What role do co-operatives play in international development?

Co-ops back 'people development' when looking at international development in a number of sectors including agriculture, banking, tourism, environment and energy

Co-operatives play a key role in international development, according to research published by a coalition of European co-operative organisations active in development.

The Cooperatives Europe Development Platform (CEDP), which is composed of 10 members, found that co-ops help promote capacity building, training and education worldwide. Furthermore, CEDP members rely on network building and strengthening to build trust between the partners and the local community. The research document, Good practices in international cooperative development, is part of the ICA-EU Partnership framework and was led by Cooperatives Europe, The Co-operative College, Coopermondo-Confcooperative and Kooperationen.

This report shows CEDP members have wide-ranging experience of international co-operative development, from planning stages through to evaluation across 74 countries and within a wide range of sectors from agriculture and banking to tourism, environment and energy. In around 50% of projects, CEDP members said they partner with other co-ops.

The report’s authors said there is a distinction between ‘traditional’ international development and international cooperative development. They said: “International co-operative development is an enterprise tool that fosters economic, social and environmental sustainability. International co-operative development workers share collective business skills and practical co-operative approaches with their co-operative partners in developing countries to create wealth and reduce poverty in a sustainable way.”

They add: “Co-operative development moves away from a more paternalistic approach of some international development projects merely based on aid, and focuses on developing people’s capacity to work together to strengthen livelihoods, build communities and improve the infrastructure to support this activity.”

Six ways to improve international co-operative development

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The main priorities guiding the work of the CEDP focus predominantly on youth and gender equality along with training and education. The group also stressed the importance of capacity building in order to strengthen the skills, competencies and abilities of people and communities in the global South.

There is a strong focus on training and institutional building as well as the implementation of legal frameworks and policy reforms. Beneficiaries are involved in project implementation through surveys, monitoring reports and needs assessment.

Current CEDP member organisations include: AJEEC-NISPED (Israel), Cera/BRS (Belgium), The Co-operative College (United Kingdom), Coopermondo (Italy), DGRV (Germany), Euro Coop (EU), Kooperationen (Denmark), Legacoop (Italy), REScoop (EU), We Effect (Sweden).

The authors of the report said one of the main purposes of the research was to “encourage knowledge sharing in order to build more resilient partnerships” and it found a “common thread through most of the work done by the group relates to the significance of the co-operative values and principles”.

“The co-operative values and principles are not only crucial for social integration and inclusion of minorities and underprivileged groups,” said the report, “but also provide a guiding light in times of social, politic and economic upheaval. This research shows that empowering people by strengthening their livelihood is at the heart of international cooperative development.”

The document maps the activities of the CEDP in diverse geographic and thematic areas, showcasing good practices and tools used by members.

In conclusion, the report’s authors documented six recommendations to improve how the sector does work. These include sharing expertise and strengthening communications.

Amanda Benson, projects and research co-ordinator for the Co-operative College, said: “This report shows what an important role international co-operative development plays in the global south in terms of creating sustainable change and wealth creation. Armed with the information in this report, we are confident that the College will be able to continue building new partnerships with our co-operative colleagues, both in the EU and further afield, as well as reaching out to other sectors to work towards a fairer, more equitable world.”

• View the full publication here.

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