Peace is more than just – in the words of Thomas Hobbes – the absence of war. It is also a matter of happiness, prosperity and the restoration of relationships. During the final Plenary at the International Cooperative Alliance (ICA) International Conference, delegates were introduced to the concept of positive peace.
Prof Claudia Sanchez Bajo, from University of Buenos Aires, said peace thinking in the 20th and 21st century started exploring the idea of positive peace, which is characterised by cooperation.
Cooperatives are particularly prominent in peace building and post conflict transition, fostering community development, she said.
They support the peace process, she added, by enabling sustainable livelihoods, market access, risk mitigation planning, micro insurance, integration in local communities and access to health services.
Cooperatives Europe President Jean-Louis Bancel talked about his organisation’s report, Cooperatives and Peace, which includes case studies from 14 countries and shows how cooperatives help maintain peace around the world.
While coops are not in themselves the answer to all problems, they can help to address some of the factors that lead to conflict, such as extreme poverty. “Cooperatives are human enterprises,” said Mr Bancel, adding that other factors also had to be taken into account.
He believes that cooperatives need to exist within a legal framework, respect the law and put democracy in practice – but also that the movement needs to promote a vision for a better world.
“We are citizens of the world,” he added, criticising chauvinistic nationalism and highlighting the international dimension of the cooperative movement and its role in promoting peace during the two world wars.
James Karangwa from Coproliz–ntende in Rwanda shared the story of his rice coop, which has been helping farmers improve their livelihoods. Through the coop they were able to achieve scale, access social services and insurance, and save for pensions. The coop also pays school fees and funeral services for families.
In Nepal, cooperatives are playing a similar role helping the country recover in the aftermath of an internal conflict, said Om Devi Malla, vice chair of the country’s National Cooperative Federation. Around 16,000 people were killed during the conflict, with thousands left disabled and displaced between 1996 and 2006.
With four million members across Rwanda, cooperatives are advancing women’s leadership, empowering communities and increasing participation of marginalised communities, said Dr Monique Nsanzabagangwa, vice governor of the Bank of Rwanda.
She described how cooperatives help improve access to financial services and drive equality, adding that “peace goes hand in hand with equality”.
Through the country’s 58 financial cooperatives, five million members have access to financial services.
“You see solidarity. You see people coming together,” she said, explaining how coops are bringing together wives of imprisoned genocide perpetrators to set up a business and earn a living.
She suggested improving links between productive cooperatives and financial cooperatives and continuing to build capacity.
Another problem is that new members join not knowing what a cooperative really is – so coops need to keep talking about what they do, welcome new members and be vigilant about governance to ensure the perception of coops is not negative.
“Cooperatives have been trusted by the marginalised, weak and vulnerable people of our society,” she said.
Pascaline Mitima from Amahoro Ava Hejuru Women’s Cooperative of Rwanda said that in her co-op every member is able to save and pay for their children’s education. All members get a house, which they pay for over time – with the money from their monthly repayments used to buy more homes.
The coop has grown from supplying two products to 80 products, she added.
By 2030, fragility, conflict, and violence countries will be home to 46% of the world’s extreme poor. Cooperatives will have to continue helping these communities rebuild their lives.