Representatives from the Co-operative College were invited to speak about their work in Malawi at the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh on 17 January.
The hybrid event was hosted by the MSPs on the Malawi Cross Party Group (CPG) and was attended by over 80 CPG members as well as Professor Iain Gillespie, principal and vice chancellor of the University of Dundee, and the vice chancellors of each of the public universities in Malawi.
The CPG is part of the Scotland Malawi Partnership which exists to help coordinate, support, and represent Scotland’s links with Malawi. The group consists of organisations and individuals from the UK and Malawi academic institutions, governments and civic societies.
Representing the College was director of learning and teaching Ali Longden, director of operations and business development Jacqui Thomasen, and College trustee Chris Jardine.
Longden presented information on the College, including the four key themes of its 2022-25 strategy: co-operative learning, thought leadership, international co-operative development, and youth empowerment.
She also discussed the College’s connection with Malawi, including its work with Central Co-op and the Malawi Federation of Co-operatives (MAFECO) on the ‘Our Malawi Partnership‘.
The College supported the creation of MAFECO, Malawi’s first national apex body for co-operatives, which provides support opportunities to co-operative producers and farmers.
The Our Malawi Partnership, launched on 2 July 2022, aims to improve the livelihoods of co-operative smallholder farmers through increased access to inclusive economic opportunities, sustainable agricultural practices, international co-op markets and solidarity networks.
The partnership involves Central Co-op selling a range of products linked to Malawi, with a percentage of the sales going to the initiative. The College is helping MAFECO administer the funds on the ground through a co-design process.
Malawi is one the world’s poorest countries with almost 70% of the population living below the national poverty line. 90% of the population live in rural areas, making agriculture central to the country’s economy.
A recent cholera outbreak in the country claimed the lives of almost 900 people since March 2022, which the College highlights as making the work of the Scotland Malawi Partnership, and initiatives such as the Our Malawi Partnership more important than ever.
Professor Gillespie told delegated about the Blantyre Declaration, a higher education partnership between the University of Dundee and Malawi which was signed in August 2022.
The event also provided an opportunity for the College to share information about a potential higher education partnership with the University of Dundee, which would see the organisations co-produce a range of online co-operative learning modules, accredited co-operative learning, and pathways to incorporating co-operation into master’s level study.
Longden said: “It was a privilege to be asked to speak at the Scottish Parliament Malawi Cross Party Group and meet others passionate about working co-operatively with organisations in Malawi. We were also interested to hear more about the Blantyre Declaration, and the opportunity this brings for co-production and collaborative working partnerships.”