Youth Realities & Responses

relationships of coercion handstyle







Gencisi / Youth Deal Cooperative


Service (Education & Communications)



Asia-Pacific Committee on Youth Cooperation (ICYC)





Knowledge Worker


Service (Technical Assistance)



La Ventanilla


Service (Ecological Preservation & Tourism)



Red de Juventud (CRJ)





Red Root Cooperative


Service (Multimedia Design & Production)




Manufacturing (Cleaning Products)



Woodcraft Folk

Service (Education)

United Kingdom


Youth Cooperative Hub

Multi- Stakeholder

Service (Advocacy & Technical Assistance)

South Africa



The vast majority of coercive relationships coopyouth reported having were with decidedly non-cooperative institutions, those with the ultimate goal of exercising control or maximizing their own profit.


Three of the cooperatives interviewed remarked upon government mandated actions they were – or are – being forced to take that will change how their cooperative functions. Of the below examples, there is only one that offers a “solution” to these mandates, while the others are held up as examples of strong cooperatives weathering legislative requirements and still experiencing success while acknowledging the impact this coercive regulation has on their potential.

  • Temper Rigid Structural Mandates with Flexible Workflows: Red Root (Worker, Philippines) shared that all incorporated cooperatives in the Philippines must have distinct “corporate” and “cooperative” activities, essentially identifying all governance activities as “cooperative” and all other activities as “corporate.” One of the ways in which Red Root manages this split is by leveraging an incredibly successful and egalitarian project-based model for their work, which elegantly incorporates aspects of governance in the day-to-day. This project-based model that breaks the cooperatives functioning down into smaller, relatively autonomous units also diffuses leadership throughout the cooperative, rather than confining it to elected or formal roles within the “cooperative” functions of the organization (read more on this in the key issue section on “Structure and Participation”). This type of design safeguards against a drift towards inauthentic, titular leadership that can result from having a legally mandated Board with formal titles and authorities assigned to specific individuals. While Red Root has been experiencing success with this model they believe complies with the federal regulation, it does raise questions about whether or not government auditors would agree that they are sufficiently complying, as well as what consequences might be if the auditors rule the cooperative to be out of compliance. 
  • Respond with Intention, Not Unexamined Compliance: The Youth Cooperative Hub (MSC, South Africa) is currently in the throes of responding to an updated national cooperative law, which – upon initial reading – is an improvement from the last. One small element of the expansive legislation that was improved with this revision is the change in the number of founders required for a cooperative to incorporate from ten to five. While this is better, five is still a prohibitive number for many prospective cooperatives that can functionally have as few as three potential founders. While Youth Cooperative Hub had over ten founders, the law impacts many other aspects of their operation. They do not yet know precisely how complying with this updated legislation will ultimately impact their cooperative; however they anticipate having to make real structural and procedural changes. They shared that they will make these changes very intentionally and with analysis, rather than simply complying. Having already faced something similar to the above, (Worker, Greece) was recently compelled to incorporate formally with their local government in order to maintain possession of their factory and the land on which it sits. The factory was initially squatted and reclaimed by local residents from its non-local owners, which they then turned into Incorporation at this stage is, then, formalizing the transfer of ownership in the eyes of the State to the cooperative, even though the cooperative views the space and resources as collective community property. upholds an ethic and practice of “non-participation” with coercive entities and systems, so this coerced incorporation is a challenge for the cooperative. The only reason why must comply is the State’s “right to violence,” which they can and would use to take the factory away from the cooperative and community. ultimately determined that the risk of violence was too great to hold out and pursue a path of total non-participation.


In some instances, some of those cooperatives interviewed pushed back against coercive mandates from government bodies.

