NEW YORK — At a time when many national economies are facing financial instability, cooperative enterprises have proven their worth as sources of assistance during the crisis. In recognition of cooperatives' value, the United Nations has named 2012 the International Year of Cooperatives. Two days of meetings and events start today in and around U.N. headquarters in New York.
The International Year of Cooperatives marks the first time the United Nations has awarded a business model an "International Year" designation. To commemorate the event, more than 150 leaders from some of the world's largest cooperatives have gathered in New York for the official launch, where they will consider how to foster conditions that will ignite cooperative enterprise growth throughout the decade. These leaders come from all sectors of the economy, including financial services, housing, health, retail and agriculture.
"In naming 2012 the U.N. International Year of Cooperatives, the United Nations has both recognized and honored the important role that credit unions and other cooperatives play on the global stage," said Brian Branch, World Council of Credit Unions (WOCCU) president and CEO and one of 20 global leaders invited to serve on the International Year of Cooperatives Advisory Group. "Now it is up to us to advance the good work we have already started."
The International Year designation provides an opportunity for cooperatives globally to join in raising awareness of their way of doing business. Cooperatives promote the fullest possible participation in the economic and social development of all people. The theme for the International Year, "Cooperative Enterprises Build a Better World," recognizes the positive impact values-based businesses that are member-owned and democratically controlled have on both local and global economies.
"Consumers have lost trust in the traditional banking system and are joining credit unions and cooperative banks because they trust them," said Charles Gould, director-general of the International Cooperative Alliance (ICA). "The demand for this type of banking indicates that consumers want businesses that put their needs first."
According to ICA's newly released Global300 report, the world's 300 largest cooperatives generate revenues of US$1.6 trillion, equal to the GDP of the world's ninth largest economy. According to responses to WOCCU's 2010 Statistical Report, nearly 53,000 credit unions in 100 countries serve 188 million people. The combined institutions hold aggregate assets totalling US$1.5 trillion.
"What's ironic about cooperatives is that they are everywhere," said ICA President Dame Pauline Green. "They are part of everyone's daily life, but until you stop and look at their scope and effectiveness you don't realize that this values-based business model is what the people have been yearning for and what governments need in order to support and solve many of these international crises that we face today."
Today's events at the United Nations begin with a roundtable discussion involving some of the world's top cooperative leaders, including Maria Aranzazu Laskurain, secretary general of Mondragon; Li Chengyu, president of the All China Federation of Supply and Marketing Co-operatives; and Piet Moerland, chairman of Rabobank.
After the roundtable, Green will address the U.N. General Assembly. In her address, she will emphasize the important role cooperatives play in global sustainable development and financial stability.
"In these economic hard times when financial institutions are failing, credit unions and banking cooperatives have been able to weather the storms," Green said. "For the world's economies and the public that invests their money, this is of critical importance."
Green will be followed by former U.K. Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who will discuss cooperatives' contribution to the global economy. Both Brown and Green spoke at WOCCU's World Credit Union Conference this past July in Glasgow, Scotland.
On Nov. 1, leaders of some of the world's largest cooperatives will meet at the ICA Leadership Forum in New York to identify the conditions needed to incite dramatic growth and make cooperative enterprise the fastest-growing business model by the end of the decade. Hosted by Green, delegates will hear keynote presentations from Peter Marks, CEO of the Co-operative Group, U.K., and Monique Leroux, president and CEO of Desjardins Group, Canada. Marks also spoke at WOCCU's July conference.
The Federation of Community Development Credit Unions, based in New York and operating in support of credit unions serving low-income populations, is holding its own kickoff event Nov. 1 at the Ford Foundation. The event, "New York: Building a Cooperative City," will host speakers from local government and the cooperative sector. Attendance is free and open by pre-registration to all credit union employees and volunteers. For more information, please visit www.natfed.org.
WOCCU has joined with ICA, Credit Union National Association, National Cooperative Business Association and other organizations to support efforts surrounding the U.N.'s International Year of Cooperatives. WOCCU also maintains a website and forum devoted to the year-long celebration. For more information about getting involved, participating the forum and contributing funds to support a global public relations efforts visit www.woccu.org/iyc2012.
World Council of Credit Unions is the global trade association and development agency for credit unions. World Council promotes the sustainable development of credit unions and other financial cooperatives around the world to empower people through access to high quality and affordable financial services. World Council advocates on behalf of the global credit union system before international organizations and works with national governments to improve legislation and regulation. Its technical assistance programs introduce new tools and technologies to strengthen credit unions' financial performance and increase their outreach.
World Council has implemented more than 290 technical assistance programs in 71 countries. Worldwide, 57,000 credit unions in 105 countries serve 217 million people. Learn more about World Council's impact around the world at www.woccu.org.