Co-ops could play a key role in developing a new approach to Palestinian aid, according to prominent Palestinian political analyst, author and journalist; Nadia Hijab.
Nadia Hijab, Senior Fellow at the Institute for Palestine Studies and co-founder of Al-Shabaka, The Palestinian Policy Network, said co-ops could help to build a new development model across the Occupied Palestinian Territories (oPt).
Ms Hijab said that although many people in the oPt depend upon foreign assistance, Palestine's dependency upon aid should not be seen as a normality. She emphasised that it is necessary for aid to be a stepping stone towards sustainable development.
Nadia Hijab said growth based on foreign aid is unsustainable; therefore it is important to promote co-ops as local economic enterprises.
Nadia Hijab explained: “co-ops are a very useful form of sustaining social and economic development under these conditions of prolonged occupation”.
She added that pushing trade-oriented growth is not the right way to achieve sustainable development, particularly due to border controls, which make it difficult to export Palestinian products.
Ms Hijab said that co-ops have the advantage of being locally based, yet they are also able to extend to a larger scale. She added co-op enterprises can break barriers and overcome geographical isolation, whilst building social solidarity.
Nadia Hijab said co-ops face many challenges, she added: “there isn’t a strong sense of social solidarity and willingness to co-operate outside the family structure.”
She explained since the first intifada there has been an extended effort to develop the local economy in order to boycott Israeli goods to the extent possible.
According to a UNCTAD report, agricultural sector's contribution to Palestinian GDP shrank from 12 per cent in 1995 to 5.5 per cent in 2011. Nadia Hijab added that agricultural co-ops, the theme of this year’s World Food Day, could help to address the decline in the agricultural sector. Donors have invested less than one per cent in the agricultural sector and this could be reversed partly by investing in agricultural co-ops.
Said Nadia Hijab: “One of the problems that come with aid is that building capacity takes a much longer time than giving someone a grant and not building the capacity to sustain it, not just to develop a small business. It’s a matter of building capacity, collaborating with others to achieve an economy of scale”.
Another important aspect that should be taken into account by donors is, according to Nadia Hijab, market research. She argued that a lot of doners tend to look at what the producer can offer, but not necessarily at what the market needs, analysing whether there is a demand for that product within the market. She gave the example of Palestinian embroidery, saying aid has been granted to start such enterprises, but there has been little research to see whether the market needs the products.
She added co-ops could help to promote women enterprises and gave example of International Labour Organisation's (ILO) programmes aimed at creating decent and sustainable jobs in Palestine.
ILO’s work has also extensively focused on the creation of decent and sustainable jobs in the oPt and co-operatives are part of ILO’s strategy to address unemployment, gender equality or poverty reduction.
In December 2009, at the request of the Palestinian Authority, the ILO provided technical assistance to the Government and social partners to support national co-operative reform efforts, including drafting a new co-operative law. ILO’s projects have also been focused on unlocking women from traditional sectors and finding niche markets through its Gender and Entrepreneurship Together programme.
Nadia Hijab is a political analyst, author and journalist, a Senior Fellow at the Institute for Palestine Studies and co-founded Al-Shabaka, The Palestinian Policy.
Al-Shabaka The Palestinian Policy Network, is an independent, non-partisan, and non-profit organisation whose mission is to educate and foster public debate on Palestinian human rights and self-determination within the framework of international law.
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