2012 has been designated the year of cooperative by the UN, and Rene Wadlow looks at the significance of this event.


  The United Nations General Assembly in Resolution A/RES/64/136 has designated 2012 as the International Year of Cooperatives in order to highlight the large role that cooperatives can play in ecologically-sound development and poverty reduction.  As Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said “Cooperatives are a reminder to the international community that it is possible to pursue both economic viability and social responsibility.”  The cooperative movement plays a large role in both the production and the distribution of goods and services worldwide.  Although less visible than privately-owned trans-national corporations (which have large advertising budgets so their products become household names) cooperatives are an important part of the world economy and merit the attention that the UN Year may provide (1)

However, behind production and distribution cooperatives, there is first a “Cooperative Spirit”, and it manifests itself in a multitude of ways, all of which are based on cooperation but not all are called “cooperatives”. The Cooperative Spirit stresses renewal, cooperation, mutual help, and community as the ‘order of the day’ at the local, national, and world levels.  Cooperation is an absolute necessity for the next steps in human evolution.

The Cooperative Spirit takes many forms. People throughout the world are increasingly realizing that each of us is interconnected with every other person through the air we breath and the systems of water, soils and life in all its forms.  The more we can empower one another to flourish without harming others, the more we create a cooperative world society. Therefore every action taken by an individual — or not taken — can have far-reaching consequences both for all the people of the world and upon the environment on which we all depend.

This Cooperative Spirit manifests itself in the growing concerns with a Green — ecologically-sound — Economy.  Europe has encouraged commercial and cooperative development of carbon-reducing technologies with a mix of government investment, tax facilities, loans and laws.  There is a recognized need to protect the environment, to invest in clean energy and to create lasting jobs, but much more needs to be done worldwide.

Throughout the world, we are all entering a period of change for which there is no blueprint.  Therefore it is essential that we learn to work together cooperatively.  Cooperative action takes its forms due to historical circumstances, local culture, and ecological conditions.  However, there is a common concern with the cooperative use of resources, goods and services.  Cooperative action is at the heart of an economic and political shift toward a worldwide development of livelihoods and greater quality of life.

There are many traditional forms of cooperation, of mutual help in times of need. 2012 should serve as an opportunity to look at the many ways in which the Cooperative Spirit manifests itself in the world. Thus 2012 can be our focus to strengthen the impact of the Cooperative Spirit.

(1)   See the UN website for the Year: http://social.un.org/coopyear

Rene Wadlow, President and Representative to the United Nations, Geneva, Association of World Citizens