VOICE and ACCOSCA – working together to reach Sustainable Development Goals

Empowering people to reach their full potential – free from poverty and discrimination – is a team effort, uniting non-governmental organizations, apex and primary co-operatives, and governments.

The Co-operative Development Foundation of Canada (CDF Canada) and the African Confederation of Cooperative Savings and Credit Associations (ACCOSCA), a pan-African confederation of national associations of savings and credit co-operatives societies, are collaborating to achieve this objective by supporting the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

United Nations member states adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in 2015. Seventeen SDGs provide a blueprint to end poverty and improve health and education, reduce inequality, and increase economic growth while tackling climate change.

CDF Canada and ACCOSCA work through the VOICE for Women and Girls Program (VOICE) to support these goals. Funded by the Government of Canada, the program is supported by volunteers, and it strives to address the challenges and barriers that adversely affect the economic and social well-being of vulnerable groups, with a particular emphasis on women and girls. VOICE aims to increase the capacities of individual producers and primary co-operatives, to support more inclusive, sustainable, and resilient growth.

CDF Canada and ACCOSCA are focusing on gender equality and inclusion, decent work, and maintaining strong institutions.

ACCOSCA Executive Director, George Ombado

Co-operatives can lead their societies in achieving gender equality through increasing women’s membership and supporting women leaders. Bringing more women into co-operatives, including at the decision-making level, leads to their economic and social success,   Executive Director of ACCOSCA, said.

To illustrate the improvement of gender equality in co-operatives, he said female participation in meetings have increased from four per cent to 30 per cent.

“The VOICE program helps empower women,” Ombado said. “For me this is meaningful engagement because through VOICE, working with ACCOSCA, we are seeing women brought to the table to make decisions.”

While gender equality is improving, Ombado said there are still ways to go to achieve it.

What’s more, inclusion is also an important goal for CDF Canada and ACCOSCA. Ombado said demographics is playing a significant role in creating an inclusive society because Africa is the most populus and youngest continent. The continent’s population is 1.4 billion people, and the median age is 19. He said it’s important that co-operatives reflect the composition of their population. As the VOICE for Women and Girls program aims to support groups exposed to vulnerability, this includes encouraging youth to learn about co-operatives and participate in their initiatives.

When you take a closer look, gender equality and inclusion improve when people have decent work. However, Africa is facing economic challenges, which COVID made worse. Ombado said many workers lost their jobs during the pandemic, which affected co-operatives’ finances and social objectives.

In addition, commodity prices also fell, which has impacted national economies. Double-digit unemployment and underemployment are some of the direct results. Getting these economies back on track and growing allows co-operatives to expand their memberships and profits, which helps members and the communities they serve, Ombado said.

Equally important, VOICE and ACCOSCA also introduce Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) topics to co-operatives and credit unions, which helps them in their business discussions and decisions. However, Ombado cautioned there’s still a lot of work to do in this area.

As part of ESG, the United Nations released a report outlining how member states can assist co-operatives in achieving sustainability through decent employment, eliminating poverty and protecting the environment.

“Everybody has a role to play,” Ombado said. “I think co-operatives should find a place to contribute to climate action.”

Together, CDF Canada and ACCOSCA are working through the VOICE program to develop ESG and gender equality initiatives to support inclusive and sustainable growth that works for everyone.

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