ICA Cooperative Youth Seminars for Asia and the Pacific in the Last Decade: Some Observations

OKAYASU Kisaburo
Aug. 30, 2001


The "ICA Regional Cooperative Youth Seminar 2001," was held during 25th to 27th June 2001, at the National Olympics Memorial Youth Center in Tokyo, Japan. This marked the third ICA Youth Seminar held in Asia and the Pacific region -- the first being in 1996 in Singapore and the second in 1999 in Quezon City, in the Philippines. While the first two seminars focussed on the Campus Cooperatives, Japan's hosting of this event ranks as the first such seminar targeting all types of cooperatives.

Participants in this seminar were from 11 countries -- Japan, China, the Republic of Korea, the Philippines, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, India, Sri Lanka and Palestine. While this is still a minority of the total of 28 ICA member countries, it nevertheless represents the largest number of countries to participate in such seminar till date.

A look at the composition of Japanese participants in the above seminar gives us enough indication of its importance. There were young people from a university cooperative group, a citizen-consumers' cooperative group, an agriculture cooperative group, a forest owner's cooperative group, a fisheries cooperative group, a workers' and consumers' insurance cooperative group, a workers' cooperative group and a cooperative research institute group. For Japan, this is believed to be the first time that young people from so many different types of cooperatives have gathered together under the same roof.

The Youth Seminar 2001 opened with a Welcome Address by Dr. Manabu Tanaka, President of NFUCA. The President of ICA, Dr. Robert Rodrigues, delivered the Inaugural Address. After this came the main part of the agenda, featuring a lecture by Professor Hisashi Nakamura of Ryukoku University in Kyoto, Japan. Prof. Nakamura spoke on the theme "Improvement of Living through Self-reliance and Networks: Recommendation to Cooperatives." This was followed by small group exchanges, three separate interactive meetings focussing on different themes, study visits and other activities. On the third and final day, the event came to a successful close with a pledge to hold the next regional seminar in Malaysia.


I have had the pleasure of being involved in all the three seminars in this series as the Chairperson of the ICA Sub-committee on University/College Cooperatives for Asia and the Pacific. Therefore, I would like to briefly comment on the history of youth cooperative seminars.

About 10 years ago, as a representative of NFUCA, I joined together with the ICA Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific (ICAROAP) to hold "ICA Orientation Seminars on University Cooperatives in Japan" in various Asian countries. The primary purpose of these seminars was to highlight the role played by young people in cooperative movements in the specific countries, and to strengthen active participation in university/college cooperatives. Though there were cooperatives in many universities of Asian countries, some of them had only the faculty as members and even managers, resulting in little -if any- horizontal solidarity. It was no exaggeration, in fact, to say that such university cooperatives were engaged in little more than the operation of stores on campus.

The view asserted by Japanese university cooperatives was that "If a cooperative resorts to the principle of 'few members and many users,' it will be hardly different from a private sector company". "A university cooperative without support from and involvement of students is gone to its fate"; and "Exchange and solidarity are important for cooperative movement in any country." These philosophies or believes were taken to heart in different countries, with efforts made to achieve student participation (joining up as members) while coordinating with the specific conditions in each country.

The Orientation Seminar series made its round of the individual countries, prompting the decision to inaugurate an ICA university cooperative consortium for Asia and the Pacific. After setting up the sub-committee on University/college cooperatives under the ICA committee on consumer cooperation for Asia and the Pacific, it proposed to ICA "The possibility of human resource development (HRD) programs for youth, and the holding of a regional seminar for youth cooperators from all type of cooperatives.

The following action goals were indicated:

"First, we want to be of service to the community. To realize this dream, all types of cooperatives must enter into cooperation for the sake of the younger generation. Second, under the theme of human resource development of youth through cooperatives, ICA -ROAP should hold at least one or two seminars by the year 2000."

Hereafter we in fact held the two campus seminars. In that sense, this latest seminar was truly the fruit of several years of devoted efforts.

LEARNING OR TEACHING: The Cooperative Learning Theory

The format of the agenda developed through the conduct of three ICA Regional Youth Seminars, consist of addresses by the organizers, lectures, group meetings, study tours and the adoption of a declaration of the participants. At the root of this process, however, lies the discussion of whether this type of seminar comprises learning or teaching. This issue remains the same at both the global and national level seminar.

The first assertion is that youth seminars amount to the instilling of ideas. In other words, this paradigm is that, "Because young people are yet to mature, implanting is called for." This issue was discussed during the planning stage for the first seminar held in Singapore. If the goal is to instill ideas in this way, in proceeding along the stages of addresses, lecture, group meetings, study tours and summarization, there will be an interest in whether or not the content effectively converges with the previously envisioned intent. To succeed on this front, the supportiveness of sponsors at all stage is essential. In more specific terms, failure of the sponsor group to continue to speak at all phases of the event will result in anxiety.

In contrast, the second assertion is that a youth seminar itself represents the process of participation in the cooperatives, and that within the scope of the seminar the thoughts of youth should be compiled through the commitment of young people themselves. In effect, this holds that youth possess vision, and learn and interact for that sake. The belief is that by having so-called "adults" accept the visions of youth, the flow of inter-generation communications bgin. I personally subscribe to the latter theory.

