The co-operative movement has long been recognized for its values-driven business model, emphasis on fair and inclusive practices, and sustainable development goals. However, there exists a significant disengagement between younger generations and the co-operative movement. According to recent research, over half of young people cannot name a single co-operative, and less than 8% of directors from these enterprises fall within the 26-41 age bracket. These staggering statistics prompt crucial questions surrounding the future of co-operatives and their relevance to the younger generation.
The Perfect Fit: Co-operatives and Young People
At first glance, it is somewhat perplexing to see this disengagement when co-operatives and young people seem like a perfect match. Co-operatives address many concerns that the younger generation holds dear – such as increased ownership, ethical practices, better job security, and climate action. Supporting this notion, Co-operatives UK and the Institute of Economic Affairs have provided compelling evidence of the potential harmony between these two entities.
Recent studies show that young people's values align closely with the co-operative ethos, with 75% of them agreeing that climate change is a capitalist problem, and 50% of millennials wanting to work for a business with ethical practices. Additionally, 89% of Gen Zs and 90% of millennials are making efforts to reduce their environmental impact, further demonstrating the inherent compatibility of the younger generation with co-operatives.
Examples of successful co-operatives addressing young people's concerns include The Greenbelt Movement, which focuses on environmental conservation and community empowerment, and The Phone Co-op, which offers ethical telecom services and supports various social and environmental projects.
Undeniably, the future holds immense opportunities and challenges for young people as technology and sustainability become crucial factors in shaping societies. In this context, co-operation has an essential role to play in providing a values-driven environment where young people can thrive and contribute to a better world.
The Question of Engagement
Despite the obvious synergies, the co-operative movement struggles to engage and connect with young people. A targeted approach focusing on shared values and aspirations is needed to capture their attention and cultivate an interest in co-operatives. For instance, 73% of young people believe that a socialist system would promote solidarity, compassion, and cooperation. By emphasizing these values within the co-operative framework, movements can connect with the 40% of millennials who have a favorable opinion of socialism.
By fostering a culture of support, learning, and engagement, co-operatives can create a lasting legacy that not only taps into the potential of young minds but also ensures the continued growth and evolution of the movement.
One key aspect of engaging the younger generation is recognizing the shift in their perception of democracy. While they believe in the democratic system, traditional models must be adapted to appeal to their penchant for digital platforms and social media. By embracing technology and making the co-operative movement more accessible and engaging, it is possible to bridge the looming gap.
Examples of digital platforms and social media being used to engage young people in co-operatives include The Student Co-op Homes, which uses an online platform to connect students with affordable housing options, and The Open Food Network, an online marketplace that connects consumers with local, ethical food producers.
Building a New Co-operative Future
It is evident that co-operatives must innovate and adapt to foster a stronger connection with young people. The following strategies can help co-operatives bridge the gap:
1. Emphasize core co-operative values and promote intergenerational learning by providing opportunities for experienced co-operative members and newcomers to collaborate.
2. Empower young people by giving them leadership roles and autonomy to experiment within the co-operative ecosystem.
3. Invest in innovation and partnerships to fast-track the development of co-operative technologies and new ventures.
4. Provide ongoing training and create nurturing environments where young talents can grow and contribute their skills.
5. Utilize digital platforms and social media to make co-operative democracy more accessible and engaging, fostering a renewed sense of ownership and activism.
The co-operative movement holds immense potential for addressing the challenges and aspirations of young people. By aligning their values with the co-operative system, both groups can work together to create a sustainable, inclusive, and values-driven future. As an astonishing 75% of Gen Zs and 76% of millennials already express a preference for hybrid or remote working patterns, co-operatives must be prepared to accommodate evolving preferences.
By acknowledging the existing disengagement and taking active steps to engage and empower the younger generation, co-operatives will not only secure their longevity but also help shape a better world for generations to come.
So some food for thought...
Especially for #CoopRetail. Some questions to get you started.
How can co-operatives better communicate their values and goals to the younger generation?
What specific challenges do co-operatives face in engaging young people?
How can co-operatives ensure that they remain relevant and appealing to future generations?