Co-ops and peace: Canadians take the lead

Given Canada’s longstanding reputation as a peace-keeper, it’s probably not suprising that today’s session on the relationship between co-ops and peace was led by two Canadians:  Ian MacPherson,...

Given Canada’s longstanding reputation as a peace-keeper, it’s probably not suprising that today’s session on the relationship between co-ops and peace was led by two Canadians:  Ian MacPherson, professor emeritus at the University of Victoria and Jill Kelly, a Vancouver credit union manager and a vice-president of CCA.

Ian MacPherson talks about the role of co-operatives in peace-building

It’s a subject that has been of interest to the co-op movement nearly as long as there has been a co-op movement; according to MacPherson, the ICA has adopted more than 30 resolutions relating to peace since it was created in 1895.

He said co-ops have historically emerged for two reasons: the desire for economic opportunity and because of tensions caused by class, ethnic, religious, gender, economic and/or ideological differences.

In addition to alleviating these kinds of tensions, he also gave examples of the emergence of co-ops  immediately following a war.

“When countries are fighting each other, the price of food often goes up,” he said. “Co-ops can be influential in bringing the price of food down.”

Jill Kelly talked about two aspects of co-operative peace-building: CCA’s Developing Democracy in Nepal project and the creation of co-operatives by immigrants to Canada, which has contributed to social cohesion.  In the former project, CCA  began working with women credit union members when Nepal was emerging from a 10-year internal conflict.  By providing women with training in leadership and advocacy skills, they could participate actively in the transition to democracy.

In Canada, Kelly cited numerous examples of co-ops and credit unions started by new Canadians — as well as more mainstream credit unions like Assiniboine and Vancity who have gone out of their way to reach out to immigrant groups.

MacPherson, who has already co-authored one book on co-operatives and peace, is working on a second one, this time with Israeli peace activist Yehudah Paz.  They are also collaborating on the creation of an institute on co-ops and peace, and are interested in hearing from co-operators with relevant case studies in this area.  MacPherson can be reached at [email protected]

– Donna Balkan

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