The Singapore Seminar featured efforts by participants to mutually convey both the situations in their respective countries and their own thoughts, through the announcement of Campus Cooperatives Youth Vision -Year 2000. At the Philippines Seminar, national representatives were selected from the participants. With the result "Seminar Participants Steering Committee" convened the wrap-up conference on the final day. The Tokyo Seminar followed the same pattern.

In the studies conducted into these steering methods, an outstanding reference was provided by the new learning theory of "Situated Learning -- Legitimate Peripheral Participation: LPP" (Jean Lave and Etienne Wenger, 1991). Education field scholar Professor Yutaka Saeki, Graduate School of Education of the University of Tokyo, offers the following comments:

"Under the theory of Legitimate Peripheral Participation, the act of learning is viewed as, 'Moving from peripheral participation in a community of practice to consummate participation in that community, in the process of forming identity as a member.' On various points, this is the key to surpassing the conventional perspective of learning." In this sense, the cooperative is truly a learning organization.


"An organization which is not supported by youth, which is not appealing to youth, or about which the youth does not dream is gone to its fate." Top management of all types of organizations should take this to their hearts. This holds good for universities, companies, NPOs, cooperatives and for that matter, even the nation states. Incidentally, it also raises the rhetorical question of whether, to cooperatives of the elderly, "young people" refer to the baby-boomer generation.

Naturally, this does not go along easily with young people. On the contrary, majority of the young people find no attraction in such fawning adults. But then, simply to grumble about how "today's young people are a sorry lot" cannot bring us to any positive solution. With that being said, it is a regret that some 60 percent of Japanese middle and high school students report they feel no sense of attraction in the 21st century. (Report of Japan Youth Research Institute)

When it comes to how people find an attraction in an organization, the discussion may generally be advanced from two different approaches. The first is the interest and attraction viewed from the outside -- referred to as social appeal. The second is the attraction viewed from within -- referred to the sense of being a member. What we want to discuss at the phase of participation in cooperatives is the appeal at the process of transition from the former approach to the latter. That is, the appeal related to the aforementioned Legitimate Peripheral Participation."

It may be true that many newcomers in a cooperative (both members and workers) may have come in through an invitation by the superiors. Even then, the majority of such newcomers sense some sort of attraction or a type of unique appeal in the cooperatives, or at the very least want to enjoy such feelings as they take part. Here, this point is treated as a premise in the discussion of attraction viewed from outside, or social appeal. Even if one becomes a member through the natural course of , it is hoped that once going thorough a certain length in the organization there will be a sense of appeal and affinity in the cooperative chosen.

These feelings are particularly strong among the younger generation. Having observed the university students for the last few decades, what I really feel is that "social responsibility" and a "sense of mission" had effective power of self-motivation until the middle of the 1980s. After that they had barely the power. The majority of young people have come to determine their own actions through an equal view of "outside and inside".

While describing the attraction of the cooperative to newcomers, including young people, it is important not to proceed solely from a talk on the philosophy or concepts. Along with that angle, it is also critical to personify the cooperative philosophy in terms of the social interaction and the care devoted to the people in the organization, at both the operational and work phases. Without resorting to quotes from the ICA Statement on the Cooperative Identity from 1995, suffice to say that the value of cooperatives lies in manifesting the proper ties between people (including workers) who come to bear.

At the recent ICA Tokyo Seminar, I expressed the following sentiment on behalf of the sponsor: "There is one problem which exists in the relations between cooperatives and young people. What is the purpose of participation in 'planning and work' by youth? The first reply to this question is 'for the sake of furthering the development of the business or other interests' of the cooperative. But that alone is inadequate, since there is a danger of young people being treated as tools for the sake of the continuation and the success of the cooperative. Youth is never just the tool. The second reply is that the cooperative must be useful in resolving the labor or other demanding problems which young people encounter. It is truly this reply, I feel, which is the most important.


Naturally, it would be incorrect to converge this content only on the issue of youth. Cooperatives should be useful and valuable to the people whom they seek to serve in an era characterized by a falling birth rate and the aging of society in Japan, in proceeding of concentration and social exclusion under economic globalization, under the collapse in local community, and in facing "structural reforms" -- big bankruptcies and soaring unemployment.

Nevertheless, in responding to these needs, if the individual cooperatives limit their endeavors to "type-specific efforts," and in more severe terms, are active in isolated and exclusive fashion, the true superiority of the cooperative will fail to have an impact on the public and the community. In short, "cooperation in the 21st century" cannot be on the extension line of what has come to pass to date.

In 2001, the Asian young people who are deeply involved in cooperatives are taking the first step in reaching beyond the walls which distinguish them by type, in rising together to address a vast range of issues. Although this quest will take time, when today's buds reach the state of cultivation, a decade or more from now, I am confident that the "cooperation in the 21st century" will be realized by those who constitute today's youth.

Translated from "Discovery of Cooperation", Aug, 2001
Issued by Japan Institute of Cooperation Reseach