Co-operative towns around the world

Devoto: the Argentinian village that ‘breathes’ co-operation

Over one third of the population in the town of Devoto, Argentina, is involved in activities developed by the local Co-operative Mutual Group (Grupo Cooperativo Mutual).

The group employs local people, and provides various services for the whole town, including internet, water, cable television and radio. It also took over the local hotel after it closed down and, through a worker co-operative, produces spoons for ice cream, caramelised condensed milk and plastic containers. It has its own tourism agency, too, which can organise members’ vacations. “The mutual is an entity that offers members the services they need,” says general director Domingo Benso – and here, education about co-operatives is important. Children start learning about co-ops in nursery and continue throughout high school.

The local nursery has a pastry co-operative, where children help by putting caramel on apples. With the profit raised they bought materials for the first year pupils. “Children learn that when they watch TV it is through a co-operative provider, that water is provided by the co-operative and so is the internet.

“We don’t know whether to say that there is a co-operative group in Devoto, or that Devoto itself is a co-operative. People breath co-operation,” says Mr Benso.


Melpignano: the solar-powered community in south Italy

A small town in the south of Italy has become one of the country’s leading promoters of solar energy. With only 2,000 inhabitants and a lack of public services, Melpignano was running the risk of being depopulated.

The local council thought the best way to preserve the town was to establish a co-operative community, enabling people to provide services themselves. Three years ago, Melpignano city council signed a memorandum of understanding with LegaCoop, the Italian association of consumer co-operatives and Borghi Autentici d’Italia, a network of Italian “authentic villages”, to assess whether it was possible to create a truly co-operative community. The co-op was set up in July 2011 and now has 138 members.

Anyone can become a member of the co-operative, either by making their rooftop available for the installation of solar panels or by paying a membership fee of €25 – and each member has the same decision-making power. The municipality is also a member of the co-op, with one vote.

The co-operative and its members, all citizens from Melpignano, are in total control of the installation and management of the solar panels; the co-op itself includes engineers, electricians and constructors. The income from electricity does not belong to any one individual, but to the co-operative, and the revenues have successively been reinvested in projects dedicated to the community.

Once the budget is spent on the solar panels, any remaining surplus is also reinvested into the community, through infrastructure improvements, the creation of new work opportunities in canteens and sport centres, or for the maintenance of playgrounds and green spaces.

Melpignano is also a member of the Association of Virtuous Municipalities (Associazione dei Comuni Virtuosi), which includes 70 medium and small towns that have implemented ground-breaking environmental policies.