QUÉBEC CITY—If you want to involve more young people in your cooperative, you have to do more than ferry them along as passengers.
Hand them the keys to the operations.
“Empower your young leaders and give them space to do their own decisions,” said Liliana Lemos da Silva, first manager of Clínica Médica Portuense Coop, a Portuguese health sector cooperative.
“If the future is ours, we need [young people] to be part in the decisions of today,” she said.
da Silva offered her views as the International Summit of Cooperatives wrapped up its activity with a panel discussion on “Next Generation—The Future of the Cooperative Movement.”
The three-day conference drew nearly 3,000 participants from around the world to the Québec City Convention Centre.
The youth forum focused on ways to attract 20-35-year olds to the cooperative movement. da Silva said co-ops can make inroads with the notion of sharing, calling it very popular with the millennial segment.
“It’s necessary to share information; it’s necessary to share all this knowledge we made here; it’s necessary to improve our education and management and improve the internal marketing,” she said.
“We need to provide answers to problems and communicate this.”
Guy Cormier, the moderator of the forum, agreed with the idea of paying more than lip service to the recruitment of young people.
He said his cooperative, Canada-based Desjardins, one of the world’s largest financial co-ops, plans to create a youth committee with 12 members and employees to exchange ideas.
“You have to be responsible for putting in place actions,” said Cormier, president and CEO of Desjardins. “Federations do not have any reason for not putting in place collaborative platforms to share knowledge.”
Young members should be treated as equals by older members because they can bring a fresh perspective to issues, added François Hastir, a board member of Co-operatives and Mutuals Canada, an association that promotes co-ops and mutual organizations.
Hastir argued for improved marketing to make young people aware of cooperatives, saying the co-op model lines up nicely with their values and principles.
“Give them space, really listen to them,” Cormier concluded. “They have so many things to say.”
Steven Johnson is a staff writer at NRECA.