  • Defiance: In Mexico, Ventanilla (Worker) was faced with an interesting dilemma following a hurricane that destroyed most of the mangroves in the watershed they work to restore and sustain after previous tropical storms significantly damaged the ecosystem. The government decreed that no new mangroves were to be cultivated or placed until it was able to develop rules and procedures outlining the work. Ventanilla’s purpose is to preserve their local ecosystem and all the life it supports long into the future, which required cultivation to begin as soon as possible given that the mangroves root flora and fauna into the watershed which would then be washed away into the ocean without them as ecosystem anchors. The cooperative determined it was better to cultivate mangroves illegally and risk the repercussions of subverting governmental regulations, than it was to risk the survival of their ecosystem and way of life. They planted many mangroves and their work still continues today, years later. It remained illegal to cultivate mangroves for six years after the hurricane, long after much of the animal life and its habitat would have disappeared. The needs of the ecosystem in which the cooperative operates and most of the membership resides, are best understood and considered by those impacted by changes to that ecosystem. In the case of Ventanilla, they understood that their authority and stewardship was more important than that of the government - which prioritized maintaining centralized authority and compounding its power, rather than empowering people to make their own decisions at the level of their community.
  • Persistence to Precedent: As discussed above, often cooperatives are actively excluded from potentially coercive regulatory and financial systems because the model is harder to “understand” - i.e. control - than conventional enterprises. Knowledge Worker (Worker, Denmark), one of the very first cooperatives to be incorporated in the country for many years, was deemed ineligible for a cooperative-specific taxation status by regulators because the regulators had grown unfamiliar with the statute and model. Additionally, as a small worker-cooperative in a country with a Cooperative Movement comprised almost exclusively of consumer food, financial, and insurance behemoths, Knowledge Worker did not align with what many Danes - including those within the government - were familiar with as a cooperative. Through much effort and self-advocacy, they pushed through and convinced regulators to afford them their cooperative tax status, paving the way for new cooperatives to receive that benefit in the future without having to go through the same arduous process.

Financial Relationships

Overall, the coopyouth interviewed had not been able to creatively leverage conventional outside capital, and were more often excluded from even attempting participation in conventional financing systems. While these financing systems are not ideal for most cooperatives, they are sometimes the only option for needed capital so exclusion from the systems can cause a cooperative to be unable to launch or scale. However, some youth have formulated creative, community-based funding methods that are further outlined in the key issue section on “Capital.”

  • Government Benefits: Knowledge Worker (Worker, Denmark) was started by a group of unemployed young people who met in a career training center. In Denmark, regular visits to the center are mandated for all active recipients of federal “unemployment” benefits. Together, the group collectively leveraged their individual benefits to help launch the cooperative. The government took issue with this usage of benefits, as they considered the cooperative members to be now “employed” within a business and thereby ineligible to receive the benefits. The cooperative members resisted and asserted themselves as small-business owners, which did not preclude them from being beneficiaries, and through the process, ultimately received a determination that their actions were, in fact, legal and acceptable. This difference in treatment between (often less wealthy) employees and (often more wealthy) business owners, while beneficial to low-income people developing cooperatives, lays bare the corrupted pro-capital priorities of the government in its support of conventional enterprise over the wellbeing of rank and file workers. Knowledge Worker’s members were certainly not the first to take advantage of this “loophole,” but their status drew the attention of regulators who somehow deemed their activities ineligible. 


Most of the challenging relationships coopyouth have had to manage within the Cooperative Movement were reported to be with elements of the movement infrastructure - i.e. with federations and associations that claim to represent the Cooperative Movement nationally or regionally. The second largest grouping of coercive relationships the coopyouth interviewed encountered addresses when a cooperative is created by elders in order to serve youth. In such instances, the transition process from elder to youth control is often not easy or simple, and - in some instances - the transition never happens.


Within the Asia-Pacific region, the ICYC (Youth Network, Asia-Pacific) has had consistent struggles with their host federation, the ICA Asia-Pacific, as they exercise a great deal of surveillance and control over the youth committee. They are required to send all their newsletters and external communications to the regional federation prior to general distribution, and money that was given to the coopyouth by a member country is being withheld despite requests for access. As was noted previously, the Asia-Pacific region is the only region that has not yet complied with the ICA’s resolution that each region have a fully-empowered (e.g. voting, elected by the youth committee) youth member on their Board. Additionally, the region has unilaterally initiated coopyouth endeavors and activities (e.g. regional youth summit) without engaging any coopyouth, their cooperatives, or the ICYC in the process. Overall, those coopyouth interviewed within the region shared that they felt the region’s values were not congruent with those of the region’s coopyouth. The ICYC has experienced a great deal of frustration, especially because they cannot identify a specific person or reason for why they are so disempowered and ignored, and, as a result, struggle to figure out a solution to what may be a cultural, rather than personal or administrative, problem. This paternalism also impacted the reach and effectiveness of the research for this toolkit, as outlined in the “Methodology” section.

  • Compromise as First-Next Step: CRJ (Youth Network, Americas) has also experienced paternalism in their relationship with the regional ICA Americas federation. The youth network would like to be able to determine its own membership eligibility criteria, principally in order to make membership in the network open to any coopyouth in the Americas, whether or not an individual has a dues paying relationship with an ICA member. Generally, cooperatives and cooperative federations pay dues to the ICA Americas, individuals are not a type of member. Many youth in the Americas don’t have a cooperative near them or relevant to them that is a dues paying member of the ICA Americas. As a result, the basic membership requirements - when applied to the youth network - are essentially prohibitive to many otherwise interested and engaged youth members. The Americas region rejected the youth network’s request to self-determine its eligibility requirements, though a compromise was mediated via which the network may have a two-tiered membership structure that can include any and all interested youth, and those youth who have dues-paying affiliations. Those who are not considered dues-payers cannot participate in formal spaces or participate in governance, which is disappointing given that a key task of ICA infrastructure is movement governance. While this is still an expression of paternalism justified by capitalist notions of capital and ownership, the compromise open membership model does allow for the CRJ to build identity and solidarity as a larger group. By growing their community, identity, and culture as a group of coopyouth, that may then be able to pursue operational and governance autonomy from the regional Board, either through continued negotiations in which they then have more power due to greater numbers and community cohesion, or they may pursue establishing a fully autonomous association outside the scope of the ICA structure. Similarly, the Youth Committee (Network, Global; formerly Global Youth Network) has faced challenges in trying to negotiate its membership eligibility standards as it has formalized within the structure. It’s recent transition from a less empowered Network to a formal Committee of the ICA has brought the issue back up for consideration and, with the new formal status, there is more power at play and the stakes are higher. The Executive Committee of the Youth Committee has evolved a membership eligibility standard that adheres to the ICA’s desire to ensure all participating youth are somehow affiliated with a dues-paying ICA member, but that also seeks to ensure that recruitment of members to the Youth Committee is primarily the responsibility of youth, themselves. The drafted policy that would accomplish this, and which also removes a burdensome requirement that regional ICA Boards had to approve all youth members from their jurisdiction, had yet to be finalized and passed at the time of the release of this toolkit.

Elder Initiation to Youth Control

A unique occurrence within some youth cooperatives is the transition from an “incubated” youth cooperative to full youth control. While elder to youth transitions are unique to youth, this process has parallels to paternalism development models used by elders and institutions with more power to groups with less power, especially in instances of international development by wealthier countries in poorer countries. An especially powerful example of the challenges of shifting from elder to youth control is the ICYC (Network, Asia-Pacific), which was initiated many years ago by elder teachers. Today, the committee is only theoretically owned and controlled by its youth committee members, as they have internal integrity and autonomy (i.e. can convene, make decisions, elect people to positions within the committee), they are not granted voting seats on the region’s intergenerational Board, not allowed to decide membership eligibility or to be in charge of assessing new members, and are unable to access organizational funds. The regional Board and leaders refuse to fully grant them autonomy. A more successful transition happened during the founding of the Woodcraft Folk (MSC, UK) in the early twentieth century; however, it was not without its challenges. While youth were heavily involved in the creation of the organization from its conception, all funding was provided by elders and elder institutions. It was reported that there were struggles over how and for what the funding could be managed and used between the elders providing money and the youth putting it to use. A century later, the cooperative is entirely governed by youth and has greatly diversified its funding to include a mix of membership dues, donations, and grants.