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The ICA Global Assembly in Kuala Lumpur in 2017 (#KL2017) was a landmark global confluence of cooperators, that also marked the reconstitution of the Executive Committee of the Global Youth Network of the ICA. Sébastien Chaillou, former president of the French Multi-Stakeholder Co-operative, Solidarité Etudiante, that has its roots in the student mutual movement of France whose members (& former members) continue to explore novel ways of engaging youth in the French Co-operative movement. Sébastien, who recently turned 30, took over the ICA youth leadership from Ms. Gaby Buffa (Cooperar, Argentina) and will serve as a co-opted member of the ICA Board until 2021. Last month, ICA Asia and Pacific had a Tête-à-tête with this militant cooperativist in an attempt to understand the French student co-operative movement and his vision for the global integration of young people involved with the co-operative model!

 

 

Sébastien Chaillou, Chairperson Global Youth Network, ICA

 

ICA-AP: BonJour, Sébastien! Thanks for having us here and agreeing to speak on a host of issues of importance to the youth movement in the ICA.

 

Sébastien Chaillou (SC): The pleasure is mine. I always look forward to engaging with young co-operators and ‘am always eager to learn new stories, especially outside Europe. I miss the time I spent with Asia Pacific youth during the AP Co-operative Youth Summit in 2016 in Bali, Indonesia. It was a very interesting to note cases like Happy Green Co-operatives (Bhutan), Red Roots Artists Co-operative (The Philippines), Loomio Co-operative (New Zealand) and KOPINDO (Indonesia) among others.

 

ICA-AP: Thanks! It was nice to participate at the Summit in 2016. We fondly remember your call to young people to #STARTDOWN with their business ideas, instead of #STARTUP! For the sake of our readers, could you tell us a little bit about Solidarité Etudiante?

 

SC: Of course! It is France’s first national level student owned and led co-operative that develops services for students on French campuses and creates an enabling environment for co-operative entrepreneurship. We find our presence in many universities across France and promote an economy Human service by encouraging young people to organize collectives to improve their lives by addressing their student needs and creates new solidarity spaces in universities to welcome new students and make them feel comfortable in the challenging years of higher education.  The breakaway thinking from traditional consumerism and individualism lies at the core of this co-operative.

 

ICA-AP: Wow! Does that mean that students in France are well versed with the idea of co-operation? When did you start your tryst with co-operatives?

 

SC: You cannot say that yet. Though we can say that university students have been integrated in the co-operative movement and do not have to start from scratch in terms of understanding the co-operative model. Let me give you how I got involved with co-operatives. I think it was in 2010 that I discovered the co-operative movement at the Paris-Sorbonne University where I was studying to become a geographer. The student union, of which I was a part of, worked closely with the mutual healthcare co-operative that is owned and run by students. This student led health care mutual has its roots in the fragile times right after the second world war, when students were among the most vulnerable lots of the society. Securing healthcare & delivering mutual insurance, and creating a space for students of France to come together and feel as one, were some of the chief objectives of the this movement.

 

ICA-AP: So, did you actively engage in the working of Student health care and mutual cooperative? Could you share more on how the student co-operative movement evolved in 21st century France?

 

SC: Yes, I was very much involved in the student co-operative and retired a couple of years ago as the national President. A post that is now held by Romain Boix, whom you met at the ICA GA last year. In order to answer your question on the evolution of the young cooperators’ movement for the new century: A few years back we started thinking why can’t we use the co-operative model to address the common issues and challenges of students during their life at school, besides healthcare insurance, and we came up with the idea of establishing tiny spots and kiosks to sell sandwiches and coffee but wanted to operate it as a true co-operative with deepest commitment to the co-operative principles and ethics. Now of course I am out of that space as I have retired, but the group continues to experiment with co-operatives and gets up every time it fails. One such (successful) experiment has been the multi-stakeholder co-working space called ESS’PACE which is run, owned, managed by young people with history in the student health care and mutual movement, is established in support of the local government.

 

ICA-AP: Why do you want to experiment with new ideas when the student healthcare and mutual society is working fine?

 

SC: When I was studying, I was exposed to a quote by the famous Victor Hugo who said “you close a jail every time you open a school”. We are young people educating to run, own and develop France, and the potential and the scope of the co-operative model needs to be fully understood and realized by the students so as to contribute to France’s development in the future. Our main reasoning behind these experiments is that why should the students leave their needs to profiteering enterprise models to make billions of Euros out of the student’s basic needs? It should the students who should own their enterprises. Moreover, co-operatives teach young people the benefits of self-organization and ‘am sure the developing young people’s co-operative ecosystem in France will address the needs of students in and out of the campuses in the near future as well as take the French co-operative movement to the next level with new ideas and ownership structures.

 

ICA-AP: What are your immediate plans as Global Youth Representative of the ICA?

 

SC: Well, I would like to remain approachable to young people around the world, prepare a joint youth strategy with inputs from the young, collaborate with all regions to organize a relevant and effective global youth summit and of course, continue to agitate against ideas and opinions that refuse to change with time!

 

ICA-AP: Sébastien! It was a pleasure talking to you! Look forward to working with you!

SC: Thank you!

 

To Read our previous Téte-a-Tete, please click here.