socioeco.org
Resource website of social and solidarity economy

Rediscovering the cooperative advantage Poverty reduction through self-help

Geneva, Switzerland: International Labour Organization.

Johnston Birchall, 2003

To download : PDF (430 KiB)

Summary :

This volume examines the role and potential of cooperatives in reducing poverty. It includes an analysis of what we understand by the terms poverty and cooperatives and discusses in detail the poverty reduction policies of international organizations and how cooperatives could help achieve their objectives. The historical record of cooperatives in poverty reduction is considered and eleven case studies from different fields of cooperative activity are presented. A key conclusion of this study is that self-organization by the poor is a pre-condition for successful antipoverty

work and that cooperatives can play an important role in this struggle. For cooperatives to play this role a number of conditions must be met: there must be an appropriate environment that enables cooperatives to be true to their principles; there must be a serious promotional effort by the

different social actors; and there must be a strong focus on human resource development. In this context, the new ILO Promotion of Cooperatives Recommendation, 2002 (No. 193) is of particular relevance. Indeed, Recommendation No. 193 provides a detailed guide to how cooperatives can play a significant role in economic and social development.

Recent international policy developments have brought into sharp focus the overriding importance of eliminating poverty, leading to the adoption in September 2000 of the United Nations Millennium Declaration, which spells out eight Millennium Development Goals to be achieved by 2015. The first of these goals is to reduce by half the proportion of people living on less than a dollar a day. United Nations specialized agencies, including the International Labour Organization, have joined together with the Bretton Woods institutions and the donor community in a global effort to achieve these goals in an effective and timely manner. The International Labour Organization, in keeping with its mandate, has elaborated the concept of Decent Work to encompass its contribution to the reduction of poverty and encapsulate its primary goal today which is to promote opportunities for women and men to obtain decent and productive work, in conditions of freedom, equity, security and human dignity. Decent Work

implies the recognition of basic rights at work, access to productive employment, an adequate level of social protection and the exercise of voice and participation at work through social dialogue. Through these objectives poverty can be significantly reduced and the quality of people’s lives substantially improved. This study suggests some practical ways by which international organizations may utilize the breadth and depth of the cooperative experience in fighting poverty.

This author of this study is Dr. Johnston Birchall, Senior Lecturer in Social Policy in the Department of Applied Social Sciences, Stirling University, Scotland. A well-known commentator on cooperative matters, Dr. Birchall poses some important questions to the reader, including why there are so few explicit references to cooperatives in the literature on poverty reduction. Specifically, he asks whether some development experts are merely ignorant about cooperatives or whether they have reservations because of past manipulation of cooperatives by governments in many countries. He concludes that in reality many development agencies are actively engaged in promoting cooperative-type organizations but use a variety of alternative terms, without recognizing that they are in fact

promoting cooperatives. This “cooperative-blindness” is a stumbling block to drawing on the rich cooperative experience, and to understanding the close fit between grass-root, participatory, community-based development and the power of cooperative people-centred business.

This report has therefore three main purposes: To provide direction and focus to the ILO’s own work in the field of poverty reduction through cooperatives; to inform other international agencies and development partners about the real potential of genuine cooperatives; and to encourage cooperatives themselves to develop a more coherent and dynamic approach to poverty alleviation.