Annual Q&A: Neil Calvert, CEO and principal, Co-operative College

'We end 2022 with a wealth of expertise and experience and real excitement about what the future holds'

How was last year for the Co-operative College?

This has undoubtedly been a successful and productive year for the Co-operative College. As an organisation whose people are very much our most valuable asset, it’s been a real pleasure to work with the new team and see them gel so effectively. Some further key additions this year, to both the staff and the Trustee Board, mean that we end 2022 with a wealth of expertise and experience and real excitement about what the future holds. 

In late June, we launched our new three-year strategy, which identified the four key strategic areas of our work. Facilitating co-operative learning continues to be a major focus both at home and abroad. In the UK we have increased the number of retail societies with whom we work, as well as embracing a more diverse range of co-ops including the housing sector. 2022 also saw the College launch the first of its formal partnerships in Higher Education, with three cohorts having now completed the “Spanner in the works” course delivered in conjunction with Imperial College London. Internationally we’ve been delighted to see the return of study visits and with the support of partner organisations we have been able to provide a rich and varied learning experience for our delegates. 

Thought leadership is an emerging theme to our work. In November we held a webinar which brought together delegates from around the world to engage with an expert panel on the subject of international co-operative development. Members and friends of the College can expect further opportunities throughout 2023 to join similar events as we look to provide spaces and networks through which relevant “big issues” can be debated. 

As many readers will be aware, that theme of international co-operative development has seen us working very closely with Central Co-op on the Our Malawi Partnership which launched over the summer. This initiative, including the establishment of an innovative Co-operative International Trading Development Fund to help move global communities out of poverty, involves the College in a project management and delivery role to which we bring extensive experience of similar work with co-operators and co-operatives in the Global South. 

Our fourth and final area of focus is youth empowerment. Our UK youth work, including the Youth Co-operative Action (YCA) and Co-operative (Ad)Venture programmes, has continued to help young people in disadvantaged communities around the country improve their life chances through the medium of co-operation. As we work to develop more bespoke programmes to meet the needs of specific communities and groups, we’re also extending our influence to support young people overseas, including in a current project with young co-operators in Laos, Colombia and Eswatini. 

What are your hopes for the future?

Looking ahead to 2023, we’re excited to make further progress on all four of these key strategic areas. One thing to look out for, in particular, will be our intention to launch as our second HE partnership, a masters-level programme of formal learning in collaboration with the University of Dundee. We expect this initiative to be of great interest to our members and partners in the UK and around the world. Watch this space! 

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