New Zealand was represented at the International Cooperative Alliance (ICA) AGM and General Assembly in Kuala Lumpur earlier this month by our Chief Executive Craig Presland. In this article, Craig reports how the four-day forum provided greater insight into this global organization, recent global trends and opportunities, and what role we can play here in NZ in terms of supporting the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s).

The ICA has just over 300 members currently, these coming from 104 different countries. This organization was first established back in 1895 while its President, Monique Leroux, pictured last year in Auckland, resigned at this year’s AGM and was replaced by Ariel Guarco from Argentina (below right). Monique’s successful reign over the past two years is well summarised here.

The ICA talks about five pillars when considering its collective efforts and progress over the last 2 years:

  • Economy and leadership
  • Sustainable development
  • Interco-operation
  • Gender equality and the next generation
  • Innovation

In my view, the most relevant and valuable to NZ over this period has been in the area of sustainability.

The co-operative movement plays a key role in a number of crucial areas that need addressing in order to achieve the United Nations’ 17 SDG’s by 2030. These goals are not purely aspirational, there is a strong belief that each can be met over the 15 year period from Sept 2015.

According to Dr Gro Harlem Brundtland, the former Prime Minister of Norway who was a keynote speaker at the General Assembly, co-ops have been “a vital force for good”.

In her address, the woman affectionately known as the “God Mother of Sustainability” praised the movement for the initiatives taken in eradicating poverty, improving access to basic goods and services, protecting the environment and building more sustainable food systems.

Dr Gro Harlem Brundtland was the first woman Prime Minister of Norway, a former Director-General of the World Health Organisation, and is currently Deputy Chair of The Elders. She is a medical doctor who champions health as a human right, gender equality and sustainable development.

The ICA has strongly supported the UN’s SDG‘s and has actively driven progress against each goal – please double click on each for more details on targets and progress that has been made.

From a global perspective, our younger generations are becoming more aware than ever that mankind is on an unsustainable path environmentally. Nature’s limits have been overstepped, food production systems have become unsustainable, and global warming is taking effect.

At present, we have 10% of the world’s population living in “extreme poverty” (by definition with earnings of less than $US1.90 per day), half of these people living in Africa. This figure had been 33% back in 1990 with the significant improvement being led by China with most of its population moving upwards and into “middle class” status ($US10 to $US100 per day in earnings).

China has set itself the goal of becoming one of the world’s “prosperous nations” by 2030, a level that is currently being met by 13 countries. Here China is well on track having recorded an average 9.7% annual GDP growth rate since 1989 through job growth, productivity gains and innovations.

By 2030 it is estimated that 4.9 billion people globally will be living in middle class (currently 2.8 billion) – that’s over half the world’s population for the first time ever. One high level indicator of ‘middle class’ is the ability to buy a refrigerator which has a significant impact on the demand, storage and consumption of food.

Also by this date, it is estimated that one in four Chinese males in their late 30’s will be single (unmarried), due to the current gender imbalance in that country. This will also have a significant impact on how food is purchased and consumed. Home deliveries of groceries ordered on-line, just as we have in NZ with businesses like My Food Bag, to single males at the end of a working day offers huge opportunities, as does the already booming fast food and food service (eating out of home) markets.

Both changes in the market offer huge opportunities for NZ’s agri – food exporters.

Craig Presland, second from right, was a member of this panel and spoke on Co-op to Co-op trade, e-commerce and digital marketing strategies.

Global trends

Globally, we are now seeing 70% of world trade involving services as opposed to manufactured products. In addition, more than 10% of cross-border transactions are now conducted via e-commerce as digital technologies, and mobile phone coverage globally, have both improved significantly. Some of the world’s larger countries, such as the USA and China, are moving towards the following:

  • More domestic consumption, less foreign trade (to NZ’s disadvantage eg. USA’s recent TPP withdrawal)
  • Greater focus on service as opposed to manufacturing
  • Less reliance on state funding
  • Greater focus on innovations and automation

In terms of the latter, innovations are seen as being driven essentially by staff and customers. With a large portion of co-ops (including mutuals and societies) being owned by either, there is a direct link to ideas for development which is providing co-ops with an advantage over publically-listed and privately-owned companies.

Co-ops are recognised as people-centred and values-based enterprises. Through their strong sense of social responsibility, they are able to reduce poverty when governments and individuals sometimes fail.

In terms of the emergence of large scale threats, “fake news” via social media was mentioned at the General Assembly several times. People are becoming ever more reliant upon receiving information via Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, various chat groups etc. In addition, the increasing threat of cyber bullying, ransomware and malware were growing concerns for both businesses and individuals as an estimated 3.7 billion people now use the internet daily.

What role can we play here in NZ?

Firstly, each of the UN’s 17 SDG’s is relevant to NZ. Yes we have those in this country living in poverty, those that are hungry, gender inequalities, concerns for the environment and more. NZ organisations have the opportunity to align corporate goals with the UN SDG’s as well as to formally pledge their support towards them (if interested please contact me).

We can continue to push for a “Green Economy” through lowering carbon emissions and planting more trees, both initiatives on our new government’s agenda. We can seek to emulate countries like Sweden which seeks to halve its fossil fuel energy usage by 2030 (eg. via electric cars), generate 100% renewable energy (including solar) by 2040, and a zero environmental impact from energy usage by 2050.

We can ensure that our agri exports are produced via sustainable food systems including the optimal application of fertiliser on our pastures and soils, responsible irrigation and allocation of water rights, the effective handling of effluent and the minimization and utilization of waste (eg. bio-fuels produced from used cooking oils).

We can aim for 90% swimmable rivers by 2040, as recently pledged by the leaders of NZ’s larger agri-producers and Federated Farmers, this initiative having since been applauded globally.

We can help build a more resilient and equitable society through our state and private education systems, more responsible parenting, and stable employment with decent work conditions. In terms of the latter NZ’s co-ops are leading the way here – strong and stable employers over many decades and even centuries in this country.

In terms of gender equality we can continue to support and fully comply with our Equal Employment Opportunities legislation and policies, equal pay, and a more equal balance of females sitting on the Boards and within the senior management teams of our local businesses and organisations, including NFP’s and sporting organisations where excellent progress has been made in recent years.

Our new government can drive positive change through regulations, taxes and incentives. Our local authorities can help ensure its communities are well resourced with facilities and services – Sustainable Cities and Communities being one of the UN’s 17 SDG’s.

Finally, we can all recognise and support the co-operative business model and its alignment with the UN’s 17 SDG’s. We can achieve this through our collective advocacy and voice as we seek to pursue a safe, sustainable and prosperous planet earth for its current inhabitants and future generations.

As Members of co-operatives, mutuals and societies here in NZ we all have our part to play.

Craig Presland

CEO, Cooperative Business NZ

Nov 2017