Co-operation among co-operatives: UK co-ops support the India Covid crisis

Ten UK societies have provided over £100,000 of support to the India Covid-19 crisis

Co-op News has joined with nine retail co-ops across the UK to provide much-needed emergency supplies to co-ops and communities in India during the Covid crisis. 

Over £100,000 was donated via SEWA, the Co-operative Federation in India which works with 106 women’s co-ops, enabling them to provide a sustainable livelihood for female workers. The support from the retail societies allowed SEWA to provide essential basic supplies through their female networks, including masks and paracetamol, critical supplies including oxygen, and supporting Indian co-ops to restart their businesses after lockdown. Established in 1972 SEWA currently has 1.8 million members, across 18 states in the country.

SEWA has shared a short film highlighting the difference the support made to its members.

Mirai Chatterjee, Chairperson, SEWA Cooperative Federation said, “We would like to thank you for the solidarity of the co-operative spirit in action. We are very happy to be your partners in the rebuild. The situation in India is thankfully slowly improving and we are seeing a reduction in cases in the urban areas, although we are less sure about the rural areas as the data is sparse.

“Our country is now slowly coming out of the health emergency, but we are now staring in the face of a huge livelihood and humanitarian crisis. Workers and families have been busy with the health emergency but now they are extremely anxious about how they can restore their livelihoods and that’s where your contribution and your support to us has been critical.”

During the crisis period 4,000 household health kits were prepared by the Indian co-operatives that form part of SEWA. These included masks made by an artisan co-operative and soap and immune boosters produced by a health co-operative distributed across eight states across India. Crucially they also provided lifesaving information about the symptoms and spread of Covid to families in rural and low income urban areas – to dispel myths and provide accurate health information. 

The support from the UK retail societies will support seven Indian co-operatives to restart their businesses, buying raw materials and re-establish market links. SEWA also used this substantial donation as a bargaining tool to leverage support from corporate donors, securing additional funds for women farmers and a catering co-operative in this way. 

An information sharing session hosted by SEWA

The emergency response was co-ordinated by Co-operatives UK and the Co-operative College, who worked together as part of the International Working Group to collect and co-ordinate the donations from The Co-op Group, Midcounties Co-op, Central England Co-op, Scotmid, Lincolnshire Co-op, Southern Co-op, East of England Co-op, Channel Islands Co-op, Chelmsford Star Co-op, Heart of England Co-op and Co-op News. 

Rose Marley, CEO of Co-operatives UK said; “This is true co-operation in action, with some of the largest co-ops in the UK collaborating to provide financial support and solidarity to co-ops on the other side of the world. Our global co-operative movement is based on values and principles that are as strong today as they ever were. It’s fitting that we are sharing news of the impact of this donation on International Day of Co-operatives, which has a theme of Rebuild Better Together, which is exactly what this support will help to do.” 

She added: “The response from the co-operative community was really quite phenomenal and it meant that we were able to get funds directly through this female network of co-operators to provide support on the ground, where it was needed, at speed with minimal red tape or admin fees.”

Elaine Dean, chair of Co-operative Press (which publishes Co-op News), said: “SEWA, as a strong network of women’s co-operatives, is doing life-changing work in India and we are pleased to be able to contribute in this way. Co-operation among co-operatives, principle 6, is a vital part of what makes co-operatives different; mutual support is what helps co-ops to remain resilient in times of crisis. Actions like this are not just handouts, they have an impact on the ground through sustainable support, solidarity and self-responsibility.”

The international Working Group is chaired by Dr Sarah Alldred from the Co-operative College. “One of the aims of the International Working Group is to be able to respond quickly to international crises,” she said. “It is made up of representatives from co-ops across the UK who want to keep links to the global movement alive and well. And it’s not just emergency response, we’re proactively working towards the UN sustainable development goals too, to help create a better world through co-operation.” 

Ariel Guarco, President, International Co-operative Alliance, praised the action. “The whole world is suffering the scourge of the pandemic,” he said. “However, your effort to co-operate with those who are most affected at this time is extremely valuable and necessary. This expresses the co-operative values and principles in action and shows us that the only way to get out together from the health, social and economic crisis that we are going through on a global scale is through solidarity, mutual aid and co-operation.”