The President of the Republic of Korea (South Korea), Moon Jae-in delivered a congratulatory address at the occasion of the 33rd World Cooperative Congress

Following is the complete text of his speech at the opening ceremony of the 33rd World Cooperative Congress:

Distinguished members of cooperative communities around the world,

Congratulations on the 125th anniversary of the establishment of the International Cooperative Alliance and the opening of the 33rd World Cooperative Congress. As the postponement of last year’s Congress due to the COVID-19 pandemic left members with many regrets, I believe this gathering will be all the more fruitful.

I am deeply grateful to ICA President Ariel Guarco and other officials for coming to Seoul to attend this Congress. My appreciation also goes to everyone joining online. The world is paying attention to the cooperative movement. The key to sustainable development lies in cooperatives, which prioritize community values. I hope this Congress will serve as a catalyst to spread the value of solidarity and cooperation far and wide.

The cooperative movement started from the belief that helping each other would make everyone thrive together. In 1844, local workers in the English town of Rochdale established a purchasing cooperative against merchants who sold daily necessities at high prices.

It was the first modern cooperative society recorded in history. Formed by a group of 28 with a total of 28 pounds of capital, the Rochdale cooperative grew into a cooperative society with 1,400 members and 11,000 pounds in capital over a decade. It proved that a sustainable business model could be formulated without aiming for profit.

The success of the Rochdale cooperative inspired the spread of cooperative movements around the world. Sometimes competing with markets and at other times making up for their shortcomings, cooperatives have solved large and small problems caused by industrialization.

They have shared such services as healthcare, caregiving, and education, which are essential but inadequately supplied by markets. The economically marginalized pooled their power and enhanced their own rights and interests.

Today, cooperatives have evolved into crucial pillars of the global economy. Worldwide, more than three million cooperatives have been founded with their total active membership exceeding one billion. The number of jobs directly or indirectly created by cooperatives has also surpassed 280 million.

The Statement on the Cooperative Identity, which the ICA adopted in 1995, established the principle of contributing to social values and dramatically expanded the horizon of the cooperative movement. I salute the endeavors of cooperative activists who remain committed to pursuing change and innovation.

Now, the spirit of cooperatives must spread as a widely accepted social value in every corner of the world. When cooperation among cooperatives and other social enterprises grows closer, it will enable them to achieve economies of scale and make mutually beneficial collaboration more competitive.

The dissemination of the ESG management practiced by social enterprises to general businesses will allow us to achieve carbon neutrality earlier than targeted. More than anything else, civic participation is crucial. I hope that an increasing number of citizens will be able to uphold the social values pursued by cooperatives through communication with civic groups, international organizations, and national governments.

Members of cooperatives,

Korea has a tradition of solving community issues through cooperation: During the busy farming season, people helped ease each other’s workload through “dure”, communal labor, and “pumasi”, private labor exchanges. The modern cooperative movement also came into bloom spontaneously.

A variety of consumer cooperatives began appearing in the 1920s in response to colonial Japan’s exploitation. In the belief that economic self-reliance can lead to political self-reliance, Koreans also formed producer cooperatives to manufacture and sell domestic products.

In 2017, my Administration selected revitalizing the social economy, including cooperatives, as a policy task. We have created an ecosystem where the social economy can grow on its own by aiding with financing, the securing of a consumer base, and the fostering of professionals as well as by establishing a comprehensive assistance system involving the private sector as well as the central and local governments.

Consequently, the number of social enterprises in Korea, including cooperatives, rose from 20,000 to 31,000 in just four years with the number of employees increasing from 240,000 to 310,000. Now, the social economy has taken firm root as one of the pillars of the Korean economy, and it is delivering immeasurable hope through the practice of mutual benefit and sharing.

The Hankuk Forensic Science Cooperative, which consists of former and current forensic scientists, supports scientific investigations for the socially disadvantaged. The Walk Together Medical Welfare Cooperative, which was jointly organized by doctors and local residents, opened a community hospital to protect the health of our neighbors in need.

The Citizens’ Solar Power Generation Cooperatives established nationwide are spearheading the efforts to protect the environment by installing solar photovoltaic power plants. Usisan, a social enterprise, is spreading the message of saving whales by making whale dolls out of plastic waste.

The Korean Government will help the social economy, including cooperatives, grow further. To provide systematic and continuous support, we will work to ensure that the three laws related to the social economy – the Framework Act for Social Economy, the Social Value Act and the Social Economy Consumer Base Support Act – pass the National Assembly as soon as possible. We will also actively join cooperative efforts within the international community.

Members of cooperatives around the world,

Humans rely on each other to survive and find a sense of joy and fulfillment in life through community. The cooperative movement, which began in the 19th century, restored the value ​​of cooperation and community amid the enormous transformation of industrialization.

It has nurtured hope that we can build an economy that puts people first and an inclusive society where everyone prospers together. If we understand each other a little more and show consideration, we will be able to turn that hope into reality. My support goes to cooperative movements that – with the power of solidarity and cooperation – are ushering in a better future.

Thank you.