The co-operative movement is more than 100 years old, but its spirit is alive in young people, who are taking on leadership roles and playing a visible part in the debate on co-operative and sustainable development.
The Young Leaders Program of the 2016 International Summit of Cooperatives will bring together participants aged 20 to 35 to share their knowledge and experiences, look for new business opportunities, extend their networks, learn about research and gain a more global perspective.
“Youth are looking more and more at how they can have a positive impact on their own communities,” says Lara Emond, a program advisor to the biennial gathering who is co-ordinating the youth effort. “The co-operative business model appeals to them; it speaks to their values and how they can make a difference by working together.”
The special program provides opportunities to interact with peers from around the world, senior members of the co-operative community, world-renowned speakers and representatives of major international organizations.
Youths can register for a reduced fee and have exclusive invitations to young leaders’ breakfasts, speaking and networking activities. The program is intertwined with the general summit offerings, Emond notes, and young leaders will be on an equal footing with their senior counterparts. “We want youth to be fully part of the summit, not a side agenda.”
Participants in the program in 2014 came from 36 countries and five continents, with numbers that almost doubled the 2012 event. The upcoming summit is expected to draw even more participants to the Young Leaders Program.
“Youth will be omnipresent,” says Emond, who is 26 and notes that co-operatives appeal to people her age who want to be socially and environmentally responsible. “Young leaders seek to work and collaborate with organizations that share their values and take actions to improve our world on a daily basis.”
Young people find the co-operative business model “closer to their aspirations,” she says. “It is more transparent, more human, it was created to respond to the needs of communities and, as the last financial crisis proved, it is a more resilient model.”
Emond notes that co-operatives are operating in all kinds of new industries. “They bring a true contribution to today’s society,” she says, and young people especially should become more conscious of sectors where the model might work. “Youth are the future consumers, employees, employers, president and CEOs. The summit allows them to harness such opportunities.”
She expects that key outcomes from the summit will be influenced by young leaders “taking an active part in the conversation,” especially with the overall theme of The Power to Act. “We will be looking at concrete initiatives to foster co-operative development and growth. Young leaders are going to be very important in that.”
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