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Towards a concrete option for global sustainability and the sovereign development of each community

By Ariel Guarco, ICA President

Peace, equity, democracy, social justice, among other premises, should guide us today in building a sustainable world. That is, a world where we manage the resources available to us without compromising the environment and ensuring the supply of those resources for future generations.

But talking about Sustainable Development is also talking about the possibility for each community to decide sovereignly how to build its own future, in a harmonious relationship with the environment and with other communities.

Throughout human history, there have always been tensions, conflicts, social, health, and natural disasters that have caused damage and uncertainty in different parts of the planet.

In the era of globalization, we have seen – and suffered – different scourges, from wars to pandemics, through financial crashes and growing inequalities.

Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, the world is one. However, ethnic, cultural, religious and gender diversity, among others, is increasingly becoming an excuse to fragment world civilization and generate conflicts whose true reason is competition and greed in controlling resources (land, energy, minerals, data, etc.).

There is no need to describe what millions of innocent people are suffering in many places on our planet where violence – even against children – has become the language of international geopolitics. We are indeed experiencing the historical moment with the highest number of global armed conflicts.

A few years ago, Pope Francis had warned that we were facing the third world war in installments. And he left a suggestion, which I take as my own: “We must move away from the normal pattern where Little Red Riding Hood was good and the wolf was bad. Something global is emerging, with very intertwined elements.”

In this complex scenario, it can be difficult to find a fair and, above all, conducive way to see and act towards that other model of development based on peace, equity, and sustainability.

We, as cooperatives, who today are part of a family with more than a billion members on all continents, have several important elements to dispel confusion. To provide certainty. To show another path.

Almost two centuries ago, we forged – I allow myself the first-person plural because we are, and should feel ourselves, heirs of those pioneers – a business model that does not deny capital, on the contrary, but subordinates it to the needs of people.

A business model with principles and values, which are the basis of a doctrine still in force. Let’s say better, more relevant than ever. Because the resilience of cooperatives is not a random virtue, but rather the result of guiding their activity permanently towards the common good.

That is, in times of crisis, cooperatives do not disappear, they cannot do so. They cannot go anywhere. They are where the people who decided to join together to collectively respond to their own needs founded them.

And, on that basis, they generate material and cultural prosperity in the territories where they are rooted. We – who are part of these organizations – know this well.

But the novelty, and what confirms the validity of this model – the greatest social innovation of the modern era – is the growing recognition by the main actors on the global level.

Many will already be aware that the UN is proposing that 2025 be – as 2012 was – the International Year of Cooperatives. This is not random or merely symbolic.

It is the result of successful advocacy work by the International Cooperative Alliance, its committees, regions and sectors, members and allies, such as CIRIEC.

Each from their place has been achieving increasingly greater impact in public and private spheres at national and supranational levels.

Based on the growing prominence of cooperatives in each of their countries and continents, the United Nations have adopted various resolutions in recent times, such as the one passed in 2023, which promotes social and solidarity economy enterprises facing the sustainable development agenda.

These add to an ILO resolution on decent work and the social and solidarity economy, a step further after ILO Recommendation 193 in 2002.

It is worth mentioning that, both with this United Nations and with the FAO – responsible for food and agriculture – we have signed memorandums of understanding and agreements to work together in a context where unemployment and precariousness – especially among youth – threaten the future of work, while millions of families cannot access safe food and many rural producers do not achieve dignified conditions.

Finally, it is worth noting the growing prominence of cooperatives in the B20 and the C20, spaces for enterprises and civil society, respectively, within the G20 sphere. As well as the Recommendation on Social and Solidarity Economy and Social Innovation adopted by the OECD Council in mid-2022.

At the regional level, the EU’s Action Plan for the social economy has positioned itself as a tool to scale up the social economy. Other recognitions include the San Sebastián Manifesto, signed in November 2023 by 19 EU countries recognizing the key role of social economy actors, and recently that of Liege.

These supports we are receiving as a movement are clear signs that we are advancing on the right path if we want to be a concrete option when it comes to reversing the damage caused to nature and people by wars, inequalities and injustices inherent in accumulation models based on exploitation, selfishness and competition.

Our model is the basis of a different socio-economic paradigm, with 200 years of proven track record, demonstrating that cooperation is more efficient than competition and that an economy focused on people and the environment works better than an economy anchored in financial speculation and permanent dispute over control of resources.

In short, we are bearers of a tool that allows the letter of these agreements, recommendations, and documents of the highest level in the international hierarchy to become a reality in each of our territories, and that sustainable development is not merely an agenda of regional and global organizations but a concrete possibility for every family, every community, to achieve greater well-being every day…

We are convinced that if we want to engage with the world from a place of commitment to sustainable development, democracy and equality, then we cannot miss out on the global recognition we have earned.

We must value everything we have done and put it into dialogue with men and women who share our values around the world.

Together we can build, from every country, from every community, from every region, the just, solidarity and peaceful world that we want and deserve.

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CIRIEC-International CIRIEC-España Social Economy Europe Ministerio de Trabajo y Economía Social Unión Europea