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United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, Rio+20, closed last year with the agreement of member states to develop a new set of global objectives. The so-called “Sustainable Development Goals” (SDG) aimed at building on the legacy of the Millennium Goals (MDG), which are working to the very tight deadline of 2015.

Of course, just the fact of having the purpose and vision to keep on working for a better future for all of us can be considered positive and motivating. However, there is something missing in this plan, and that is one of the main issues co-operators attending the ICA’s Global Conference have been discussing these days. Their concern is as follows: co-operatives are not mentioned anywhere; they are not part of the plan to ensure a more sustainable and fairer tomorrow.

In reaction to that, the International Labour Organisation (ILO), in collaboration with the ICA and the United Nations Research institute for Social Development, has conducted and published a research to prove the contribution of co-operatives to sustainable development. Frederik Wanyama, Director of the School of Development and Strategic Studies at Maseno University (Kenya), said in Cape Town during the presentation of the study:

“Though internally and quietly, co-operatives have been present and contributed to the achievement of the Millenium Goals so they have also got a role to play in the Sustainable Development Goals”.

The (still draft) Sustainable Development Goals focus on aspects like the eradication of poverty and the promotion of gender equality, universal education, food security, water and sanitation, health, green energy and the efficient management of natural resources. They also look at employment generation and financial stability, at good governance and peace.

But how can co-operatives contribute to them in practice?

According to Professor Wanyama there are clear examples.

Cooperatives help to reduce poverty across the world by generating income for their members and creating employment. They promote gender equality on making it easier for women to set up their own businesses in countries like Nigeria. They support education through their networks of cooperative schools, boost local economies by supporting producers, and they’ve even facilitated peace and stability in places like Rwanda and Nepal.

Cooperatives have done all that and much more since they were born in the 19th century, but they need to be more proactive and shout about what they can do and are already doing to build a better world.

For Rodrigo Gouveia, Director of Policy of the ICA, there is no doubt:

“Co-operatives can deliver the economic, social and environmental sustainability the world needs. Economic sustainability because they can deliver economic growth to people and not to a few shareholders; social sustainability because they can deliver long lasting jobs; environmental sustainability, because they are at the forefront of the fight against climate change. Co-operatives can change the world.”

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