New US-based Research Group to focus on governance issues faced by co-operatives in developing countries

The International Cooperative Research Group has launched three new projects that aim to research governance issues faced by co-operatives in developing countries. Set up as a division of...

The International Cooperative Research Group has launched three new projects that aim to research governance issues faced by co-operatives in developing countries. Set up as a division of the U.S. Overseas Cooperative Development Council (OCDC) earlier this year, the group will focus on some key topics to help improve co-operative performance. To achieve this it will work in partnership with different co-operative development partners, co-operatives, and researchers.

“Over the next two years, our research agenda will focus on four priority themes that directly relate to promoting democratic principles within the co-operative development sector,” says Dr E.G. Nadeau, research director and a noted researcher, teacher and author who has over 40 years of experience in co-operative development. These priorities include the impact of cooperatives on members, including: women and youth; the role of good governance in keeping co-operatives democratic; the impact of co-op size and complexity on member benefits; and the ways in which raising equity capital keeps co-ops financially strong.

A nine-member steering committee made up of representatives of OCDC’s member organisations oversees the Research Group. These organisations include: AACDI/VOCA, Global Communities (formerly CHF International), Communications Cooperative International, Cooperative Resources International, HealthPartners, Land O’Lakes International Development, National Cooperative Business Association, National Rural Electric Cooperative Association International and the World Council of Credit Unions.

The Research Group works in partnership with domestic and international co-operative development organisations, co-operatives, researchers and donors including the International Cooperative Alliance, Self Help Africa, Oxfam-GB, Euricse, and current OCDC member organisations.

In collaboration with Self Help Africa, an Irish non-governmental organisation, the Research Group will study how member usage and benefits can be increased for malt barley farmers in the Oromia region of Ethiopia. Less than 10% of farmer members currently sell their products to co-operatives. The research will aim to identify reasons for the potential lack of trust and develop mechanisms to encourage member loyalty.

Another project will see the group team up with Euricse to examine the advantages and challenges of supporting co-operative development in countries that do that have a tradition of co-operation.

The Research Group is also working with Oxfam-GB to explore the factors and attributes that enable agricultural co-operatives working with smallholder farmers in Africa, Asia and Latin America to achieve both commercial success and development impact.

“Ensuring that members of co-operatives in developing countries have the tools and information necessary to actively participate and succeed is a core value of the Research Group. The best way for us, as a research body, to do that is by taking an applied approach to research that is accessible and can be implemented by co-operative development organisations, co-operatives, and individual members,” said Dr Nadeau, who joined the Research Group in February 2014. In a recent interview for OCDC’s newsletter he highlighted that the Research Group would be focusing on problem solving.

He said: “Our emphasis is on using rigorous research techniques to identify what’s working and what’s not working in specific co-op development projects, and then recommend and evaluate training and other tools that can be used to improve co-operative performance on a co-op-by-co-op basis”.

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