Spotlight Interviews with Co-operators

Interview with Orkun Doğan, Economist and Researcher/Partner at Yerkure Local Studies Cooperative and Dissensus Research

“Spotlight Interviews with Co-operators” is a series of interviews with co-operators from around the world with whom ILO officials have crossed paths during the course of their work on cooperatives and the wider social and solidarity economy (SSE). On this occasion, the ILO interviewed Orkun Doğan, Economist and Researcher/Partner at Yerkure Local Studies Cooperative and Dissensus Research.

Article | 17 August 2023

Could you tell us about yourself and how you became involved in the work around cooperatives and the wider social and solidarity economy?

My name is Orkun Doğan; I am an economist with a focus on development economics, behavioural science, and political economy. I am also a researcher with experience in quantitative research, including survey creation, project design and implementation and data analysis. Over the last few years, I've been researching and working on sustainable, resilient local food systems, supply chains, alternate or complementary development schemes, and cooperatives.

During my graduate education, while reading and researching alternative economies, the social and solidarity economy and cooperatives began to attract my attention. I have focused on the history of cooperatives, the development of cooperatives in Türkiye and different cooperative models. My interest and work continued and deepened on the topic in the following years, and I have also taken the initiative to establish new cooperatives in different fields. I continue to learn and practice more about cooperatives at the Yerküre Cooperative, of which I am one of the eight founding members and a partner.

Could you tell us about Yerküre cooperative, its vision, mission, members and activities?

We founded the Yerküre Cooperative in May 2019 as researchers, academics and activists working in the fields of agriculture, food, local and rural development, and ecology. We currently have eight (founding) partners who actively contribute to Yerküre.

When we decided to find a structure, we chose the cooperative form to collectivize our partners' research and practice activities in line with an egalitarian, just, ecological, healthy, sustainable agriculture-food system and local rural life.

The Yerküre Cooperative researches, produces information and develops solutions in the fields of agriculture-food, local-rural development and ecology, taking into account the intricate connections between the local and the global and caring for the knowledge of the local.

There are two main reasons why we have chosen the cooperative form to multiply our thoughts, dreams and labour together. Firstly, we believe only participatory, democratic, non-hierarchically organized structures can solve ecological and agri-food related crises and problems. The cooperative form is one of the most suitable forms for this.

Secondly, we wanted to reduce the concerns such as unemployment, and precariousness faced by our partners and stakeholders who are concerned with critical, scientific, activist knowledge production, research and application processes; we want to contribute to our partners to live a decent life while seeking solutions to the problems we face in the field of agriculture-food. Therefore, we have chosen to be a cooperative (in the type of "scientific research and development") in an effort to bring our livelihood concerns and our life, our knowledge, our curiosity, our experiences, our social-ecological and political concerns closer together.

How do you think cooperatives and the wider social and solidarity economy help decent work challenges young people face in Türkiye?

In recent years, we have witnessed the establishment of cooperative enterprises in many different sectors in Türkiye. Theatre workers, publishers, software developers, researchers and translators are coming together and organising themselves under cooperative enterprises to meet their everyday needs and create livelihood opportunities. Many women in different cities are coming together and forming cooperatives for economic and social empowerment. More and more people recognize the need to organize economically to achieve social goals. The founders of these enterprises are predominantly younger than the members of traditional cooperatives.

This shows that cooperatives in Türkiye are transforming. It also indicates that in Türkiye, where youth unemployment rates are very high, young people are trying to develop different solutions to create better working conditions. While cooperatives in Türkiye are still not the first port of call for young people to generate regular income and secure employment, many have begun to see cooperatives as an essential means to achieve their goals and change conditions in the country.

Strengthening this grassroots movement in Türkiye is vital for developing a social and solidarity economy. To this end, the cooperative movement must become more organized, strengthen its international ties, and lobby for legislation. It should campaign for regulations that give cooperatives a competitive advantage in certain areas and for a larger share of the public budget.

