Cooperatives can help encourage development and empower the individual economically, according to officials gathered here Monday.
"They generate employment and improve incomes and contribute to poverty reduction," Sha Zukang, UN under-secretary-general for economic and social affairs, said of cooperatives at a press conference here. "They empower people with limited resources to engage in productive economic activities. This is especially true for marginalized groups."
The press conference came on the same day that the UN launched its International Year of Cooperatives. The international year, as proclaimed by the UN General Assembly, will be a time to recognize and raise awareness of the benefits of cooperatives particularly in relation to international development.
"During the year the United Nations hopes to raise awareness of the role of cooperatives in advancing the United Nations development agenda and reaching the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)," Sha said.
The MDGs are a set of eight international development objectives due to be completed by the international community by 2015.
Sha pointed out that cooperatives have a large and diverse reach.
"Cooperatives operate in various sectors of the global economy such as agriculture, finance, and retail," he said. "They have an estimated one billion members worldwide."
Pauline Green, president of the International Cooperative Alliance, who also spoke to reporters at the press conference, called the reach and scope of the cooperative model of business " the world's best kept secret."
Cooperatives have been successful in the market place as well, according to Green, who said that the 300 largest cooperatives in the world alone are worth 1.6 trillion U.S. dollars.
She emphasized the benefits of cooperatives on a local level.
"Cooperatives are not business as usual," she said. " Cooperatives remove people from poverty by creating co-ops, member owned businesses, owned and controlled by local people, in local communities, for local people."
Monique Leroux, chair of the board, and president and chief executive officer of the Desjardins Group, told the press here that the International Summit of Cooperatives to be held in October 2012 in Quebec City, Canada, will provide an opportunity for stakeholders to discuss the power of such business models and ask important questions.
"The cooperative brings long-term prosperity to people, small businesses, and society," she said. "The financial cooperatives are there to support people and contribute to the real economy. This is what the October 2012 international summit will show and will discuss."