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ASEAN Co-ops Address Financial Inclusion, Hunger

MALATE, MANILA -- Co-op federation leaders from four Southeast Asian countries gathered at the Pan Pacific Hotel September 6 to 7 for the ASEAN Co-operative Development Meeting.  The purpose of the high-profile meet was to “Engage Co-operatives in Contributing to the UN Agenda 2030 on Sustainable Development.”
The 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is composed of 17 Goals that would ensure development that is sustainable development, but the meet will focus on three: No Poverty, Zero Hunger and Partnerships for the Goals.
Said meeting was to coordinate, enhance and broaden their work to achieve the SDGs – and make known to the world what co-ops have indeed helped to achieve those Goals. 
The focus areas were Agriculture (for Zero Hunger), Financial Inclusion (for No Poverty) and Partnerships (coordination between co-ops, government agencies, and civil society organizations). 
In the first portion of the meet, International Cooperative Alliance (ICA) members in the ASEAN, particularly Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, and Malaysia presented their respective federations’ activities in Agriculture and Financial Inclusion.
Representatives from local agencies, the Cooperative Development Authority, National Economic Development Authority (NEDA) and the Department of Foreign Affairs did the same, as well as other organizations present: Swedish co-op federation WE Effect, the Association of Asian Confederation of Credit Unions, the International Labor Organization, DEKOPIN of Indonesia, Co-operative College of Malaysia, and ANGKASA co-op federation of Malaysia.
Local organizations present were the Federation of People’s Sustainable Development Cooperative, University of Asia and the Pacific, National Anti-Poverty Commission, MASS-SPECC, Philippine Cooperative Center, VICTO, and NATCCO.
It was emphasized that meeting sustainable development has always been “within the DNA of cooperatives” even before the UN came up with the idea.
For No Hunger, Dato Kamarudin Ismail, Vice president of Angkasa Malaysia acknowledged that agriculture in most Asian countries was controlled by cartels and that co-ops must coordinate efforts – specifically that credit co-ops awash with money should assist cash-strapped agriculture cooperatives.  
Strongly cited was FPSDC’s assistance to farmers – from seed-sourcing, financing, processing, technical assistance, all the way to packaging and marketing of farm products.  Romulo Villamin of MASS-SPECC said farmers are under the mercy of traders and retailers, and that there are too many “layers” before farm products reach consumers, with prices very high and most of the revenue taken by traders and cartels.
Cresente Paez of the Asian Farmers Association said co-ops must use at least some their financial resources to eliminate these “layers” by assisting agriculture cooperatives.  It was unanimously agreed that by creating a value chain, co-ops contribute to “Zero Hunger.”
For No Poverty, it was stressed that co-ops should use technology and their large member-base to their advantage.  ACCU CEO Leni San Roque promoted the ACCU Payment Platform which allows co-op members to transact using their smart phones.  “Co-op members do not need to travel to their co-ops to transact.  All they need is internet connection and a smart phone.  This will be the key to “Financial Inclusion” of rural people,” she said.
Professor Bien Nito of the University of Asia and the Pacific said: “I am amazed with Uber.  Uber is the biggest taxi company in the world without owning a single car.  Air BNB is the largest hotel chain without owning a single hotel.   Technology really is a disruptor.  So co-ops must use technology to advantage!”
FPSDC CEO Tetay Plantilla put forward the website fpsdce-cooptrade.coop, where people can purchase F&C products. Eventually, the web could also bring together farmers and consumers and eventually eliminate middlemen.
Leaders are expected to position co-operatives towards international development and help the Alliance monitor policies and processes more efficiently and collect evidence from the ground on development programs.
Assessing the ability of co-ops to meet the SDGs, Tetet Lauron Co-Chair of CSO Partnership for Development Effectiveness said: “Co-ops are both civil society organizations and (social) enterprises so you enjoy the best of both worlds!”
 At the end of the meeting, the delegates signed a document agreeing that until December 31, each organization would: 
1. Nominate a focal Point from each organization to work towards the agreements and the Hanoi Declaration (adopted by the 10th Asia-Pacific Cooperative Ministers’ Conference on April 2017)
2. Collaborate on Research (Mapping & Thematic Research) & Policy Advocacy
3. Come on Board the ICA-AP Research Committee and the ICA-AP Committee on Trade & Business
4. Encourage cooperators to make pledges on www.coopsfor2030.coop and to engage with national co-op federations
5. Concretize a program for international Youth exchange
6. Develop SDG Targets and Indicators through the co-op lens & Develop Monitoring Tools for Cooperative Contribution towards the SDGs.
The International Co-operative Alliance, established in 1895 based in Brussels,  is the global umbrella organization that represents, unites and develops co-operatives across diverse sectors of economy influencing 1 in every almost 7 humans on this planet. The ICA represents 300 plus apex level federations and leading sectoral co-operative enterprises from over 100 countries. ICA Asia and Pacific, the regional arm of the Alliance was established in 1960 in New Delhi (India), services 96 Alliance members from 30 countries in Asia and the Pacific. The ICA AP regional board comprises of 11 elected members nominated by national co-operative movements across the region, and 1 co-opted member each from the Asia-Pacific Committees on Youth, and on Women.

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