Youth and Co-operation - Present and Future

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This document has been made available in electronic format
     by the International Co-operative Alliance ICA
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                     January 1996

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   Youth and Co-operation - The Present and the Future
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Introduction

We, the representatives of international young co-operators, would like to
thank the ICA for giving us the opportunity to present our views at this
Centennial seminar.

During the last four days 60 young people, from around the world,
representing 21 different countries, have been participating in the 3rd
International Youth Seminar. This is taking place at the co-operative
college Stanford Hall near Loughborough, 100 miles south-east from here.
These beautiful surroundings provide the perfect setting for our
conference. This made it possible to get the most from the various
discussions surrounding:

-    co-operative principles regarding education, democracy, and the community;
-    youth involvement in the Co-operative Movement;
-    motivation and opportunities for young co-operators;
-    the roles of the different employees and members of Co-operative
Organisations.

These ideas were developed through:
-    group exercises on values;
-    asimulated national co-operative network;
-    interactive briefings and lectures.

We have also visited housing and worker co-operatives, credit unions and
LETS systems, the co-operative bank as well as consumer co-ops. During
these visits we talked with various co-operators.

The leaflet you have today outlines our present finding generated by our
experience so far. It was written, produced and printed with the aid of the
RAP Co-operative yesterday including a very long last night, so you might
want to check your fingers to see if the ink is dry!! This presentation
builds upon the facts outlined in the leaflet and will be further developed
in our press pack.

>From our studies of the MacPherson paper, we would like to comment on two
topics of particular interest: education and democracy, before we talk
about the future.

Education

Through the introduction of youth to the co-operative movement new ideas
would be brought forward giving a fresh and modern outlook to the movement.

By continuous education, members of the co-operative movement will be kept
informed. We believe that an informed member who understands those
principles, that are the basis of the co-operative experience, is a member
who is active in the co-operative movement and proud of the co-operative
heritage. We think by inspiring young people to increase their involvement
in the co-operative movement could be a way to help co-ops develop and
survive.

A good example of excellent communication and education has been the
exchanging of co-operative experiences through the youth of today at our
youth seminar at Stanford Hall this week.

By involving the media we hope to reach uninformed youth outside of the
movement. All co-operatives should undertake this task of education and
information.

By using modern media and modern advertising techniques all co-operatives
can reach new audiences. The Co-operative Bank in the UK has done this by
taking the ethical angle in its advertising. Alongside that, the bank has
produced a display about co-operative history across the road in Balloon
Street, which is on display for the duration of the Congress. However, we
believe that this kind of historical information should be encouraged on a
permanent basis as part of education of the public.

It seems that although the public is not fully aware of co-operative
principles there is a widespread feeling that the word 'co-operative'
symbolises integrity and high ethical standards. Using this awareness as a
starting point the co-operative movement could reach new members like the
youth who, driven by basic, grassroots ideals, have particular concern for
the state of the world today.

Co-operatives should foster links with both co-operative and
non-co-operative youth movements as a source of new membership. We have
discovered that in Israel part of the educational process of the youth
movement includes joining and forming co-operative and communal groups. In
many countries there is a need for a similar approach, an approach that
will give young future co-operators a goal they can look forward to. There
are many other educational forums which can be tapped by the co-operative
movement: for instance, there is a large population of non co-operative
schools and youth movements that can become better informed by involving
young co-operators in educational programmes.

It is apparent to many people that the co-operative movement appears to be
a little cobwebbed. The movement's image must be modernised in order for it
to appeal to younger people. One of the most important ways of making
co-operatives more relevant to young people is to get more young people
involved in the organisation and decision-making process. It is not
difficult to understand that young people do know young people best and
therefore can help make policy decisions which reflect the needs and
interests of young people. It must be understood that the best way of
educating towards responsibility is educating through responsibility.

Democracy

We also believe that democracy, as a vital co-operative principle,
separates co-operatives from all other organisations and therefore, if the
youth are not given the right to participate in decision-making even at its
simplest form, then maybe co-operatives are not different at all. In other
words, if youth are not involved in setting the direction of co-operatives,
their democratic advantage is lost.

Giving us the opportunity to participate in co-operative decision-making
will benefit both the youth and co-operatives.

By doing this, we (the youth) can gain experience, thereby developing new
and relevant skills in different areas in the co-op. These skills may
include the ability to work in groups and implement decisions. We will
bring new perspectives to the co-op. These fresh perspectives will, in
turn, benefit the organisation. A first hand knowledge of the needs of our
generation is only one of the many contributions that we can make to
co-ops.

The Future

We now look to the future. At the youth seminar, we discussed ways to link
young people in order for us to continue to learn from one another and we
discussed ways that you can involve us in decision-making.

Youth around the world need to be able to communicate co-operative ideas to
increase their involvement. In order to do this, we intend to create an
International Youth Network based initially on the co-operators who have
been involved in this ICA Youth Seminar.

Our first goal in creating this network will be to internationally link
youth around the world through written means. Secondly, we would like to
coordinate annual meetings for building international relations within the
co-operative movement.

Since language is the primary obstacle to effective communications, we will
use several languages within our network and the use of information
technology such as computer Internet is an additional method; however, we
acknowledge that we do not have the resources to contact all our fellow
young co-operators by this means, especially those in the third world.
Mailed material will be the appropriate means for contacting everyone at
this time. In mail, we can exchange news items, publications and we can
contribute to the International Newsletter, or even establish a new Youth
International publication.

Though written material can be used for communication, youth co-operators
need to meet one another as well. We should have international seminars,
workshops and congresses. This, we cannot do alone. Resources of guidance
and finance are needed. We need your support on this. In order to increase
the feasibility of third world youth participation, we believe we should
hold many of our events in or near countries with limited resources for
travel. For example, there are only two individuals from the African
Nations compared with 35 from European countries at our present youth
seminar. Africa is a whole continent. Their needs, amongst others, must be
better represented.

Increasing youth involvement in the decision-making process of our current
organisations is of major concern. Involvement works in two ways: first,
youth must take the initiative to get involved without being asked; second,
opportunities to get involved must be made available within the structure
of co-operative organisations. We know that in order for youth to be heard,
they must be seen. There should be opportunities, for young co-operators,
as members, to become involved at the top level of decision-making. The
board of directors is one way to carry the views of youth, whether it is a
youth seat on the board or a separate youth board or even as observers if
not yet full participants. The long term goal would be to create a method
of promotion from observation to participation in decision-making at the
highest level. By attending, we show that we are interested and prepared to
get involved.

It is a reality that many of you have dedicated your lives to the ideals of
co-operation and for decades have struggled to keep the movement alive. For
this we are very grateful.

We are not here to take away this endeavour you have invested in, but
instead to offer a hand to pursuing these ideals for generations to come.

For us it is important for you, the delegates to this conference, to
understand that youth are not only the co-operators of the future, we are
the co-operators of the present.