FIDA/pcH exclusively promotes the productive agricultural cooperative model as the most appropriate institution to nurture and sustain economic and democratic activity at the grassroots level. Cooperatives are autonomous, community initiated business organizations owned by the share-holding members who use their services. Control rests equally with all members (one member equals one vote) and surplus earnings are shared by members in proportion to the degree in which they participate financially in the activities of the cooperative. Cooperatives world-wide are guided by the Seven International Principles of Cooperative.
The cooperative movement in Haiti has registered 1300 cooperatives, of which 260 are agricultural. FIDA/pcH has fostered 37 (or 14%) of these agricultural cooperatives. The cooperative movement in Haiti is managed under the jurisdiction of the National Cooperative Committee (Conseil National Cooperative) and is responsible for the certification of cooperatives. However there is little governing structure for cooperatives in Haiti: either federation or confederation.
As a vehicle for development, the cooperative movement is uniquely suited to the Haitian context. Cooperatives build the economic capacity of members through the income generating activities carried out by the cooperatives. Just as importantly, cooperatives build social capacity, empowering women and men to reach their full potential collectively and as individuals. In an interview with Brett Fairbairn, director of the Centre for Cooperative Studies at the University of Saskatchewan, he identified the role of the cooperative as The Third Way: the vehicle to promote change when neither individuals nor political institutions have the capacity or the will to initiate and execute change.
“Cooperatives exist where there are social and/or economic voids. They are a response to exploitation (or fear of) and serve to correct economic disadvantages. When people intentionally yet voluntarily band together there is less risk of exploitation… The successful cooperative is always bottom up. By its nature it is a developmental and educational process for people to be involved. Cooperatives nurture leaders who in turn become spokespersons for their communities on a wider (political) stage. Where cooperatives exist there is greater social capital for individuals and communities to respond and engage…”
The foundation of the cooperative philosophy resonates with the motto on the Haitian flag, “l’Union fait la force” (Unity creates strength). By uniting in the cooperative structure and finding a common purpose in the business enterprises of the cooperatives, women and men discover not only their own capacity as individuals, but come to recognize the capacity of their fellow cooperative members. Trust and confidence are fostered among members as they work together for the betterment of their families and communities.
The cooperatives receive intensive training for leaders and members in the inculcation of the fundamental principles of a cooperative. Training provides cooperative leaders and members with the knowledge and capacity to administrate and manage the cooperatives in an efficient, democratic and profitable manner. The democratic nature of the cooperatives results in a high rate of turnover as cooperative leaders are elected at the annual general meetings each year. Training in all areas of cooperative management and function requires repetition and reinforcement. Building a corps of knowledgeable and competent leaders within the cooperatives ensures the sustainability of the project over the long term.
Training seminars for leaders are conducted on the topics of:
- The Principles and Values of a Cooperative
- Administration and Management
- Democratic Practices
- Accounting and Recordkeeping
- The Function of the Administration Committee
- The Function of the Education Committee
- The Function of the Surveillance Committee
- Micro-business and Commercialization
- Administrative Techniques (writing business letters, budgeting, reporting)
Cooperatives that are in the formation stage require intensive support and monitoring, as well as trainings in cooperative principles and function. The following describes the elements of a logical framework:
- Cooperative development activities for new cooperatives
- Preliminary meetings with community leaders
- Open Space community decision making sessions
- Meetings on what a cooperative is/does and general rules
- Meetings to decide whether to move forward and form ad-hoc committees
- Training of ad-hoc committee to develop rules and statutes for the cooperative
- Training on The Seven International Principles of Cooperative
- Meetings on the specific statutes and rules of the new cooperative for all potential members
- Training on how to conduct Constitutional assemblies/ Annual General Meetings
- Training for Administration, Education, and Surveillance committees
- Training for leaders in democratic practices
- Training in preparing a plan of action
- Training in recordkeeping
- Introduction of Credit Program for new cooperatives six months after formation to provide funds for cooperatives to begin carrying out economic activities.
“Our expertise is in increasing economic viability by enlarging farmers’ capacity to produce. We work with individuals within a cooperative model to encourage an appreciation for democratic civil institutions that are designed to enhance personal and cooperative viability, as well as an ability to contribute to their community and to their country. There are leaders emerging in the provinces that are giving shape to a brave new Haiti.”