In the first of a series of blogs from their trip to Malawi, Sarah and Amanda talk about their visit to Lilongwe to hold the first of a number of focus groups.
This first regional co-operative focus group aimed to share information and experiences amongst co-operatives from the central and southern regions of Malawi. There were approximately 40 co-operators in attendance, as well as participants from co-operative support organisations such as the National Apex body, the Malawi Federation of Co-operative Organisations (MAFECO), and government ministries.
Participants were keen to emphasise the continuous support of the Co-operative College in supporting them to develop the co-operative movement, whilst Project manager John Mulageni highlighted the importance of people taking an active role in the day and to encourage participants to strengthen their co-operatives by working together. He also demonstrated how co-operatives can help achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, making links between each of the goals and the work that co-operatives are doing in Malawi.
Participants were then split into working groups to tackle the main themes of discussion, focusing on members (particularly young people and women), governance, production and value chain (for example marketing, quality assurance and value addition). The groups were then tasked with answering each of the following questions :
- What’s working well?
- What do you need more help with/what can be improved?
- What hasn’t been covered that’s important to your co-operative?
Many attendees felt that many improvements have been made in the area of governance and membership through the support of the project. Support was required to encourage more young people to be trained in leadership roles and also in encouraging young people to see the value of joining co-operatives. Other issues discussed included being better able to process products, improve standards, packaging and marketing so that people could earn higher wages for the production activities. It was also considered very important to all attendees that access was improved to agricultural information. They felt that having better links to other co-operatives would allow them to better manage surpluses and reduce waste.
The second half of the day focussed on an open discussion session which aimed to find out how MAFECO can better serve the Malawian co-operative movement, and also how the co-operative movement can support this fledgling organisation to develop the most appropriate services. Attendees were keen to emphasise that it is a reciprocal relationship, and that it is important for everyone to feed into and support the apex as it grows, so it can best respond to what is needed.
Look out for more blogs over the next two weeks as the trip continues!
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