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Cooperatives build a better world

The United Nations General Assembly has declared 2012 as the International Year of Cooperatives.

 

This designation has been made to highlight the contribution cooperatives make around the world to socio-economic development, employment generation and social integration."Cooperatives are a reminder to the international community that it is possible to pursue both economic viability and social responsibility," said United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in support of the designation.

North Dakota’s rural electric cooperatives and other cooperatives in the state will be joining the celebration of this United Nations designation throughout this year (see the story on page 00 of this issue). The RECs operating in the state are proud of the contributions we have made to the betterment of North Dakota. Altogether, the 21 RECs operating in the state have invested about $6 billion in facilities to generate and distribute dependable electric power to our member owners here and across the Great Plains; we employ about 3,000 persons; and we remain committed to the communities in which we live.

North Dakota’s familiarity with cooperatives is deeply rooted in our state’s history. There may not be as much understanding about the important role cooperatives play in the lives of an estimated 1 billion people around the world who are members of cooperatives. The following remarks from UN Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro at the launch of the International Year of Cooperatives last fall provide some of that perspective:

“Today, we launch the International Year of Cooperatives.  We do this as the world witnesses growing discontent over the ongoing effects of the financial and economic crises.

Increasingly, we see demands for a change in the ways we live and work.  Increasingly, we see the need for choices and values that are sustainable, responsible, and inclusive.

In confronting these challenges, we can draw strength from the cooperative spirit.  The cooperative movement balances both economic viability and social responsibility.  They make enormous contributions not only to their members, but to their communities and societies.  They help to reduce poverty and create jobs.  They promote food security and inclusive finance.  They empower youth, women, older persons, people with disabilities and indigenous peoples.  Hence, they serve as a significant social safety net.

The International Year of Cooperatives is an opportunity to raise public awareness about cooperatives, to promote their formation, and to encourage governments to establish policies conducive to their growth. Just as important, it is a chance to underscore the importance of cooperative values.

One of these is sustainability.  Cooperatives focus on the long-term.  Through their use of local labor and capital, as well as their respect for the environment, cooperatives strengthen local economies while creating a sustainable future. 

A second cooperative value is solidarity.  Cooperatives typically enjoy a strong community connection, and hold themselves accountable to more than solely their members or clients.  For cooperatives, the well-being of the broader community is as crucial as the well-being of its members. 

Third, inclusiveness.  As self-help organizations, cooperatives are inherently people-centered.  They not only meet material needs, but also the human need to participate proactively in improving one’s life.  Moreover, with democratic decision-making processes and a focus on cultivating member skills and capacities, cooperatives offer a model for harnessing the energies and passions of all.

Cooperatives present us with values and structures that are ideally suited for addressing the challenges we face.  We must leverage these advantages to produce not only better businesses, but to advance the broader imperative of sustainable development.  In that way, we can live up to the year’s theme:  “Cooperative Enterprises Build a Better World”.

 

 

 


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