The International Labour Organization (ILO) has been active in cooperative development for the last 86 years, providing member States with assistance in cooperative policy, legislation, training, business development and networking. It is the only UN-organization with a dedicated cooperative development Branch, and the only organization that has developed an international standard in this field (i.e. ILO Recommendation 193). An ILO research undertaken in Africa in 2005 has revealed that cooperatives in Africa are about to enter a phase of “renaissance” but need a favourable legal and institutional environment, greater visibility, a stronger voice, further diversification, improved governance, better management, and solid horizontal networks and vertical structures.
Based on these findings, under DFID funding, the ILO has launched a new program in Africa entitled Cooperative Facility for Africa or in short COOPAFRICA. Launched on 2nd October 2007, the program pursues the overarching goal of mobilizing the cooperative self-help mechanism and to improve their governance, efficiency and performance in order to strengthen their capacity to create jobs, access markets, generate income, reduce poverty, provide social protection and give people a voice in society.
The program approach consists of assisting cooperative stakeholders to establish legal and policy environment conducive for their development; providing support services to primary cooperatives through identified “Centres of competence”; promoting effective co-ordinating structures (eg. unions and federations) and establishing and maintaining a challenge fund mechanism which provides support services – including expertise and advisory services, and development of training materials. Cooperative stakeholders in the region are able to request assistance from the centres identified by COOPAFRICA. The program disposes of three challenge funds namely for: ‘subcontracts’, ‘innovative cooperative ventures’, and ‘training’. All funds are accessible through a competitive demand-driven mechanism and transparent selection of the best initiatives proposed for funding and assistance.
Located at the ILO Office for East Africa in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, the program is being implemented in nine countries of Eastern and Southern Africa – namely Botswana, Ethiopia, Kenya, Lesotho, Rwanda, Swaziland, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia. Other countries in the region will be added on in future.
The program is built as a new initiative to support the “renaissance” of cooperative movements in Africa and a direct contribution to the poverty reduction strategies implemented in the countries and the United Nations Development Assistance Framework. This partnership initiative gathers the ILO, the International Cooperative Alliance (ICA), the UK Cooperative College, the Committee for the Promotion and Advancement of Cooperatives (COPAC), the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), the International Organization of Employers (IOE) and the African Union Secretariat. The program also works with other international organizations (eg. FAO and UNIDO) and closely associates cooperative apex bodies, ministries responsible for cooperative development, cooperative training institutions, universities and NGOs. Mainly funded by DFID, the program is also supported by SIDA and AGFUND.