Special Newsletter #6: Better Tomorrow with Cooperatives

Special Newsletter #6: Better Tomorrow with Cooperatives

Hello everyone from our sixth special newsletter!

Today is International Cooperatives Day!

This special day, celebrated on July 6th this year, has the theme “Cooperatives Build a Better Future for Everyone,” designated by the United Nations (UN) for 2024. Additionally, the UN has declared 2025 as the “International Year of Cooperatives,” emphasizing the importance of cooperatives in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.

In our ecosystem, INOGAR and İhtiyaç Haritası continue their efforts to strengthen solidarity and mutual aid with a social cooperativism approach, aiming to reduce inequality based on the belief that all lives have equal value. IDEMA, with its experience and expertise in cooperativism, continues its efforts to develop capacity and improve operational processes for the sustainability of cooperatives.

With this in mind, we embarked on a journey called “A Better Tomorrow with Cooperatives,” discussing the cooperatives that are an important part of our ecosystem, the activities we carry out together, and the value they create.

In this journey, we listened to İhtiyaç Haritası, INOGAR, Beri Women’s Cooperative, Ahenk Cooperative, Mathematics Education Cooperative, Hepimiz Doğayız, and the Interdisciplinary Philosophy Cooperative; IDEMA, İhtiyaç Haritası, INOGAR Co-Founder Dr. Ali Ercan Özgür, İhtiyaç Haritası Executive Director Evren Aydoğan, INOGAR Board Chairman Mehmet Sarıca, IDEMA Deputy General Manager Gökçe Ahi, Mathematics Education Cooperative Co-Founder Assoc. Dr. Burak Karabey, Hepimiz Doğayız Co-Founder Assoc. Dr. Arzu Kızbaz, and Interdisciplinary Philosophy Cooperative Co-Founder Prof. Dr. Kurtul Gülenç. We thank all our stakeholders for their inspiring contributions.

You can watch the entire “A Better Tomorrow with Cooperatives” series by visiting our YouTube channel.

Enjoy your reading!

Democracy and Solidarity: The Birth and Evolution of Cooperativism

Today, cooperatives are recognized as one of the most important tools for sustainable development. The International Cooperative Alliance (ICA) defines cooperatives as “autonomous associations of persons united voluntarily to meet their common economic, social, and cultural needs and aspirations through a jointly owned and democratically controlled enterprise.” But how did cooperativism originate?

Cooperativism began in the 19th century as a movement to protect the rights of workers living under harsh working conditions. The economic, social, technological, and environmental changes of this period united vulnerable segments of society under cooperative organization.

The market system that emerged with the Industrial Revolution in Europe, and the social order based on industrial production, pushed farmers into cities and craftsmen into factories. The working and living conditions of the working class became arduous. By the end of the 19th century, 25-35% of the population in England, which had become wealthy with increased industrial production, was living at or below the poverty line.

Several cooperative experiments were conducted in England between 1830 and 1840 to improve these conditions, but none succeeded. The Rochdale Equitable Pioneers Society (Rochdale Pioneers) established a successful model under these challenging conditions and was founded in England in 1844.

Learning from previous experiences, the Rochdale Cooperative found its first solution in the unification of communities under certain principles. The Rochdale Principles, including concepts like democracy, professional ethics, and inclusiveness, defined a cooperative governance structure. These principles have survived to this day and were adopted by the International Cooperative Alliance (ICA):

  • Voluntary and open membership,
  • Democratic member control,
  • Member economic participation,
  • Autonomy and independence,
  • Education, training, and information,
  • Cooperation among cooperatives,
  • Concern for community.

International Cooperatives Day

Because it marks the founding day of the Rochdale Equitable Pioneers Society, the ICA began celebrating December 21st as World Cooperatives Day annually from 1923 until 1994. In 1994, on its centenary, the ICA proposed a new celebration of International Cooperatives Day to the United Nations, recognizing the crucial role of cooperatives in economic, social, and cultural development. The UN accepted the proposal, and the first Saturday of July was designated as International Cooperatives Day.

