Cooperatives & Communities


United Kingdom: Cooperatives can easily address market failure if they get linked to other social movements and organisation, coop experts have advised.

Speaking at a recent seminar at the Open University (OU) in the UK, researchers with policy and practice experience from, or linked to, the OU and the Co-operative College discussed co-operative education, social and economic hardship, youth, and the strengths and weaknesses of co-operatives in the UK, Europe, sub-Saharan Africa and South America.

The experts noted that whether co-operatives address market failure or promote structural change, it was argued that they tend to blossom when linked to other social movements and organisations, suggesting that working together with others is important for the future.

Referring to her work in Sub-Saharan Africa  and Sri Lanka as well as the UK, Dr. Linda Shaw said more work is needed on co-operative education. “There has been a lot of work on co-ops, and education has been a part of that,” she said, “but it’s time we moved it center stage. It’s critical as a driver of innovation and change”. Quoting Dr Brett Fairbairn she said  education is the “agency which holds members and their co-operatives together”, and underscored that the demand for co-operative education greatly outstrips supply. “There is a need for more co-operative education that is more consistent and in a language and location that learners can understand and interact with,” she said. Dr. Shaw is the former College Vice- Principal at the Open University.

Other panelists at the seminar included Dr Cilla Ross (College vice-principal) and Dr Fenella Porter (RED Learning Co-op).

Dr Ross spoke about the Co-operative University project, noting that it was “brave, bold, scary and possibly controversial,” and that it was initiated in part as a response to “some of the massive changes that are happening across our society; whether that changes in the co-operative movement itself, changes in higher education, or the extraordinary changes in society and the great crises of poverty, inequality and the changing world of work.” She emphasized that the project will strengthen deep engagement with co-operatives – both the established movement and the different ways in which  people are building livelihoods and communities.

Alongside its federated model – governance, funding and co-operative pedagogy, one distinction of the university project is its aim of using a values-based approach to make a better world. The new project geared towards enhancing the cooperative movement will be spread out in Africa, with initial pilot phases planned for Rwanda, Uganda, Malawi and Lesotho.

Dr Fenella Porter on his part introduced the RED Learning Co-op (Research, Education and Development for Social Change). RED was set up a year ago by a small group of academics who used to work at Ruskin College in trade union education. “We see learning as located in a landscape of activism and change,” she said. “We see education as going beyond individual student achievement, as integral to the way labour movements and others face the challenges in the current political environment. How we go about teaching and learning is completely embedded in the idea that this is about how we can contribute to this broader landscape of change.”

Insufficient education remains a big for cooperatives’ growth even in Uganda. M/s Santa Joyce Laker, the chairperson Atiak Women Out Growers Cooperative society admits that education is key in helping cooperators adapt to new climatic changes that tend to affect their production. “Some of the cooperators are majorly illiterate mothers with minimal education, that is why we always encourage refresher courses especially on skilling for them,” she said

Laker applauded the Uhuru Institute for Social Development that has been so instrumental in training cooperators across Uganda : “Co-operation and forms of co-operative organizing will greatly help address the social and economic challenges of our time,” she noted.

Mr George William Nuwagira, the chairperson Board of directors Uganda Crane Creameries Cooperative Union (UCCCU) argues that co-operatives if well-organized and educated can be so instrumental in addressing the current enormous market failure and help promote structural change.

“These are questions that grow in importance. The more that our societies become fractured socially, economically and politically in the face of global, regional and national tensions, the higher the chances of decreasing inequality and persistent disadvantage,” he said.

Co-operatives are a significant global phenomenon, with more than 17,000 registered in Uganda.They vary hugely in scale and can be found in every sector from food production and finance to energy, housing, health, education and digital enterprises. They are informed by values and principles which, when taken together, form a blueprint for a unique business and social model.

 ( Additional information from Coop news)

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