Italian couple is travelling around the world to tell co-operative stories

Film makers Sara Vicari and Andrea Mancori want to debunk the myth that co-ops are not successful business models

An Italian couple have set out on a year-long journey to discover inspiring co-op stories.

Researcher Sara Vicari and her husband, video editor Andrea Mancori, are documenting co-ops, collective action and sustainable development
in more than 10 countries.

The couple have set up an association – Aroundtheworld.coop – to give voice to stories of co-operatives and communities that engage in collective action and sustainable human development processes around the world. It has a team of six members.

“The idea came to us because we wanted to challenge ourselves and try to merge our interests and skills,” says Sara, who is passionate about co-operatives and their role in poverty reduction. She has been working with co-operative organisations, international institutions and academia, directly carrying out or supervising field research in several countries. As part of her research, she spent a year working with the Co-operative College in Manchester.

Her passion for travel goes hand in hand with Andrea’s love for video making. During his 15-year career, he has collaborated with TV networks such as Fox International Channel, National Geographic, SKY, RAI, and La7. One of his most rewarding jobs was editing of the National Geographic documentary The Summer of Sammy.

Co-ops do a lot but it’s a challenge to communicate this in the right way,” says Sara, adding that they felt the need to contribute to the global effort to share stories about co-operatives.

“Positive messages of solidarity are not fashionable any more,” she adds. “We wanted to stress and convey positive messages. When people come together through collective action, they can transform their lives and their communities. The stories we are telling show indeed that solidarity, reciprocity and mutual approach is not old fashioned at all.”

The project is backed by the International Co-operative Alliance with its regional organisations.

“This ambitious project of Sara and Andrea is a great opportunity not only to show the diversity of the co-operative movement throughout the world, but particularly to present innovative and inclusive examples of co-operatives that have improved daily lives of many people,” says Marc Noël, international development director at the ICA.

A worker at Toudarte women’s co-op in Morocco

“These co-operatives become drivers of sustainable development of their communities. We are very happy to be able to partner with Sara and Andrea on this great journey and are very much looking forward to it.”

The association has launched a fundraising campaign for those wishing to support the project. They are asking co-ops to make a donation and record a one-minute video presenting their organisation and sending a message to co-operators worldwide. These will be published on their website and promoted on social media.

The tour started in August with a visit to social co-op Altri Orizzonti in Castel Volturno, southern Italy. The region gained notoriety as a centre of Mafia activity and was featured in TV series Gomorrah. The co-op was established in 2011, using a building confiscated from a local crime boss. Since then it has worked on projects of cultural integration and social and health assistance, particularly for migrants.

One initiative brought together Italian and African tailors, while another developed an agricultural venture to produce organic tomato sauce on lands confiscated from the Mafia.

Andrea says: “At a time when it looks like there is no space for migrants and Italian people working together and promoting community development, this shows it’s possible to promote intercultural exchange and also fight criminal organisations in a way that transforms not only economy, but also society and culture.”

The next stop in their journey was Morocco, where they visited the women’s co-operative Toudarte. based in the Imsouane region.

Founded in 2004 by women from the village of Akhsmou, the co-op – whose name translates as “life” – boasts 100 members and has a turnover of nearly £440,000. Its high quality, organic-certified products include culinary argan oil and cosmetic argan oil products, and clients include cosmetics brand L’Oreal.

“This experience has been amazing,” the couple add. “Starting as a bottom-up project, the co-op developed due to the strong leadership of these women. It combines economic and social aspects.

“When you talk about the definition of co-ops, meeting members’ needs and aspirations is crucial. That is something seen clearly there. For example, leaders asked members what they wanted to achieve in life and one of their main objectives was to visit Mecca. Thanks to the co-op, they are now able to go there. Every year they organise this trip for them and it was a life-changing event for these women.”

scoopy
The association’s mascot, Sco-opy

Sara and Andrea will spend on average one month in each country. Each month they will post updates from their journey both on their blog and social media.

Manchester could be among their destinations, they say, including a visit to Rochdale and the birthplace of the modern-day co-operative movement.

In addition to telling the stories of different co-ops across the world, they intend to debunk the myth that co-ops are not successful business models.

Aroundtheworld.coop has its own mascot – a bumblebee called Sco-opy. “Some economic theories say that co-ops cannot be successful and achieve social and economic goals and this is not true. Our project aims to tell stories of success in this regard,” concluded Sara.

Their next stop will be Rwanda.

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