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A better life in the cooperative

A better life in the cooperative

Coops day asset02 July | 2021

On the International Day of Cooperatives (#CoopsDay), 3 July, international cooperative and social impact investor Oikocredit is celebrating the principles of solidarity, cooperation and community – and its work with cooperatives worldwide.

Oikocredit is one of the few cooperatives that operate internationally, and coffee cooperative Chajul is one of its oldest partner organisations.Domingo Medina Zacharias, a coffee farmer in the highlands of Guatemala, has been a member of the Chajul cooperative since he was 30 years old. Belonging to the cooperative helps him earn enough to maintain his family.

“I get technical support that helps me produce better. I can get a loan to buy seedlings. And the cooperative pays a good price for my coffee beans,” Domingo says.

Support is sorely needed. Small-scale coffee producers in low-income countries are experiencing plant diseases as a result of climate change, as well as fluctuating prices. Chajul brings together 1,500 coffee growers and other producers. At every stage from production to export, the cooperative takes care to protect the environment and promote economic and social justice.

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Cooperatives are a tried-and-tested form of economic and social organisation that has proven to be sustainable. They are innovative, future-oriented and grounded in solidarity. These qualities are the foundation of their success story. More than a billion people worldwide have organised themselves into cooperatives. Still, many people do not know what belonging to a cooperative means.

This is why the United Nations has showcased the great potential of collective action since 1995 with the International Day of Cooperatives. This year the theme of the day is "Rebuild better together". The global coronavirus pandemic has demonstrated the importance of people coming together to face a crisis sustained by cooperative values of self-help, solidarity and concern for community.

Connecting common goals 

During the pandemic in particular, Oikocredit's approach based on close cooperation with partners through its local specialists in 33 countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America has proven its worth.

Many of Oikocredit’s 544 partner organisations are themselves organised as cooperatives: agricultural cooperatives, fair trade cooperatives and financial cooperatives that offer low-income people and small to medium-sized enterprises loans, savings accounts and training.

Cooperatives in low-income countries share the same basic goals as Oikocredit: alleviating poverty, promoting equity, and fostering mutual support and sustainable development. They are anchored in local communities, operate on a decentralised basis with democratic structures and must serve objectives that go beyond financial gain. This can mean that cooperatives offer health care, technical support or further training in addition to their core business.

This is what Domingo Medina Zacharias experiences as a member of Chajul. Because The cooperative’s members also benefit from the Fairtrade premium, because Chajul processes and markets only high-quality organic coffee that has been certified as meeting Fairtrade standards since 1992. Chajul’s general assembly decides each year how the premium will be used.

Commitment with a tailwind

The coronavirus pandemic has also shown through the example of Oikocredit and its partners how cooperatives differ from conventional forms of business at all levels. Oikocredit set up a coronavirus solidarity fund at the start of the outbreak, extended repayment periods for partners where necessary, expanded its online communications, training and advice, and generally intensified its support for partners. All of this came with a major tailwind: the crisis-proof loyalty of Oikocredit’s own cooperative members.

You can learn more about the story of Domingo Medina Zacharias in this article.

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