Social Integration

   This document has been made available in electronic format
           by the International Co-operative Alliance.
                                  Background Information Note 4


                    SOCIAL INTEGRATION  


In his latest report to the General Assembly of the United
Nations on co-operatives (document A/49/213 of 1 July 1994), the 
Secretary-General concluded that "co-operative enterprises
provide the organizational means whereby a significant proportion
of humanity is able to take into its own hands the tasks of
creating productive employment, overcoming poverty and achieving
social integration."  

The important contribution and potential of all forms of co-
operatives to the preparations and follow-up of the World Summit 
was recognized in General Assembly resolution 49/155 of 23 
December 1994, while the Declaration of the Summit commits itself
to utilize and develop fully the potential and contribution of
co-operatives for the enhancement of social integration. 
Specifically, chapter IV of the Programme of Action proposes that
Governments should promote equality and social justice by actions
which would include encouraging the free formation of
co-operatives. Finally, Chapter V notes that the contribution of
civil society to social development by the development of
co-operatives should be encouraged and facilitated.  


The contribution of co-operatives to the creation and protection 
of productive employment and to the eradication of poverty 
continues to be a principal means by which many millions of 
persons integrate more effectively in society. Not only are 
persons furnished with the material conditions and the economic 
base necessary for equitable participation, but they are able to 
gain self-respect and dignity and to move, from a condition 
labelled negative (in the perception of wider society) to one 
labelled positive. They become identifiable as contributors to 
local economies. No longer are they seen as a drain on resources 
or a cause of social tension. Recognition of their real 
contribution to prosperity eases tensions and discrimination 

This economic empowerment is particularly important for persons 
suffering, not only from unemployment and poverty, but also from 
exploitation and discrimination on the basis of socio-cultural 
characteristics, gender, age or disability. For them,
co-operatives are frequently the only form of organization
capable of providing an escape from poverty, obtaining a more
secure economic status or avoiding falling into poverty. 

This is so because co-operative enterprises can be established
by any group of persons united voluntarily to meet common
economic and social needs through a jointly-owned and
democratically-controlled enterprise. They can be set up and
operated successfully by otherwise highly disadvantaged persons: 
indigenous peoples in remote rural areas, poor peasant farmers, 
internally displaced persons and refugees, recent migrants in 
inner cities, unemployed persons, women, elderly persons, or 
persons with physical and mental disabilities. Co-operatives and 
their members also form a supportive network at the community, 
national and international level. So that even when the majority 
of co-operative members may no longer be disadvantaged
themselves, they will acknowledge that their own current
prosperity has been achieved largely because their less
advantaged parents or grandparents used the co-operative form of
economic organization to escape from poverty and discrimination.


Many disadvantaged persons are able to start on the path of
social integration by becoming members of existing co-operative 
enterprises which already are  functionally integrated in the 
national economy. A fundamental principle of the co-operative 
movement is that all enterprises are open to all who can con-
tribute to, and benefit from, their activities, without
political, religious, gender or social discrimination. Once
admitted, even if constituting a small minority, co-operative
values and principles recognized by the existing membership are
expressed in actions to ensure their integration. This is
possible because members determine business goals, and these can
include not only economic returns, but long-term community
stability based upon social integration. 

Thus numerous worker-owned production and service provision
co-operatives make special provision for the extension of
membership to the unemployed, the disabled and to immigrants.
Many housing co-operatives take special measures to facilitate
full and beneficial integration of immigrants and their families,
persons with disabilities and older persons. They frequently
organize programmes to counter the marginalization of young
people and some have even tackled social problems such as
domestic violence.  

Consumer co-operatives too have expanded their activities to the 
point of functioning as community integration and welfare 
organizations. Savings and credit co-operatives frequently ensure
that their services are adapted to the needs of youth and the 
elderly. Insurance co-operatives adapt their services to meet the
special needs of women and the aged.  

Regional and national co-operative movements support the efforts 
of these individual enterprises. They devise and promote special 
affirmative and promotional actions for implementation throughout
the movement and they lobby, in collaboration with other 
representative organizations, on their behalf before governments 
and intergovernmental organizations. They give particular 
attention to integrating women on conditions of full equality
with men (see Background Information Note 5).  


Co-operative enterprises are based on procedures and structures 
which promote harmony within diversity. They are democratically 
operated. Their management requires open discussion, 
acknowledgement of diverse views, and identification of the
common interest. They provide an environment within which the
benefits of putting aside mutual hostility can be seen to be
real. Indeed, co-operatives are often the only fora within which
the disadvantaged can express their views.  

Moreover, co-operative enterprises diversify and expand into
national business groups and representative and service
federations. This brings together persons from quite different
societal backgrounds in a single association committed to common 
economic goals, and to operational principles which emphasize co-
operation and harmony. To serve long-term member interests, co-
operators find it valuable to work together in a pragmatic
manner, even if economic goals may be potentially in conflict -
for example in the case of producers and suppliers.


The principles and values by which a co-operative enterprise is 
organized provide an environment in which many members are, for 
the first time, able to experience as a reality the notion of the
equality of all before the law, even in the case that they are
not otherwise fully integrated into their communities.  

Co-operatives are democratic and participatory organizations 
actively controlled by their members who enjoy equal voting 
rights. By this means each has a say in the election of boards
of directors, who on behalf of the membership to whom they must 
report, appoint managers and supervise the operation of the 
enterprise. In participating in the formulation of business 
policies, members become experienced in identifying achievable 
options, conciliating differences and accepting compromise. They 
are able to observe that the qualities of honesty, openness and 
responsibility in leadership and management are prerequisites for
prudent and effective management of common affairs.  

Moreover, experience gained within their co-operative spills over
to responsibilities assumed in their communities. Indeed, members
of co-operatives, including disadvantaged persons, not only have
a heightened interest, but an expanded capacity to manage
community affairs. This opens up opportunities for their
involvement in wider political processes. Furthermore, members
who have become aware of the benefits of openness and honesty in
elected co-operative officials, are better able to monitor and
evaluate the behaviour of elected officials and administrators
as citizens. 

Co-operatives further prepare their members for meaningful 
participation in society by applying the co-operative principle
of providing reciprocal, ongoing education programmes for
members, leaders and employees so they can teach - and learn from
- each  other in understanding and carrying out their respective
roles. Programmes are not limited to management: they give great
emphasis to member literacy, numeracy and technical education. 
This is often a most effective means of improving educational
status, particularly for those whose marginalization precludes
effective use of public education systems. For them it provides
an essential means for their social integration.  


Well developed co-operative organizations represent the interests
of all members in society. They often participate in formal 
procedures whereby governments consult with broad sections of 
society. Because of its strong economic base, this representation
can be significant, offering an effective means for disadvantaged
persons to participate in national policy-making.  

This Note has been prepared for the information of participants
at the World Summit jointly by the International Co-operative 
Alliance and the United Nations Department for Policy Co-
ordination and Sustainable Development.  For further information
contact the ICA at 15, Route des Morillons, 1218 Grand Saconnex,
Geneva, Switzerland. Tel: +41 22 929 8888, Fax: 798 4122, E-mail: