THE 33RD WORLD COOPERATIVE CONGRESS ON “DEEPENING OUR COOPERATIVE IDENTITY”
Seoul, 1-3 December 2021
Director-General of International Cooperative Alliance
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On 1-3 December 2021, the International Cooperative Alliance (ICA)(1) will convene in Seoul the 33rd World Cooperative Congress around the theme of “Deepening our Cooperative Identity”.(2)
World Cooperative Congresses are very exceptional events: this one will be the 3rd one in 26 years, after the 31st, held in Manchester in 1995, which celebrated the 100 years of the ICA, while the 32nd, held in 2012 also in Manchester, celebrated the International Year of Cooperatives launched by the United Nations. The World Cooperative Congress has the statutory mission of gathering not only ICA members but also cooperative members from around the world.
This incoming 33rd World Cooperative Congress was originally scheduled for December 2020, in order to celebrate both the 125 years of the ICA and the 25 years of the Statement on the Cooperative Identity which incorporates the last version of the cooperative principles, but it had to be postponed because of the pandemic. In keeping with the big organisational changes that have taken place in the wake of the pandemic, the Congress has now been fully redesigned as a hybrid event, and it will be available to participants both physically in Seoul and on line, in 4 languages (English, Spanish, French and Korean).
What is the “cooperative identity” which this Congress is called to deepen? Beyond the obvious and immediate meaning of identity as something which one identifies with, the expression refers to the above-mentioned ICA Statement on the Cooperative Identity which was finalised at the 31st World Cooperative Congress in 1995, after many years of consultation among ICA members around the world. Apart from the revised version of the cooperative operational principles (whose first version were elaborated as early as 1844 by a consumer cooperative in the Manchester suburb of Rochdale), it also contains the first definition of cooperative approved from within the cooperative movement, as well as 10 underlying values, the three elements (definition, underlying values and operational principles) constituting a complete (both necessary and sufficient) set of standards defining the cooperative business model.
In very few words, these standards define the following:
All these elements and their implication will be re-examined in depth in the incoming Congress. In addition, the COVID-19 pandemic provides a strong added value to this re-examination, not only for the many cooperatives that have been directly at the forefront during the pandemic such as those involved in health provision and social services, and for the resilience which cooperatives seem to once again be showing like during previous crises, but also because of cooperatives’ potential role during the incoming recovery and reconstruction period, and within the new and profound rethinking of the economy and society which the post-pandemic period should logically bring about, and should involve cooperatives as a major actor.
A series of pre-Congress events and outputs, branded “Towards the World Cooperative Congress”, are presently being launched by different entities of the ICA network (regions, sectors, members, universities), around the theme of the cooperative identity.
The Congress will be immediately preceded by two preparatory conferences (28-30 November), one on cooperative research and one on cooperative law. The Congress itself will hinge around four successive themes:
Based on previous experience within the ICA each time the elements of the cooperative identity have been examined and deepened, the 33rd World Cooperative Congress should generate a post-Congress dynamic on the cooperative identity, and thus be a point of departure rather than a point of arrival. This new impetus is particularly needed at a time when the world is about to live the post-pandemic period, with the in-depth rethinking of all the connexions between health, the environment, development, peace and equality.
1. The ICA is the organisation that serves, unites and represents cooperatives worldwide. Established in 1895, it presently has 319 members in 111 countries. Cooperative members around the world are estimated to be 1.2 billion members, and people working in cooperatives, or as producers in the framework of cooperatives, are estimated to be 10% of the employed population of the world.
2. See https://icaworldcoopcongress.coop/