Putting young people at the centre of international co-operative development

'We're empowering them to challenge the perception that they have no viable voice. Young people can often be the innovators and ideas generators within communities and wider society'

The contribution of co-ops to development is increasingly recognised around the world. The theme of this year’s Global Conference of the International Co-operative Alliance is Putting people at the centre of development. But what is the role of youth in this process, both as project developers and recipients?

Last year the European Commission and the International Co-operative Alliance signed a framework partnership agreement, with the Commission co-funding the Alliance’s four-year programme Co-operatives in development – people-centred businesses in action.

In 2015 Cooperatives Europe, the regional office of the International Co-operative Alliance, launched a platform for its members involved in development policy and implementation. The network includes nine European co-operative organisations, all members of Cooperatives Europe and leading international co-operative development projects.

There are currently 175 active co-operative projects featured on the Cooperatives Europe Development Platform (CEDP). Two of these are led by Coopermondo, the Italian Association for International Development Cooperation.

A young co-op member in Togo

Set up by Confcooperative (the confederation of Italian Co-operatives), Coopermondo works with nine other partners in projects related to international co-operative development. Through these initiatives it is also facilitating youth involvement in co-operative development.

One of the projects has helped to create more than 146 agricultural co-operatives in Togo, which are managed mainly by youth. Coopermondo has also enabled the exchange of experience between the co-operative movements in the two countries.

The project was financed by Coopermondo along with six Italian co-operative banks and Federcasse, the sectorial apex organisation for co-ops banks in Italy. It had a total budget of €1.8m.

As part of the initiative, Coopermondo has worked with two local partners in Togo – CTOP, the Confederation of Agricultural Producers and the Ministry of Development who has a special Fund for Promoting Youth Entrepreneurship (the FAIEJ).

One of the co-ops created is CJPPAB: Cooperative of Young Professional Producers of Organic Pineapple. The co-operative includes 1,018 young members, 367 of whom are women. They produce a special type of pineapple called pain de sucre (sugar bread), which is 100% organic and does not need any chemicals to grow. The co-op produces 10,000 tonnes of pineapple every year.

The famous sugar bread pineapple

“After our training and assistance they are now able to export this delicious pineapple to Italy,” said Camilla Carabini from Coopermondo, who is also a member of the Young European Co-operators Network.

“It is being marketed thanks to AGRINTESA, one of the Italian largest consumer co-operatives, which worked with Coopermondo to make this possible. Young people are our main target beneficiaries in the project.”

Federcasse and the six co-operative banks involved in the project also facilitated a loan to two local micro-finance institutions – URCLEC and FECECAV, which provided micro-credits and medium and long term credit to the co-operatives trained by Coopermondo.

Related: Co-op Group’s community report finds a caring young generation

Around 470 agricultural managers have been trained as part of the project and €1.2m were granted to employees and members of co-ops through local micro finance institutions – URCLEC and FECECAV.

The president of the co-op, Egblogbe Kokou, said: “We are satisfied with the work of Coopermondo: it supports us at ethical, financial and technical level. Our future objective is to have a solid project that can allow us to reach national and international markets.”

In Colombia Coopermondo is leading a project focused on three sectors: agriculture, aquaculture and fisheries, and responsible tourism. The project started in 2015 and covers three different regions of the country, Cauca, Valle del Cauca and San Andrés y Providencia.

The initiative also involves two local partners, National Learning Service Agency of the Ministry of Labour and Confecoop Colombia, a member of the International Co-operative Alliance for the Americas.

Young Italian biologist experts went fishing with local fishermen in Colombia to understand the level of their technologies (c) Coopermondo

After conducting a need assessment, Coopermondo decided to focus on empowering youth in the Archipelago of San Andres, Providence and Santa Catalina, who often lack job opportunities and get trapped into drug dealing.

The islands are one of the country’s popular tourist destinations due to its picturesque beaches and coral reefs. The archipelago is attracting millions of visitors every year, who also come for scuba diving or snorkelling.

The AGRICOOP Jóvenes (Youth) project will therefore focus on promoting social innovation through the creation of inclusive businesses on the island.

Young co-operators who set up their own enterprises in Italy mentored 42 students from the National Training Centre (SENA) in the co-operative enterprise model. They looked at developing five business plans different sectors: recycling, education, tourism, sustainable agriculture and a social co-operatives working with prisoners. The workshop took place on 31 July- 4 August on the San Andrés Island.

In addition, ten Colombian instructors will visit Italy and some of the country’s co-ops to familiarise themselves with the movement.

The projects in Colombia will continue this year with activities in the three sectors (agriculture, aquaculture and fisheries, and sustainable tourism) across the existing three regions Cauca, Valle del Cauca, San Andrés, as well as two new regions for the project: Huila and Tolima. In the old regions Coopermondo will work continue to provide technical assistance to the co-ops while the new regions are undergoing an assessment process to identify the needs of the local communities.

Another project listed on Cooperatives Europe’s platform is focused on strengthening co-operatives in Malawi and is led by the Co-operative College in the UK. The initiative started in April 2015 funded by the Scottish Government and encourages young people to engage more in co-operative enterprises. While 90% of the country’s population lives in rural areas and face high youth unemployment, young people do not perceive co-operatives as a viable alternative, particularly those active in the agricultural sector.

Related: What youth are looking for in ethical business

During the first two years of the project, the College has managed to train just over 1,200 young people about co-operatives as a viable livelihood option, mainly through schools and colleges. As a result of the College’s work there, the income of the young people involved in co-ops has also increased by over 60%.

Another local partner organisation is St John of God, a charity, which works with disadvantaged young people that have been victims of forced marriages, prostitution and drug abuse. The College works with the charity to increase the awareness of young people of the co-operative model.

Dr Sarah Alldred, projects development manager for the Co-operative College, said: “Our team in Malawi are doing some inspirational work with young people to harness their drive to improve their life circumstances, through engaging in co-operatives.

“We’re also empowering them to challenge the perception that they have no viable voice and are lazy. Young people can often be the innovators and ideas generators within communities and wider society.”

In this article

Join the Conversation