Thus, both the United Nations and the International Cooperative Alliance agreed to celebrate the same day as International Cooperatives Day. The annual theme of International Cooperatives Day is also determined jointly. The United Nations requested all member states to celebrate this day with their cooperatives.

The new date and format of International Cooperatives Day were first celebrated in 1995 by both the United Nations and its affiliated organizations, as well as the ICA and its member cooperatives. This joint celebration has continued unbroken to this day and will continue in the future.

Highlights from the UN’s 2023 Report

According to recent data, there are over 3 million cooperatives worldwide, and 12% of the world’s workforce is either employed by a cooperative or a member-worker in a cooperative.

However, despite their growing recognition as important economic and social actors, cooperatives still face significant challenges in realizing their full potential. The UN’s “2023 Report on Cooperatives in Social Development” highlights this situation. The report notes that cooperatives need to focus on long-term goals, but face a lack of information and education globally. Governments need to collect more data and create legal frameworks to support the role of cooperatives in economic and social development. Additionally, it is emphasized that access to financial resources should be facilitated, and cooperatives should be supported in combating poverty and hunger, education, social protection, and affordable housing in urban and rural areas.

Together in Profit and Loss

We begin our “A Better Tomorrow with Cooperatives” series with our first guest, İhtiyaç Haritası Executive Director Evren Aydoğan, to discuss social cooperativism.

“A social cooperative is an economic actor. We can summarize it as: a non-profit but profit-generating cooperative that does not distribute the profit to its members but uses it to improve problematic areas for both its employees and the community. Unfortunately, social cooperatives are not yet recognized in Turkish law. However, many social cooperatives like INOGAR and İhtiyaç Haritası operate in our country as they do in Europe.”

After defining social cooperativism, we touch on examples from around the world, the importance of cooperatives, and the value they create:

“In the world, there are economic structures like New Zealand Dairy Cooperative and Harvard University Library Cooperative that have managed to overcome many crises of capitalism. Even non-social cooperatives are based not only on profit-sharing but also on loss-sharing, making them a significant model with equal voting rights for all general assembly members and a democratic structure. The United Nations’ decision to celebrate a year of cooperatives, given the increasing economic inequalities in the world, and to have events worldwide is an important step.”

Growing and Developing a Solidarity Economy

We continue our conversation with Dr. Ali Ercan Özgür, Co-Founder of İhtiyaç Haritası, INOGAR, and IDEMA, about the concepts that come to mind when we talk about social cooperativism:

“Social cooperatives represent a growing and developing solidarity economy, especially Europe-based, in recent years. Cooperatives offer a more democratic, transparent, and accountable business environment. They are both easy and difficult to implement because they contain a mutually equal contract; this applies to those who set up, run, and are served by the business. In the field of civil society, foundations and associations are prominent models both globally and in Turkey. In recent years, both globally and in Turkey, legislation has developed to further expand cooperativism.”

Then, we discuss new-generation cooperativism:

“New forms such as social cooperatives and platform digital cooperatives have started to emerge. We have been involved in these forms: we were part of the formation processes of İhtiyaç Haritası, INOGAR, and the Theatre Cooperative. We later carried out projects both with the cooperatives union in Italy and the European Union in Turkey. At least we are volunteering to grow this new-generation social and developmental cooperative perspective by scaling it.”

We emphasize the need to increase success stories in Turkey, listening to success stories from around the world: “The cooperative issue is currently in its infancy, meaning it has a great future. Success stories are needed here. For example, there is the Mondragon example in Spain. It is actually Spain’s sixth-largest company, with over 160 sub-companies under it. And it is cooperative. Everyone knows Migros, but Migros is actually a cooperative in Switzerland. Groupama insurance company is also a cooperative. There is even a country with the word cooperative in its name: the Cooperative Republic of Guyana. They set up an ideal called the cooperative republic in the 1960s.”

