Young people face the risk of poverty and social exclusion in Europe much more than other groups. Having a job today is no longer a guarantee for an independent and decent living. New challenges such as delayed transition from education to work, expansion of non-standard work, migration, and reduction in public spending are amplifying risks and creating new forms of insecurity and exclusion. An increasing amount of young people are losing faith in democracy and becoming attracted to populist ideologies. Equal opportunities have become nowadays a rhetorical exercise rather than a reality for the most vulnerable ones, especially those categories facing multiple discriminations (based on age, gender, ethnic origin, sexual orientation, disability, socio-economic status, etc)

The conference organized by CECOP–CICOPA Europe on 20 November in Brussels tackled exactly this topic from a variety of angles.

At the presence of a numerous and diversified audience composed of cooperators form around Europe, students and researchers, national and EU public officials, 6 worker and social cooperatives representatives from Sweden, Denmark, Belgium, Italy and Spain had the opportunity to share fragments of their daily work and commitment when it comes to social inclusion of young people.

How do they increase young people’s social and financial autonomy, give them control over their future and a voice in society and allow them to find their place in their community? How are the young people (often beneficiaries of the support) involved in the internal governance of the cooperative? Why choose to carry out this important and sensitive work as a cooperative? What are the benefit of a democratic and horizontal decision making process inside the cooperative? What could the national governments and the EU do to improve this kind of cooperative work?

These were some of the questions addressed in the span of a full day divided into two sessions: the first one being focused on social inclusion of young people through employment and the second one on social inclusion through access to services.

After the introductory remarks given by the CECOP-CICOPA Europe Secretary General Diana Dovgan, on behalf of our privileged partner for this event, the European Youth Forum, Team Leader for Social Inclusion Stephanie Beecroft gave a keynote speech aimed at taking stock of the social condition of the European youth. She said: “We know that young people are the group of greatest risk of poverty and social exclusion in the EU. This means that a large number of young people are facing a lack of full participation in society, a lack of access to their economic, social and cultural rights. Potentially, they cannot access to their right to education, employment, social protection. We have seen new forms of work, non-standard forms of works and age-based discrimination that makes it even harder for young people to access social protection. We really need to see a change in the EU, because building a society that works behind people is a better foundation for everyone.”

During the first session, worker cooperatives Urkraft from Sweden (Tess Lundgren and Peter Brannstrom), Hustomrerne from Denmark (Julie Luna Bayer) and Molenbike from Belgium (Sacha Conchin) explained how their activity is carried out for and by young people who are often members of the cooperatives. In the first two experiences, the young people involved come from very different and vulnerable context and their engagement in the business represent an opportunity for emancipation and belonging: through tailor-made mentoring, continuous connection with the local schools and authorities, specific training, the youths involved can better counter discrimination or stigma due to their past as former convicts, for example, or people struggling with addiction.

In Molenbike, the members of the cooperative are the riders who refused to surrender to big delivery players like Deliveroo or Uber Eats and instead chose to deliver quality local products at a fair price and most of all at a fair remuneration for the riders/cooperators. The key messages that the cooperators were keen to deliver to both national and European decision-makers included need for adequate legal frameworks for cooperatives, more visibility in EU policies for cooperative model, better access to capital and better design of EU funds to tackle long-term social needs.

This first session saw the participation of Amana Ferro, Senior Policy Officer at the European Anti-Poverty Network and Elodie Fazi, Team Leader on Youth Unemployment at the Directorate General on Employment and Social Inclusion of the European Commission. Ms Ferro stressed out the fact that the European Union should do much more in terms of social policy and spoke very highly of the cooperative model as a tool to integrate young people in the labour market in a meaningful and sustainable way. Moreover, according to Ms Farro, “cooperatives provide sense of ownership, power, control and bring back dignity to vulnerable youth”.

Ms Fazi briefly presented the state of play of the European Commission’s measures and proposals to counter youth unemployment and called on civil society organisations to lobby the member states in order for them to fully implement the European Pillar of Social Rights adopted at the Social Summit in Gothenburg in November 2017.

During the second session, two Italian social cooperatives representatives (Erika Vannini from Camelot and Federica Tedesco from Zattera Blu) together with Sara Fernandez from the cooperative Ateyavana (Spain) addressed the question of social exclusion of young people through social work and access to basic services.

Pictures of the conference are available on our Facebook page 

Ateyavana works mostly with young people in severe mental distress by creating opportunities of work and social integration in cooperation with the education centers of the area. While social cooperatives Camelot works mostly with young migrants, asylum seekers and refugees by integrating them in the local social fabric (be it through innovative shelter solutions or other activities), Zattera Blu involves young people in a number of activities aimed at developing their own skills as community makers: for this reason young people are directly involved through the cooperative when it comes for example to formulate policy proposals for local decision makers. Better use of quality criteria in public procurements was one of the recommendations to policy makers that came out of this session. Indeed, because of the use of the lowest price criteria cooperatives providing services of general interest feel under pression to reduce workers’ wages.

In reaction to the testimonies from the three cooperatives, Deputy Head of Unit of the Inclusion and Disability at the Directorate General on Employment and Social Inclusion Raquel Cortez Herrera said: “The fight against social exclusion is still mainly a Member State competence. However, the Commission is very committed to supporting Member States’ efforts in working towards these objectives. This supports comes in two different forms: policy guidance and financing, through different funding instruments.”

Nikita Sanaullah, Policy Officer for Social Inclusion at the European Youth Forum, elaborated further on the role of cooperative and youth inclusion: “Reaching those most in need is where we believe cooperatives can have added-value. They can provide young people with opportunities based on individual interests and needs. Participating in a cooperative can help develop young people’s professional skills, like leadership and entrepreneurship, which are crucial for their career development. But the cooperative model that is based on democracy and participation can also help equip young people for active citizenship in their communities”.

Member of the European Parliament Brando Benifei (Socialists and Democrats, Italy) joined the conference to give the European Parliament’s point of view on the matter and called for a deeper involvement of the cooperative movement in shaping employment policies. Moreover, he called on the cooperative family and other civil society organisation to support the efforts made by the European Parliament on the European Social Fund+.

To finish a successful and enriching day-long conference full of exchange and policy content, the CECOP-CICOPA Europe President Giuseppe Guerini addressed the audience for closing remarks where he underlined “Quite naturally, cooperatives have a sustainable dimension, they build capital that will be transferred from one generation to another. They can also be an instrument to solve inequality gaps, where cooperatives are active, inequalities are reduced”.

This conference has received financial support from the European Union Programme for Employment and Social Innovation "EaSI" (2014-2020). For further information please consult: