This research project is jointly conducted by the Cooperative Branch of the International Labour Organization (ILO) in Geneva and the ILO Office for Germany in Berlin. The project is lead by Wolfgang Heller, director of the Berlin office, and carried out by Julian Havers who was contracted to do the research. The overall duration of the project is from Mai 2006 to Mai 2007.
To date there has been little substantive analysis of the role of cooperatives in peace and reconstruction processes. Yet, cooperatives form an important part of economic and social life in many countries afflicted by violent conflict. Examples range from Nepal and Sri Lanka to Columbia. This research project will highlight the diverse experiences that cooperatives have encountered when facing conflict and it will explore how they have dealt with these problems. Drawing on these experiences, the central aim of the project is to highlight the potential as well as the limitations of cooperatives when they try to contribute to peace building activities, recognizing their dual role as both civil society and commercial organizations.
The project focuses on six different areas where there is potential for the use of cooperative forms of organization in conflict settings:
(i) providing essential services, social protection, and livelihood support to communities affected by conflict,
(ii) affording employment opportunities to groups affected by crisis,
(iii) fostering social trust and community empowerment on a local level,
(iv) addressing rifts between communities on the basis of personal interaction across the ethnic divide,
(v) promoting local ownership and combating aid dependency through the promotion of self-help,
(vi) formalizing the exploitation of conflict-sensitive natural resources such as diamonds and coltan.
The project will also discuss the risks and bottlenecks associated with the application of a cooperative approach in conflict environments:
(i) cooperative organizations losing their community orientation
(ii) community processes in cooperatives reinforcing social divisions rather than counteracting them.
On this basis, the project will try to identify principles of good practice to promote the beneficial potential of cooperatives in conflict settings.
Often conflicts, despite being destructive, also offer a window of opportunity for change and for addressing some of the underlying issues of social injustice and exclusion that may have lead to conflict in the first place. Cooperatives can make good use of this opportunity as they are owned directly by the community and because they can provide an equitable path to overcome injustice and exclusion. International support during the immediate emergency phase should therefore consider cooperatives as local partners. This partnership can contribute to make employment issues central to recovery and reconstruction, in particular in target areas where a cooperative movement is already in place.
In terms of method, the project will rely on
- an analysis of the official records of the ILO and the ICA on this topic,
- case studies of success and failure relying on stakeholder interviews,
- reviews of secondary sources
Practical applications of the results can consist in the establishment of criteria for best practice of cooperatives and for supporting cooperatives in conflict settings. It can possibly be demonstrated how external assistance for cooperatives in these settings should be designed and how the cooperatives movement itself can best respond to these circumstances.