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OAS Conference Underscores Role of the Cooperative Movement in Fostering Economic Development and Social Inclusion

23 March 2014

The Conference “Cooperatives in the Americas: Driving Economic Growth with Equity and Inclusion” organized by The Organization of American States (OAS), Cooperatives of the Americas and NCBA from the United States, analyzed the leading role of the cooperative movement in the Hemisphere as a promoter of economic development with social inclusion.

Opening the event in the Hall of the Americas at the hemispheric institution’s headquarters in Washington, DC, the OAS Assistant Secretary General, Albert Ramdin, reiterated the common values that the cooperative movement and the inter-American system share. “The path towards sustainable and inclusive development requires a concerted effort of many actors. There is a need for strong investment by governments, civil society and the private sector forging effective partnerships that make the most of each sector’s unique strengths. And the cooperative movement should be a privileged partner in this effort, because it shares many of the values that form the foundation of our inter-American system,” said Ambassador Ramdin.

The OAS Assistant Secretary General indicated that the breadth of the cooperative movement represents worldwide more than a billion people, and he underscored its role in the global economy. “Cooperatives provide 100 million jobs globally. The economic activity of the largest 300 cooperatives in the world equals the 10th largest national economy,” he added.

At another point in his speech, the Assistant Secretary General recalled that the cooperative movement’s contributions to socioeconomic development were recognized by the United Nations General Assembly when it declared 2012 as the International Year of Cooperatives. In the same vein, he recalled that at the Summit of the Americas held that year in Cartagena de Indias, Colombia, the heads of state and government of the countries of the Hemisphere decided to “promote economic growth with equity and social inclusion by strengthening cooperatives and micro-, small-, and medium-sized enterprises.”

For her part, the Permanent Representative of the United States to the OAS, Carmen Lomellin, highlighted the significant role of cooperatives as the engine of larger and smaller economies. “They have a pivotal role to play by contributing in important ways to the economies of developed, developing, and transitional countries,” she said. The U.S. diplomat asserted that put in the context of development planning, “cooperatives are great examples of effective local institutions with an underutilized capacity to contribute to incomes, to employment, and to the quality of the lives of their members.”

Ambassador Lomellin recalled that the cooperative movement has played a fundamental role in furthering economic growth for almost a century. “At the end of World War II, the Cooperative League of the USA (CLUSA) provided financial support and manpower to help rebuild the Italian cooperative movement. And, during the 1950s, the Credit Union National Association (CUNA) put its own resources into the promotion and organization of credit unions in Latin America. By the early 1960s, other cooperative trade associations had formed cooperative development organizations (CDOs) to make their expertise available in the developing world,” she noted.

The U.S. Permanent Representative to the OAS stated that her government continues to support the cooperative movement both nationally and globally, and she noted that her country stands first among donors in that area for initiatives worldwide. “At present, the U.S. Government’s support for cooperative development stands first in the world among bilateral donor programs,” she indicated. She added that there is also a large number of parties interested in these projects in the U.S. private sector, such as private voluntary organizations, nongovernmental organizations, and other private sector stakeholders that drive cooperative development.

“Inclusive development of the region”

The Regional Director of Cooperatives of the Americas, Manuel Mariño (photo above), focused his presentation on the current state of the movement in the Hemisphere, and he expressed interest for the OAS, through its member states, to strengthen its work with the cooperative movement in the Americas in order to foster the inclusive development of the region. “We need and we believe that cooperation and knowledge-sharing between both organizations is crucial,” he said.

Mariño stated that the cooperative movement in the Americas brings together nearly “42,000 main cooperatives” with about 242 million members and creates over “350,000 jobs” in the region.

The Regional Director of Cooperatives of the Americas noted that while in pre-Columbian America there already existed ways of cooperation, “cooperation in the modern sense comprises four trends. The first came with European immigrants who settled mostly in the Southern Cone where they started cooperatives. The Catholic Church also played a significant role in the savings and loan industry, and in the Andean region, Mexico and Central America”. Thirdly, Mariño spoke about the role of the Alliance for Progress, created by United States President John F. Kennedy to foster economic and social development in the Western Hemisphere. Finally, he mentioned national governments, which in some countries promoted the cooperative movement, encouraging the creation of agricultural, trade and housing cooperatives.

The one-day conference included three panels to discuss issues such as: “How cooperatives are achieving growth and social inclusion”; “Barriers and opportunities for cooperative growth in the Americas”; and “Cooperation and trade between cooperatives.” The OAS Executive Secretary for Integral Development, Sherry Tross, was responsible for opening the event. Executive Secretary Tross said that one of the main challenges of the Americas is to reduce inequality. She added that the cooperative movement has a significant role to play in achieving that goal, because “cooperatives have found innovative ways to compete in the global economy.” Reducing inequalities, she asserted, is part of the promotion of democracy, one of the pillars of the Organization.

A gallery of photos of the event is available here.

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