Malawi: How co-ops are implementing the SDGs through education

Dr Amanda Benson from the Co-operative College looks at projects to improve lifelong learning in Malawi

Through their values and principles, co-operatives are ideally poised as important organisations to help achieve the UN’s 17 SDGs. As an educational charity, the UK Co-operative College (UKCC) has a clear focus on highlighting just how effective co-ops are at meeting many of them simultaneously. 

In its courses and learning materials, UKCC frequently highlights case studies from its work in places such as Malawi, Rwanda and the UK to demonstrate everyday examples.

For instance, two recent UKCC projects encouraging organisations to be more aware of the SDGs were ‘Supporting Co-operatives in Malawi’
and ‘Co-operative Enterprise Pathways for Economic and Environmental Sustainability in Malawi’ (CEPEESM). There were some real successes, such as achieving greater gender and youth equality in governance structures, encouraging co-ops to take more of a leading role in the care and protection of the environment, and to focus more specifically on the provision of quality education and lifelong learning. 

These projects, which completed this year, assisted with the creation of over 500 co-ops and helped organisations plan and manage their business, learn new skills to increase production and become part of a supportive movement that provided better work opportunities and incomes.

My colleague Dr Sarah Alldred, international programmes manager at UKCC, has witnessed this first hand. “Our work in Malawi over the past eight years has seen communities transformed and lives changed for the better,” she says. “By empowering people with the skills and knowledge to make a difference, we’ve seen stunning results, including a 683% increase in the amount of households using renewable energy.”

Following on from this, UKCC is working in partnership with the German Cooperative and Raiffeisen Confederation (DGRV) to focus on strengthening the Malawi Federation of Cooperatives (MAFECO) and the development of accessible and relevant member education, training and information for the growing co-operative movement. 

DGRV has already been working for some time supporting co-ops in southern Africa, and through the joint work with UKCC as part of the
Co-operatives Europe Development Platform (CEDP), a new complementary partnership has been developed on the ground in Malawi, reflecting SDG 17 and partnerships for the goals.

In September, UKCC, DGRV and MAFECO jointly hosted a consultation event with the Malawi co-op movement, with stakeholders ranging from grassroots primary co-operatives to the Assistant Co-operative Registrar from the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Tourism. The event was designed to assess the current training and education needs for co-operatives in Malawi and to enable the co-operative movement to shape co-op member education. The day demonstrated the appetite for a movement-wide co-operative education steering committee as well as consolidating MAFECO’s position as the lead for co-operative education.

In addition, MAFECO is working alongside the government of Malawi (GoM) to create a new co- operative policy, which will in turn feed into the development of a revised Co-operative Act. The GoM recognises co-operatives as private enterprises that play a significant role in achieving both national development objectives and also shares the United Nations’ view that co-operatives are crucial in the realisation of the SDGs. 

John Mulangeni, MAFECO lead, says that until the support from projects such as CEPEESM, there has historically been a lack of capacity building for co-ops in Malawi – and that the partnership with DGRV and UKCC will be vital for the future of co-ops in the country.

“It is of great importance that co-ops in Malawi help the country to achieve the UN SDGs,” he adds. “In co-ops we hold hands and help each other;
we are both an economic intervention and a social intervention.”