Educated Trainers, Stronger Co-operatives: First stop Italy

When I was told that the first week of training for the Educated Trainers, Stronger Co-operatives Project was taking place in Barry I struggled to hide my disappointment. Whilst I’m sure the small Welsh town just outside Cardiff is not without its charms, I was sure that the first international training week of this Erasmus+ funded Project was supposed to be taking place somewhere more exotic. However, after a quick google I realised that there is also a Bari on the southern coast of Italy!

For those that missed my first Blog, or just need a little reminder, let me just quickly explain what this particular project is all about. Turkey is a country that is struggling with the problem of urban migration which 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.

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.

This was the first international training week hosted by the Italian partner Legacoop, which acts as the co-operative apex body in Italy. They have regional offices all over the country dedicated to advocating and promoting co-operatives as an alternative and better way of doing business. The offices in Bari are responsible for the Puglia region, which represents the very heel of Italy.

It was apparent from day one that everyone involved in the project had a genuine desire to get as much out of this week as possible. The five days of training represented an exceptional chance to gain a comprehensive overview of the Italian co-operative movement and the lessons that could be learned from it. The training provided by Legacoop had two main focuses. The first was a series of tools that could help turn the vague idea of forming a co-operative into a viable reality. The second was exploring case studies of successful co-operatives from the Puglia region of Italy.

During the course of the training we visited many successful co-operatives which ranged from agricultural distributors to an innovative job centre in the centre of Bari itself. There were valuable lessons to be taken from every co-operative that we were shown, however, one in particular really stood out. A co-operative theatre company who use theatre and drama to help empower communities. The theatre company Improvvisart (www.improvvisart.com) told us how they gather local stories from communities and by turning these stories into dramatic performances they create a sense of cohesion within the community bringing individuals closer together. The hope is that by helping foster connections between individuals in a community, people will not only be more willing to work together, but will understand what a powerful force co-operation can be. As you may have guessed (after some “gentle” encouragement) we shared stories from our own communities and countries and had a go at some improvisational theatre – fortunately there was no audience that had to suffer through our performance!

The week was packed with ideas, training tools and case studies. There were occasionally language barriers to overcome; my colleague Angela having to mime to the group an earth worm’s role in turning organic waste into compost was a personal highlight! There was a lot of information to absorb but so many unique insights into the Italian co-operative movement. The next training will be hosted by DGRV in Bonn, Germany, at the start of July and I am already excited for what promises to be another fascinating and informative week.

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