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At Co-operatives United, a global festival of co-operation, Plunkett organised a session to present the Dunsany Declaration for Rural Co-operative Development to a gathering in Manchester. The aim was to identify ways of taking forward the ideas in the Declaration.

The session was chaired by Jim Metcalfe from the Carnegie UK Trust which has supported the World of Rural Co-operation. Peter Couchman, Plunkett’s Chief Executive presented the Declaration and there was also a panel discussion with three members of the Dunsany Group that met and developed the Declaration – Eve Crowley, Deputy Director of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), Simel Esim, Chief of the Co-operative Office at the International Labour Office and Martin Lowery, Senior Vice President of the US National Rural Electric Cooperative Association.

The panel

Peter, Simel, Eve, Martyn and Jim at the World of Rural Co-operation session at Co-operatives United

Peter concluded his presentation by highlighting how co-operatives empower people, economies and societies. Simel talked about the need of the co-operative movement to reach out to the unconverted. Martin talked about the history of rural electric co-operatives in the US and Horace Plunkett’s influence on their development through his writings on the Rural Life Problem of the United States and the work of Teddy Roosevelt’s Country Life Commission. Martin highlighted how co-operatives are uniquely places to connect up the key issues of conservation and rural development which are often dealt with in a disconnected fashion.

Eve explained how rural co-operatives are critically important in delivering FAOs work and priorities. Eve explained how there are unique rural challenges and these unique challenges mean that there is a need for specific approaches in rural areas. She explained how 70% of the global poor live in rural areas. Eve also highlighted what she felt was a huge opportunity for co-operatives as they work across the food system to tackle the chronic waste problem and in doing so, tackle the 870m people who go hungry every day. Eve ended by saying that many people in rural areas across the world do not live in democratised societies. Co-operatives are often people’s first experience on one member one vote.

Prior to the session the FAO Director General gave a keynote presentation in the main Co-operatives United session. We were honed that he recognised the Dunsany Declaration as an important contribution to the Blueprint for a Co-operative Decade. We were also delighted that he was able to attend part of the session presenting the Declaration.

We could have gone on all day but had to bring the session to a close. Through the session and meeting various people over the week we’ve established a group of people with a common interest in rural co-operatives. We look forward to taking forward the important themes within the Dunsany Declaration with a growing network of people and organisations interested in building a better world through rural co-operatives.

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