toolkit and its collected resources to direct the Coopyouth Movement’s future work by informing governance decisions, directing more specific research initiatives, and educating existing and future coopyouth about the history and potential of their movement.