We conclude our conversation by discussing the importance of International Cooperatives Day and the cooperation and networks among cooperatives: “The UN declared another year of cooperatives five years ago, and it is doing it again. I don’t think this is a coincidence. Climate crisis, increasingly difficult urban life, self-insufficient food, world population… Inevitably, there is a need for new-generation cooperatives based on agriculture, education, and urban areas, to scale them and create new models. Of course, everyone’s ideas are needed here. A model can emerge from Turkey, France, Guyana, Germany, South Africa, the Philippines, anywhere. There is the Japan Cooperative Alliance, which is very strong, and we are now cooperating with them. We are working to take İhtiyaç Haritası to Japan regarding earthquakes and disasters. Therefore, these networks are very important, and the United Nations is actually opening a new area to develop them.”

Equal Opportunities for Young Entrepreneurs

We meet with Mehmet Sarıca, Chairman of the Board of INOGAR, and start our conversation about INOGAR’s activities:

“The main reason for our gathering is to create equal opportunities for young entrepreneurs. Whether in economic terms or in the field of arts and culture, it is about opening up spaces for young people who want to do something but lack opportunities. As INOGAR, while supporting cultural and artistic entrepreneurs, providing them with space, and striving to enhance their qualities through training, we also focus on fair trade. In this context, as the support organization of the World Fair Trade Organization here, we work on encouraging and supporting institutions to join this network, ensuring they meet the criteria that underpin the concept of fair trade. Another area of INOGAR’s work includes humanitarian aid activities in disaster zones, especially after the February 6th Kahramanmaraş earthquake, and the creation of spaces and centers for rebuilding, alongside projects carried out within this framework. Additionally, we are running a project that involves both refugees and Turkish citizens, leading towards cooperative formation.”

After discussing the areas and activities INOGAR focuses on, we delve into the challenges they face and the solutions they propose:

“In Turkey, the concept of social cooperatives is not yet regulated by legal legislation, but we define ourselves as a social cooperative and act accordingly. The lack of legal legislation can sometimes lead to us being perceived as economic enterprises, which complicates our work. I believe that to encourage these efforts, social cooperatives should be given more privileges and support. We also cooperate with other cooperatives working in the fields of women’s rights, culture, and social work in Turkey to expand the culture of cooperation and solidarity, which is the core principle of cooperativism. We must share our resources, opportunities, knowledge, and experience to enhance the success of this network and extend its impact to broader communities.”

Everyone for Everyone

We come together with Gökçe Ahi, Deputy General Manager of IDEMA, to discuss the SECOP project, a capacity-building and operational improvement initiative funded by the European Union through the World Bank, with IDEMA serving as a consultant and implementer. We start by discussing social cooperatives and then move on to the projects:

“When I think of social cooperatives, the first concepts that come to mind are impact and development. The cooperative model represents the most effective way to achieve development and our developmental goals. With this business model, social and economic development can be achieved without leaving anyone behind by finding common solutions. In the SECOP project, we provided a lifeline and created a space for the Ahenk and Beri Cooperatives with the support of the World Bank. Syrian and Turkish cooperative members built these cooperatives together. We demonstrated what happens when disadvantaged women, who need to stand on their own feet, are given a chance. These women, who have come to a different country with their skills, wanting to contribute to their families and develop their regions, were given an opportunity, and we saw the positive results.”

We conclude our conversation by addressing the challenges of the cooperative process and offering suggestions on overcoming them:

“Communication and bureaucratic knowledge gaps can pose challenges in the cooperative process, but these can be overcome with communication models and training. Ancient sayings like ‘Many hands make light work’ and ‘A single stone cannot build a wall’ support the spirit of cooperativism. Happy International Cooperative Day to everyone, following the motto ‘Everyone for everyone.'”

The Power of Sharing and Cooperation

The world’s first Mathematics Education Cooperative emerged as a product of a vision inspired by the support and training received from the Social Cooperatives Excellence Center and Fair Trade Turkey projects, as well as the support from Needs Map, INOGAR, and IDEMA. We speak with Associate Professor Dr. Burak Karabey, Co-Founder of the Mathematics Education Cooperative:

“When thinking about the concepts of social and cooperatives together, it reminds me of the power of sharing and cooperation. I believe in the power of sharing and cooperation in the field of education. Since today’s problems are complex and significant, there is a great need for cooperation. The cooperative structure is a very strong model for collaboration and achieving something together. When we founded the Mathematics Education Cooperative, we came together to solve mathematical problems. At any point in life, you will encounter mathematics. No matter the age group, there is always a need for mathematical development or support. Our main goal is to show that mathematics is present in every area of life and that it is a system of thinking.”

