Why Your Cooperative Needs More Young People: A Urgent Call to Action

Do I need more young people in my cooperative? The answer is yes, and we’ll show you a few reasons why. In Brazilian cooperativism, the dynamic integration of young people is fundamental to stimulating the renewal of decision-making and ensuring the lasting viability of cooperatives.

Thinking about the perpetuity of this business model, it is essential to attract more young people, especially in leadership, so that the cooperative can continue its legacy. And also for the innovation and fresh ideas that they can bring. The collaborative economy, often referred to as the gig or platform economy, is frequently discussed alongside topics such as sustainability, Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) objectives, and innovative advertising strategies to draw in customers. What if I told you that cooperativism has had these concepts at its core for 200 years? What then, is lacking in attracting young people to cooperatives? The key lies in effective communication and prioritizing relevant topics.

The Demographic Imperative
Data from the Brazilian Census, carried out by the IBGE (Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics), reveals that the predominant age group in the country’s population is between 35 and 39 years old, followed by 30 to 34 years old and 25 to 29 years old, indicating that young people make up the country’s demographic majority. Given this reality, leadership within cooperatives must reflect this age distribution, ensuring that the voices and perspectives of young people are adequately represented and integrated into strategies and decisions.

Adapting to the Digital Age
And when we look at these figures within the age range of cooperative leaders between 20 and 30, only 8% of leaders are women and 3% are men, according to data from the Cooperative Yearbook of Brazil. Therefore, drawing up succession plans is an emergency measure. And how can we get this public to look at cooperativism? Firstly, by thinking about the form of communication. According to data from the Reuters Institute’s Digital News survey, released in 2023, 44% of the population aged between 18 and 24 is informed by the Tiktok platform and 20% of this audience uses the network to consume news daily. The survey shows that there has been a change in the way news is consumed, with the adoption of social media as a source of information.

According to the Electronics Hub survey, Brazilians spend an average of nine hours a day on their cell phones or computers, and Brazil is second in the world ranking only to South Africa.

In the Building Our Future survey, 84.95% of the young people interviewed said that both private and public organizations should take responsibility for ESG-related issues. Thus, being present on social networks, being in the world that these young people are in is a way of bringing them into the world of cooperativism. Through assertive communication on the subject, it’s also possible to provide content of interest to the target audience, such as the ESG agenda.


Coop in Brazil! Você sabe quantas coops temos no Brasil? 🇧🇷 Assista até o final e confira o número. No vídeo temos três coop, uma do Crédito, uma Agro e uma de Saúde. #brunomars #cooperativismo #cooperative

♬ som original – Brunin Mars

Brazilian Initiatives and Success Stories
With this Brazilian context in mind, the OCB (Organization of Brazilian Cooperatives) promotes actions to include young people and women leaders in cooperatives. At the Brazilian Cooperative Congress in 2019, the Generation C Committee was created, made up of a representative from each state in the country to discuss and promote the inclusion of young people in cooperatives in a consultative manner.

Another action promoted in Brazil began in 2019 when Sescoop (National Cooperative Learning Service) took on the responsibility of contributing to the renewal of the National Cooperative System by proposing the training of new leaders for cooperativism. Within this context, the Somos Líderes (We Are Leaders) Program was developed, which carefully selected 35 young people from all over Brazil, out of a total of 1,538 applicants.

From then on, many cooperatives in Brazil became aware and launched projects to include young people in cooperatives. Sicredi, the credit cooperative system, has Youth Committees in its individual cooperatives with training and activities that promote leadership within their community and cooperative.

Agricultural cooperatives are also thinking about the need to include young people in cooperatives and are also working on family succession, since many of their member families are family farmers. One such example is the Cocamar cooperative project, called Jovem +Agro, as well as Coopa Jovem and the Cocari Cooperative action.

Strategies for Engagement
Actions around the world also encourage the inclusion of young people in cooperatives. The ICA (International Cooperative Alliance) promotes actions for the training and inclusion of young people, just as the World Council of Credit Unions holds its annual congress and there are always spaces for the theme of youth inclusion, including an award called Wycup, which recognizes young cooperative leaders around the world.

And how can this inclusion take place? The first suggestion is to adapt communication. You have to use the language and channels that the target audience consumes. There’s no point in running incredible advertising campaigns if they don’t reach young people; running a campaign in a printed newspaper is unlikely to reach people under 35. So the alternative is to analyze which channel young people in your community consume content on.

Digital solutions can also be an alternative to attract more young people, such as platform cooperatives, which present a digital model for solutions that cooperativism offers.

Actions like these endorse the need to include young people in cooperatives. We’ve listed 10 reasons why young people should be included in the context of cooperative leadership:

  • Innovation and Adaptation: Young people bring new perspectives and are generally more open to innovation and change, which can be crucial in a constantly evolving market.
  • Technology and Digitization: The younger generation are digital natives and are at ease with emerging technologies.
  • Sustainability and Social Awareness: Many young people are committed to sustainability and social issues.
  • Diversity of Thought: Including young people in leadership positions promotes diversity of thought, which can lead to more creative and effective solutions to complex challenges.
  • Succession and Longevity: Preparing young leaders is essential for succession.
  • Community Engagement: Young leaders can have a better understanding of and connection to the needs of the local community.
  • Energy and Dynamism: Young people often bring an energy and dynamism that can be contagious.
  • Long-term Vision: Investing in young people means investing in a long-term vision.
  • Ability to Attract Talent: Cooperatives can be more attractive to new talent looking for innovative environments.
  • Resilience and Flexibility: Young leaders often demonstrate resilience and flexibility, important qualities for navigating crisis scenarios or economic uncertainty.

Cooperative education and ESG share a natural synergy, promoting values of sustainability, social responsibility and ethical governance that resonate strongly with younger generations. Through social media, these concepts can be communicated in an effective and engaging way, attracting young people’s interest in cooperativism. Digital platforms offer a unique opportunity to educate and inspire this audience, highlighting how collaboration, democratic participation and caring for the community are essential for a sustainable and equitable future.

And you can see examples of inclusion from young people like Larissa Zambiasi, a member of Coperconcordia, an agricultural cooperative. Larissa takes part in family succession plan projects at her cooperative and has now become a leader in the sector. Among the projects she takes part in, I would highlight “Continuity”, which goes beyond succession.

We also have examples in the Sicredi System, such as young Guilherme Melo who, as a member, joined the Youth Committee promoted by the Sicredi Paranapanema Serrana cooperative and months later, interested in the principles of cooperativism, he was elected as a core coordinator, and went on to represent members of the credit cooperative in his town. We also have Victor Saab, a member of the Sicredi Rio Paraná cooperative, who also took part in the Youth Committee meetings. After learning, he promoted many projects in his town and later became a member of the cooperative’s board, being the first young person to sit on the board.

The Way Forward
Incorporating young leaders into cooperatives is not just about securing the future; it’s about embracing the potential for innovation, technological adeptness, and a commitment to sustainability that young people bring. By aligning cooperative education with ESG principles and leveraging social media, cooperatives can position themselves as attractive, forward-thinking entities to the younger generation. By adjusting our strategies and embracing digital engagement, we can ensure that cooperatives remain vibrant, relevant, and impactful for generations to come. Investing in young leaders is investing in the future of cooperativism, a future where our principles of cooperation, mutuality, and sustainability continue to thrive in an ever-changing world.