Co-operativism, a key tool for fairer and more egalitarian societies throughout the world

Catalonia International and the Confederation of Cooperatives of Catalonia promote idea exchange and the dissemination of best practices

Catalonia International co-organised an international session on 4 July entitled "Global co-operativism to avoid collapse" as part of the Congress of Co-operativism in Catalonia. The congress was organised by the Confederation of Co-operatives of Catalonia, a member of the Catalonia International consortium, to commemorate 125 years of the sector's history.

Its aim was to analyse the role of the co-operative model as a tool for combating major global challenges such as inequality, climate change and the crisis of values. By sharing international best practice models, the session demonstrated how co-operatives have the potential to build a fairer and more sustainable future. The session alternated between presentations of success stories and talks with the host and journalist Isaac Romero.

The first speaker was Panos Tournavitis, CEO and member of the Board of Directors of the Co-operative Bank of Karditsa in Greece, who presented and analysed the principles and values underpinning his co-operative model. Tournavitis explained that in a world dominated by the pursuit of short-term profit, co-operativism is emerging as an alternative which is committed to the long-term wellbeing of people and communities. This model transcends the simple economic transaction, as it aims to forge links and empower people to work together, thus creating lasting value through reinvesting profits in projects that contribute to community welfare.

Following on from this ethical and values-based vision, the next speaker to be interviewed by Isaac Romero was John Carlin, a well-known journalist and writer specialising in political conflict. Carlin addressed the ethical challenges facing society today, stressing that we are not living in a new, terrible and unique era in human history. Attacks on human life and dignity are nothing new, but what makes them even worse is a weakening of democracy. Against this backdrop, Carlin emphasised the role of individuals in driving change, citing the example of Nelson Mandela and his pragmatic idealism.

Renáta Farkašová, a member of MOBA Housing SCE's social housing cooperative projects in Slovakia, went on to explain how this network of cooperatives, a pioneer in Central and South-Eastern Europe, works. The model prioritises housing affordability and is responsible for collectively developing, financing, maintaining and operating a multi-apartment building. The cooperative acquires ownership of the building and obtains the loans needed to pay for its construction, while the participants become co-owners of the building. As such, Farkašová presented MOBA SCE as an effective alternative to traditional social housing.

Maria Serra Olivella, a young climate activist, co-founder of the Fridays for Future movement and ambassador of the European Climate Pact, followed with a talk on the role of cooperatives in the fight against climate change. Bringing a fresh and committed perspective, she argued how the difficulty of imagining a positive future lies in the ease with which collapse is visualised. Against this bleak outlook, cooperatives emerge as a vibrant and accessible alternative to capitalism. By putting people at the centre, cooperatives are a fundamental model for achieving climate justice. She also addressed the need to build trusting relationships between institutions and young people, recognising the crucial role of young people as changemakers. We must start by keeping promises and promoting systemic change to encourage young people's active participation, she concluded.

Subsequently, Lamini Sarr, co-founder of the co-operative Top Manta, an organisation that fights for the rights of street vendors in Spain, highlighted the role of co-operativism as a tool for a more equitable wealth distribution. Sarr explained that Top Manta is a social, ethical and charitable clothing brand that raises the profile of immigrant living conditions and guarantees their future.

José Roberto Ricken, President of the Federation of Cooperatives in the Brazilian state of Paraná, was unable to attend the session in person due to professional commitments. He sent a video talking about the role of cooperatives in Paraná, which account for 42% of exports. Ricken made the point that, while individual work can achieve objectives more quickly, collaboration and teamwork are essential to achieve more ambitious goals and ensure a safer and more efficient process.

Lastly, Miguel Alba Ruiz-Morales, head of inequality and the private sector at Oxfam Intermon, said that if society acts as a set of isolated individuals instead of collectives intertwined with a common goal, inequalities grow. This splintered vision has led to policies and practices where wealth accumulates among a small elite that controls large global corporations, while the rest of the population faces a precarious and excluded existence. Ruiz-Morales used his critical perspective to point out that inequality is not only a social justice issue, but also a key factor to be dealt with to prevent the collapse of society itself. Social cohesion networks must be woven to tackle these challenges, and therefore we need a collective vision. Examples such as the Mondragón cooperative show the transformative potential of cooperativism as an essential basis for this change.

Following the reflections shared by the various speakers, a clear and common idea emerged: co-operativism, based on mutual support and solidarity, is the model that 21st century society needs to build a better, greener and fairer future.