When I was first invited to attend the kick off meeting of the ‘Educated Trainers, Stronger Co-operatives’ project in Turkey my first thought was a simple one – ‘fantastic, a chance to escape the wintry grasp of Britain and get some sun!’ With my shorts and sunglasses neatly packed, along with a bottle of factor 50, you can imagine my disappointment when I stepped off the plane and noticed the snow capped mountains surrounding Ankara and shivered as the harsh wind made it undoubtedly clear that it was also winter in Turkey.
With the images of lounging by the pool in flip-flops quickly cast aside, Sarah and I made our way to the city centre. A car picked us up to take us to our hotel, this was the first of many, I think it is fair to say, ‘eventful’ car journeys in Turkey’s capital. Sarah and I arrived at the hotel hands still clenched after our hair-raising ride, dropped our bags off in our rooms and then headed out into Ankara to explore.
Ankara is not Istanbul. There are no endless mazes of ancient streets, no historic skyline framed by the sun setting over a tranquil sea. However, there is something about Ankara; it is a vast modern city with a certain energy, the dynamism of the place is palpable. The horizon is pierced by towering skyscrapers, many still under construction, each one trying to reach a little taller than the last.
We arrived at the Ankara Development Agency in the morning and were instantly bowled over by the friendly and generous hospitality we received. ‘Educated Trainers, Stronger Co-operatives’ is funded by Erasmus+ and the partners are the Ankara Development Agency, DGRV (the German co-operative apex body), Legacoop (an Italian organisation representing co-operatives) and the Co-operative College. By the time everyone had arrived there were well over 20 people, with representatives from the partner organisations and from local Turkish communities.
This was the first time that everyone involved in the project had sat in the same room, and needless to say there was a lot of ideas, a lot of questions and a lot of opinions. But by the time lunch rolled round, everyone in the room had a deeper understanding of the project and an exciting plan was coming into formation.
We learnt of the modern challenges facing Turkey; a tide of urban migration is leaving rural areas deprived and disadvantaged. The Ankara Development Agency has recognised the importance of co-operatives in helping stem this tide of rural to urban migration and making life in rural communities more prosperous and dynamic.
The representatives of the Ankara Development Agency, along with representatives of local Turkish co-operatives, will visit Legacoop in Italy, DGRV in Germany and the Co-operative College in England. During these visits each institution will share its co-operative knowledge, as well as organising visits to successful co-operatives in their own country.
The overall aim of the project is to increase and enhance the co-operative capacity of the trainers from the Ankara Development Agency. They will then take this knowledge and disseminate what they have learned back to the rural Turkish communities. The Co-operative College will aid this process by producing a Toolkit that captures the co-operative knowledge that has been shared in these three international visits. This Toolkit will allow the trainers to successfully spread these ideas and help re-vitalise rural areas by empowering individuals to form their own co-operatives.
After the initial meeting we were treated to an afternoon of cultural activities. We explored the old town of Ankara, visited a women-led textile co‑operative, and were fortunate enough to receive a guided tour of the Anatolian Civilization Museum. It was such a privilege to be taken around by the Head of the Museum, with his knowledge and enthusiasm about the collections. I was struck by how Turkey had been the centre of so many different civilisations that all played such a significant role in the creation of modern society.
The final day was the launch event. This was an opportunity for those involved to come together, explore the current role of co‑operatives in Turkey and ultimately promote the project. Aside from the impressive speeches, and enthusiastic discussions, my highlight was the opportunity to talk to co‑operators from rural turkey and sample their products.
We left Turkey with a much greater understanding of the challenges facing the country, but also enthused by the genuine will of people to improve their conditions through the power of co-operation. The next step in the project is the international visit to Italy in May, so perhaps that bottle of factor-50 won’t go to waste!