The United Nations International Day of Cooperatives is celebrated on the first Saturday of July. Since the formation of the International Co-operative Alliance in 1923; the day has a long history associated with international cooperation. Co-operatives are independent organizations run by voluntary members for mutual benefits, which can take either social, economical or environmental forms. They are democratically controlled. In this case, they are dissimilar to investor owned corporations where power is determined by the degree of ownership, however, cooperatives entail, an equal, “one person, one vote” share. Cooperatives pursue seven internationally established values of voluntary membership, community concern, cooperation, education and training, autonomy, economic participation and democratic management. They are not limited to a few industries but function in a wide variety of sectors including health care, agriculture, finance, energy and retail. Thus, there are different types of cooperatives, including consumer, producer, or worker cooperatives that cater to different communities. Cooperatives generate a broad network of support and collaboration which focuses on mutual education, benefits and work of its members.
Currently, there are more than 750,000 cooperatives operating in over 100 countries that serve approximately 730 million members. They are used a strong tool for instituting sustainable change in the local society. I first learnt in depth about cooperatives in one of my courses called, Green Entrepreneurship, where we were required to look at different business models. I came across a local example of a farming cooperative where the farmer works towards developing a connection with his/her consumers, who in turn financially support the farmer’s endeavours. Several workshops on organic farming and healthy eating were also organized by the cooperative to educate its members.
Especially in developing nations, cooperatives encourage building of local technology, businesses, and partnerships by allowing for pooling for resources, which can be collectively used and the benefits of which can be jointly reaped. It is a significant tool for sustainable development as it strengthens local communities and builds a foundation for cooperation and action. The theme of 2012 is suitably titled, “Cooperatives enterprises build a better world.” The main focus of the day is to spread awareness and recognize the importance of cooperatives, the empowerment it provides to communities by facilitating local needs, especially in the realm of food security. By solidifying support from local, state and national level governments, the core establishment of cooperatives can be strengthened. The success of this form of establishment underscores the importance of action and the ability of people to make change.