Saturday, July 2, 2011, is the International Day of Cooperatives, as designated by both the United Nations and the International Co-operative Alliance (ICA). This year’s theme “Youth, the future of cooperative enterprise,” is tied to the UN’s celebration of 2011 as the International Year of Youth.
Focusing on the next generation brings up an interesting question. What are we teaching them about co-ops? Are we letting them see co-ops as just organic grocery stores? Or are we explaining the deeply-rooted philosophy that co-ops offer beyond the products and services they deliver?
It is the philosophy of co-ops that makes them special. The cooperative movement celebrates the collective voice of its members and seeks to create an environment where they can have a collaborative impact on how their co-ops are run. In a perfect world, member input drives co-ops to continually evolve and become organizations that are reflections of their members. Are we teaching our youth that they have the power and responsibility to influence the course of cooperative institutions?
In building organizations in their own image, co-op members require their institutions to mirror their concerns for their communities. Co-ops take very seriously their obligation to give back in real and meaningful ways, which is driven by more than just an expected return on an income statement. Are we teaching those that come behind us that they have the right to demand more from the institutions they build and patronize?
For the next generation of co-op members the concept of community will not be defined by the physical spaces where they live, work and play. Being connected to people around the world means that the reach of co-ops dedicated to making a difference is no longer confined by geography. Are we teaching our children to use the Cooperative Principles to effect meaningful change through the power of cooperative online communities?
The world of cooperatives is vastly different from what it was even ten years ago. The people entering that world have the potential to change the way business is done and the standards all companies are held to. This is why the ICA has chosen to focus on their efforts on educating youth about the power of cooperatives and is working to get them involved.