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On this International Day of Multilateralism and Diplomacy for Peace, we highlight the importance of ‘coming together,’ now more important than ever before. The  COVID-19 pandemic has made a number of points clear: we are all more intricately connected to each other, we are all dependent on each other for our basic needs, and current structures are not fulfilling our socioeconomic needs. ICA President Ariel Guarco  in message towards a common destiniy with cooperatives values and principles said, "The main debate we must face now is how development will be like...The pandemic revels our fragility, it indicates that we are still very far from the economic, social and evironmentally sustainable development that we agreed to seek in the 2030 Agenda. The question is: How far will we be able to twist our course as a civilisation?"

 

During a virtual press conference on the COVID-19 crisis, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres  emphasized the need for "solidarity, hope and the political will to see this crisis through together.....Current responses at the country level will not address the global scale and complexity of the crisis. This is a moment that demands coordinated, decisive and innovative policy action from the world's leading economies. We must recognise that the poorest and most vulnerable -especially women- will be the hardest hit. But in managing this crisis, we also have a unique oppotunity. Done right, we can steer the recovery toward a more sustainable and inclusive path." The urgency for a coordinated global response, with government support to multilateral efforts, is not just a moral imperative, but in our collective interests.

 

 

 

 

Multilateralism is based on the idea that together, we are stronger. In order to build a joint international front against the pandemic, it is incumbent for everyone to ‘be on board’. Last week, the European Commission, along with EU member states, responded with a package over 20 billion euros in targeted funding. This week, the IMF has approved debt relief for 25 countries as part of the Fund’s response to help address the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. The ICA, as the global apex body representing cooperatives worldwide, has initiated a Loomio discussion platform for its members around the world to come together, share their responses, experiences, needs and challenges in addressing the pandemic. The aim of this platform is to facilitate discussion, exchange of knowledge and collaboration across regions. This will not be the first time that the cooperative movement, in the spirit of multilateralism, has collectively responded to their social commitments in times of crisis.

 

During times of natural disasters, cooperatives have come together to support other cooperatives. In the Asia-Pacific, this was seen during tsunamis (2004 in south and south east Asia), typhoons (2013 in Philippines), cyclone (2014 in Vanutau), earthquakes (2015 in Nepal), and wildfires (2019-2020 in Australia). In the Philippines, the “Marawi Rehabilitation through Cooperativism” Programme in Mindanao, supported refugees displaced by the war and later helped capacitate cooperative members through livelihood trainings and assistance. In Nepal and Sri Lanka cooperatives worked to ensure there was no disruption in the supply of essential items to the war-affected regions in their respective countries. In Japan, in the aftermath of the Fukushima nuclear disaster, agriculture cooperatives played a critical role in helping farmers keep an eye on the levels of radioactive contamination on their land and produce, and in rebuilding consumer confidence in local produce. University cooperatives in Japan have encouraged their members to sign on to campaigns in protest against nuclear proliferation.

 

The cooperative movement, and its principles are perfect examples of multilateralism. Our member and partners network consist of cooperatives, government departments, national, supra-national, regional, and international organisations that come together in partnership towards implementing the sustainable development goals (SDGs). The ICA-EU Partnership Project: Cooperatives in Development: People-centered business in action (2016-2020), has consolidated resources and actions across all regions of the world to enhance the cooperative business model, improve  cross-pollination and cross-cultural learnings, and facilitate knowledge  and exchange through multiple programmes. ICA has built and enhanced relationships between EU delegations and member cooperative federations in partner countries to work  on development projects.

 

At ICA-AP, the SDGs, youth, and work and ownership have been our strategic priorities for regional development. We have enhanced member and staff capacities across these priority areas through workshops, discussion platforms, and by engaging  with regional civil society organizations and at the EU Policy Forum on Development. We have focussed interventions on SDG 5 (Gender) through regional workshops on enhancing the role of women cooperators as members and in positions of leadership.

 

The spirit of multilateralism is further reflected by the strong response of cooperatives to the COVID-19 pandemic. Cooperatives from India, Iran, Japan Korea, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan, Palestine, the Philippines, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, and many other countries have collaborated with each other, and with their respective governments to address different aspects of the pandemic. In Australia, the Business Council of Cooperatives and Mutuals is recording the resources of Australian coops in fighting COVID-19 which range from financial assistance, social assistance, communications, and many other efforts. The Philippine Cooperative Centre has consolidated efforts taken independently and collaboratively by cooperatives through   financial contributions of $1.4 million for protective equipment and essential goods and services P7 million. The Indian Farmers Fertilizer Cooperatives Limited has contributed $3.6 million towards the Prime Minister CARES Fund in the fight against corona. Women cooperators in Iran have been at the forefront of the fight by facilitating the production and distribution of essential hygiene supplies, masks, protective gear, and food. ANGKASA in Malaysia has contributed $230,000 to the government in the fight against corona.

 

The entire cooperative movement is at the forefront  in responding to the current health, economic and social crisis. As Mr. Guarco emphasizes, “Today, we want to propose to the society, that cooperation is not only for emergencies. Cooperation is an alternative way to build a fairer, more balances, and fundamentally less fragile economy in the face of global challenges such as the pandemic. Or, very little further on our horizon, climate change…The cooperation paradigm organises enterprises to satisfy our common needs, the organising principle of which is not profit, but mutual aid, with its efficiency as a result of the democratic control of its members, workers, consumers or producers. Cooperatives have demonstrated solidarity for decades, which is why I predict, that despite the pain and uncertainty we are going through today, we will be able to forge a new global era, a common destiny with cooperative values and principles.”