Six ways to improve international co-operative development

Sharing expertise and strengthening communications are some of the recommendations

A coalition of development organisations across Europe has looked at how to improve international development.

The Cooperatives Europe Development Platform (CEDP) is a European network of co-operative organisations active in international co-operation. In its report looking at best practices, it says creating a knowledge sharing culture is key for international co-operative development work.

The group also talks about international co-operative development, as opposed to international development. So, what is international co-operative development? According to the report’s authors:

“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. In this way, 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. Where the exit strategies of international development projects can sometimes leave communities unable to sustain project activity once the funding cycle is finished, co-operative development seeks to empower people and communities to develop long-term livelihood-building strategies from the outset.”

For those working in international co-operative development, the report has produced six key recommendations on how to improve the sector. They are:

1. Sharing of expertise
There is a need to share training expertise and technical knowledge more effectively. Although CEDP members are somewhat aware of each other’s expertise and practices, we as the CEDP Research Group recommend a knowledge sharing platform. It could be a database which will allow a quick and easy search for content, streamline the training and encourage CEDP members to contribute with new ideas. It could also be achieved by sharing information face-to-face. This would enable CEDP members to build up a repository of information and tools so they can share best practice on international co-operative development, whilst also encouraging partnership working and linkages.

2 Communication & identity
Communication needs to improve between the CEDP partners since poor communication strategies can affect the effectiveness of development projects. To ensure there is long-lasting co-operation and trust among CEDP members and more efficient networking skills, new communication processes should be established to provide a regular flow of information to key stakeholders. We recommend a set of joint PR strategies, including branding the CEDP as an expert group working in international co-operative development work within Cooperatives Europe, the ICA Region of Europe. We believe that developing and conveying key messages, recognising communication opportunities, providing useful information and targeting relevant information to the group will help the CEDP to reach out to external audiences and stakeholders.

3. Trade unions
CEDP members and their local co-operative partners have little interaction with trade unions. Despite the fact that co-operatives have often engaged with trade unions in the pursuit of mutual goals such as good working conditions, education, social inclusion and equality, based on the data collected among CEDP members, it seems that there is an apparent resistance between the two. The International Labour Organization’s recommendation No. 193 specifically states that measures should be adopted to promote the potential of co-operatives in all countries and the promotion and strengthening of the identity of cooperatives. We need therefore to identify new common paths which will allow both movements to collaborate towards a common set of values rooted in solidarity and poverty reduction and a more effective dialogue on social inclusion and decent working and living conditions.

4. Strengthening the relationship with NGOs
CEDP members already partner regularly with nongovernmental organisations (NGOs), as they work to support the poorest people in developing countries in fields such as social development, education, health, better livelihoods and rural development. We recommend that international co-operative development work keeps strengthening the civil society organisations in developing countries so that their own organisations can take better care of their basic tasks: service provision, policy dialogue and information. In addition, NGOs promote development policy goals that are in line with the CEDP group’s priorities by carrying out advocacy and campaign work and providing knowledge. Most importantly, strengthening the relationship with NGOs will build stronger civil societies and create better democratic participation in developing countries. This, in turn, means that citizens are able to influence international decision-making in accordance with the co-operative values and principles.

5. Developing new standards and strategies
By conducting an evaluation of its practices and programmes, the CEDP group has the opportunity to further strengthen its role in developing new standards and strategies that will define the characteristics of effective co-operative development such as a need for a more effective communication and a deeper dialogue on policy issues as well as better knowledge management solutions. We believe that such action will foster a better relationship with civil society in order for it to become an important actor and development co-operation partner.

6. Evidencing the co-operative advantage
Through the research, it became clear that there are no planning, implementation, monitoring or evaluation tools which are specific to international co-operative development. Whilst it is not necessary to ‘re-invent the wheel’ when there are existing tools that are widely used for project management and evaluation (such as log frames, theory of change etc.), it was suggested that it may be useful to think of ways in which CEDP members were able to demonstrate the ‘co-operative advantage’ of their international co-operative development projects. Therefore it is proposed that it could be interesting and useful to study the possibility of CEDP members developing and using some standardised indicators to demonstrate the co-operative advantage in their fields of activity. For the CEDP apex organisations that do not directly implement international co-operative development projects themselves, it may be possible for them to consider using similar indicators as a means to measure the impact of their members’ activity. Moreover, stronger evidence of the co-operative advantage can be used to build up a body of evidence for use in advocacy and policy work, in addition to reinforcing the case for major donors to fund international co-operative development as a major tool in poverty reduction and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.

Find out more about the report.

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