Given Canada’s longstanding reputation as a peace-keeper, it’s probably not suprising that today’s session on the relationship between co-ops and peace was led by two Canadians: Ian MacPherson, professor emeritus at the University of Victoria and Jill Kelly, a Vancouver credit union manager and a vice-president of CCA.
It’s a subject that has been of interest to the co-op movement nearly as long as there has been a co-op movement; according to MacPherson, the ICA has adopted more than 30 resolutions relating to peace since it was created in 1895.
He said co-ops have historically emerged for two reasons: the desire for economic opportunity and because of tensions caused by class, ethnic, religious, gender, economic and/or ideological differences.
In addition to alleviating these kinds of tensions, he also gave examples of the emergence of co-ops immediately following a war.
“When countries are fighting each other, the price of food often goes up,” he said. “Co-ops can be influential in bringing the price of food down.”
Jill Kelly talked about two aspects of co-operative peace-building: CCA’s Developing Democracy in Nepal project and the creation of co-operatives by immigrants to Canada, which has contributed to social cohesion. In the former project, CCA began working with women credit union members when Nepal was emerging from a 10-year internal conflict. By providing women with training in leadership and advocacy skills, they could participate actively in the transition to democracy.
In Canada, Kelly cited numerous examples of co-ops and credit unions started by new Canadians — as well as more mainstream credit unions like Assiniboine and Vancity who have gone out of their way to reach out to immigrant groups.
MacPherson, who has already co-authored one book on co-operatives and peace, is working on a second one, this time with Israeli peace activist Yehudah Paz. They are also collaborating on the creation of an institute on co-ops and peace, and are interested in hearing from co-operators with relevant case studies in this area. MacPherson can be reached at email@example.com.
– Donna Balkan