Youth: The Future of Co-operation

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The youth of today are finding a natural home in the values and principles of co-operatives and credit unions - the same values and principles espoused by our ancestors in building the co-operative movement.

Support for youth in the co-operative movement can be found around the world.

The story of how a group of young Canadian mountaineers, stormbound on Mount Baker in the spring of 1970, conceived of and then implemented a co-operative for quality outdoor gear, is legendary. Today, Mountain Equipment Co-op has nearly two million members and is Canada's largest supplier of outdoor equipment. A large part of MEC's success has been the co-op's ability to tap into issues that resonate with today's young people. These issues - concern for community, democratic member control and ownership, autonomy and independence, and co-operation - are the very foundation of Canada's co-operatives and credit unions.

In the small News Brunswick community of Rexton, the local credit union and high school teamed up to encourage current leaders to get involved with youth in a meaningful way. The result was the Rexton "Bengal" Credit Union, located in the high school. It didn't take much convincing for students to realize that getting involved in their high school credit union was right for them. Recruitment of membership was immediate and students campaigned to gain votes to be elected to the new Board of Directors. Through this initiative, the credit union and community are creating a generation of youth who are empowered by the co-operative principles and possess the experiences and skills required to take their place as future community leaders.

The Co-operative Retailing System in western Canada comprises nearly 300 autonomous retail co-operatives; they are owners of Federated Co-operatives Ltd (FCL). At the system's fall conferences, each region invites young people to attend under either the Future Leaders Program or the Young Persons Program. The goal of these programs is to get young people involved, interested in their retails, and serving on local boards of directors. FCL and its retail members also offer a Student Development Program that provides students of post-secondary institutions with summer employment as well as the first step in training for a management career in the system.

Many Ontario young people are learning about careers in the co-op sector through the Co-operative Internship Program. A partnership between the Ontario Co-operative Association and Human Resources Development Canada, the internship is a wage subsidy program providing co-operatives and credit unions with interns while building the skills and knowledge of a new generation of leaders.

The Co-operators Group Ltd is a strong advocate for leadership development and education, and supports youth-serving agencies and initiatives through financial and in-kind contributions including donations, sponsorships, scholarships and bursaries, employment, and mentoring opportunities. Partnering with the Canadian Co-operative Association and the various co-operative affiliates also provides a link with youth focused activities.

With support from local, regional and national co-operatives and credit unions, provincial and regional co-operative associations offer a variety of programs and activities aimed at young people. For three-quarters of a century, these innovative programs have been helping youth strengthen their self-esteem, solve problems, learn teamwork, leadership, and communication skills, as well as receive encouragement to become active members in community and co-operative organizations.

The Co-operative Housing Federation of Canada (CHF Canada) has developed a youth action plan to recruit young adults to housing co-ops and to develop a new generation of leaders. Each year a Youth Forum is held as part of CHF Canada's annual meeting. It includes workshops, discussion groups, social activities, and a representation to the plenary.

In 2004, Credit Union Central of Canada launched an award recognizing an individual who has demonstrated leadership competencies, including management of a major credit union initiative and participation in community initiatives. The National Young Leader Award is presented each May.

The annual Building Co-operative Futures conference provides young people from around the world with an opportunity for youth to learn about co-operative ideals and to provide the tools necessary to think of co-operatives as an alternative business model.

Youth sit on co-op boards, join credit unions, support local retail co-ops, are employed by co-ops,t participate in co-op activities, study co-ops and find innovate ways to create new co-ops. The youth of today are active participants Canada's co-operatives and credit unions, and will lead the co-operative movement into the future.