Last week I visited Malta to attend the Co-operatives Europe General Assembly and take part in a roundtable on international co-operative development through the Co-operative College’s membership of the Co-operatives Europe Development Platform (CEDP). The session was facilitated by Dame Pauline Green, former president of the International Co-operative Alliance, ardent supporter of the power of co-operatives to effect change internationally, and particularly in developing countries. Pauline talked about her keen interest in international co-operative development and introduced Marc Noel from Co-operatives Europe. Marc went on to describe how the CEDP’s unique and exciting partnership has started to ensure that co-operatives are recognised as a key player in international development and has already succeeded in influencing European policy on development.
My European colleagues from DGRV in Germany, Andreas Kappes and Coopermundo in Italy, Danilo Salerno, discussed their organisations’ fascinating work in India and Colombia. Andreas described their work with Self-Help Groups in India and gave countless examples of how this movement has enabled millions of rural women to create alternative livelihood strategies for themselves in addition to developing their self-confidence and skills. Danilo illustrated a project in a mountainous region of Colombia that had previously been victim of armed conflict, as well as drug production and trafficking, and outlined how the development of new co-operative networks had created a trust network among local producers, strengthening peace in the region.
I talked about the College’s own work in Malawi, and how the success of the first project in creating 328 new co-operative businesses and a National Apex Body for Co-operatives in Malawi, the Malawi Federation of Co-operatives (MAFECO), was strengthening the economy and people’s resilience. I also outlined the continuation of the project, which is focusing on encouraging more young people to engage in co-operative enterprises, empowering women to put themselves forward for leadership positions in their co-operatives, promoting more environmental sustainability, further strengthening the apex body and scoping the feasibility of a national co-operative college. People attending the roundtable were impressed by all of the projects, particularly when it was demonstrated by all three examples how each of them were able to address multiple Sustainable Development Goals whilst simultaneously providing long-term community-led and sustainable solutions for some of the world’s most vulnerable people.
In summarising the workshop at the following plenary session, Dame Pauline described the roundtable as having included “three of the most amazing presentations I’ve heard in a long while” and went on to talk about how the session had achieved its aim of sharing the “knowledge, excitement and potential” with as many European members as possible. She talked about the great achievement of the CEDP in bringing together partners from across Europe and encouraged people to visit the CEDP website to find out about the 450 projects showcased on the site, all run by European co-operatives. The next step, already under development, is to to go global by harnessing the energy and enthusiasm of the group and the work that’s been done in pulling together the CEDP over the past 10 years.