Emphasizing the importance and needs of cooperatives, as well as the UN’s support in this area, we conclude our conversation: “Cooperativism can offer solutions to many common problems across different sectors nationwide. We need greater state support because such social initiatives play a crucial role in the innovative age of the 21st century. The United Nations’ support for the rise of cooperatives is very important. I hope we can achieve even better things together.”

At Its Core, Solidarity

The Women in Life Platform, implemented by BROTHERS under the main sponsorship of Pernod Ricard Turkey and with consultancy from IDEMA, was launched with the forest school approach of learning together in nature without leaving anyone behind. We talked with Associate Professor Dr. Arzu Kızbaz, Co-Founder of Hepimiz Doğayız, about the cooperative process and their activities. We started our conversation by discussing social cooperatives:

“When I think of social cooperatives, the first concept that comes to mind is volunteering. Because the journey becomes meaningful when you embark on it voluntarily. Creating social benefit and reducing inequalities are only possible by committing yourself to the cause. I can summarize the cooperative model with the concepts of democratic participation, community orientation, economic justice, and sustainability. But at its core, it is about solidarity. Solidarity, strengthening the local economy, ensuring social justice, and innovation are the fundamental elements of this model.”

After listening to the story of Hepimiz Doğayız, which emerged around nature, education, and children, we conclude our conversation with well-wishes: “Within the scope of the ‘Women in Life Platform’ project, we carried out activities aimed at respecting differences and reducing inequalities with a focus on nature, education, and children. It was important to create awareness by providing education together for typically developing children and children with special needs. We won the project and established a cooperative with the seed grant we received. As a young cooperative, we will continue our projects with the goal of designing the future. We celebrate Cooperative Day and wish to be together with everyone who wants to advance with us on this path.”

Democratic Mechanism, Autonomy, Cooperation, and Social Responsibility

The Interdisciplinary Philosophy Cooperative (DAF) emerged as a product of a vision inspired by the support and training received from the Social Cooperatives Excellence Center and Fair Trade Turkey projects, as well as support and inspiration from the Mathematics Education Cooperative, Needs Map, INOGAR, and IDEMA. We spoke with Professor Dr. Kurtul Gülenç, Co-Founder of the Interdisciplinary Philosophy Cooperative, about the cooperative’s definition and components:

“According to the definition of cooperatives by the Ministry of Trade of the Republic of Turkey, cooperatives are organizations formed by people who voluntarily come together to meet their common economic, social, and cultural needs and aspirations through a jointly-owned and democratically controlled enterprise. Based on this definition, we can say that cooperatives are important under four main headings: democratic mechanism and participation, autonomy, cooperation, and social responsibility.”

We then continued with the cooperative’s origin story:

“A few months ago, around March or April, we started working on it. One evening, the head of the Philosophy Department at 9 Eylül University, Professor Dr. Hakan Çörekçioğlu, called me. ‘We want to establish a philosophy cooperative, what do you think?’ he asked. Of course, I was very surprised at first. ‘A philosophy cooperative? How will we do it? How will it work?’ I replied. Because when you think of a cooperative, usually an economic organization comes to mind. But then, dear Hakan presented me with various effective examples, and we started working on it. We emphasize the interdisciplinary aspect of the Interdisciplinary Philosophy Cooperative. We want it to be a multifaceted platform, not just an academic one.”

We ask about the challenges they faced in the cooperative process and what they did: “Of course, we faced challenges. The first of these challenges was ‘Whom exactly will we address?’ Because there are different audiences. Therefore, we tried to identify these audiences and finally, of course, financial difficulties… We are currently thinking about different alternatives for this. Specifically, I would like different cooperatives to be established in various educational fields and to create a cooperative union. We need an organization that will respond to this interest, organize people, and mobilize them.”


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