Could you tell us a bit about the work you are doing on statistics of cooperatives?

Cooperatives are more effective economic organizations than other forms of business in solving today's global and local problems, achieving sustainable development goals and building a better world. However, many of the cooperatives whose stories I have witnessed, read about, and researched are far from this ideal under current conditions. As a researcher, I want to investigate and identify the difference between the ideal and reality, and as a co-operator, I want to close this gap, support cooperatives and strengthen the cooperative economy.

First and foremost, in order to advocate for and support cooperatives, we need to understand, differentiate, measure and compare cooperatives. For this reason, we need comprehensive data and coherent statistics on cooperatives. I have been researching the data collected on cooperatives in Türkiye, available and potential data sources, and the statistics produced. I have been working on producing accurate, reliable, comparable data and statistics so that we can know more about cooperatives, their strengths, weaknesses, and needs, design policies on cooperatives according to those, and advocate for cooperatives. In this regard, as a cooperative member and as an economist researching cooperatives, the ILO Guidelines concerning statistics of cooperatives have been a significant reference source for me.

I have had a chance to deepen my work in this field by working as a consultant for the ILO Initiative on advancing the international guidelines concerning statistics of cooperatives. In order to quantify the economic and social impact of cooperatives, this project seeks to ensure that cooperative statistics are accurate, coherent, and internationally comparable. It is a step toward implementing the International Guidelines concerning Statistics of Cooperatives. It comprises Costa Rica, Italy, the Republic of Korea, Tanzania and Türkiye as country case studies. Through this collective work and comparative pilot studies, I have critically and in-depth analyzed the data collected, data sources used, and statistics produced on cooperatives in Türkiye.

This work also involved the establishment of a national advisory committee comprised of experts from government agencies responsible for cooperative statistics, researchers in cooperative research and cooperative representatives. The national advisory committee held a year-long consultation on implementing the international guidelines in the Turkish context and developing internationally comparable statistics on cooperative.

What are the challenges and opportunities for improving statistics on cooperatives in Türkiye?

Despite their importance in the Turkish economy, cooperatives are underrepresented in official statistics. While well-developed cooperative laws, a well-established public administration structure, and administrative registration systems provide a foundation for collecting data and creating cooperative statistics, additional efforts are required to assure credible, coherent, and comparable statistics.

Historically, public administration has viewed cooperatives differently than other forms of enterprise. This has generated both an opportunity and a difficulty for gathering data and providing quality cooperative statistics. The fact that cooperatives are a legally defined and registered business structure in Türkiye is a crucial starting point for developing statistics on cooperatives. On the other hand, the cooperative sector's complicated and dispersed legal and administrative structures generate a framework of sectional databases and a fragmented system for statistical generation.

According to my examination of the statistical system and already accessible cooperative statistics, Türkiye currently lacks the statistical information required to pursue evidence-based and data-driven policies for developing the cooperative sector. Cooperative membership and financial data collection are frequently insufficient, and statistical processing suffers from methodological obsolescence.

In recent years, the Turkish government has made tremendous strides to improve the quality and availability of cooperation statistics. The Turkish Cooperative Strategy and Action Plan 2012-2016, which highlighted increasing cooperative data infrastructure and cooperative statistics quality as a strategic goal, has championed these efforts. The Improvement of Statistics on Cooperatives Project has been implemented within the ambit of the Official Statistic Programme, in accordance with the ILO’s Promotion of Cooperatives Recommendation, 2002 (No. 193).

The Information System for Cooperatives (ISC) was developed with the revision to the cooperative statute in 2021 for the goals of auditing, producing data, increasing automation in services, and growing cooperatives in the country. The ISC will connect various administrative registration systems and create a centralized and up-to-date statistical database.

The ISC is a reform of Türkiye's cooperative statistical system that serves as an e-service portal and a centralized database. This interface can also be used to reach out to cooperative enterprises at least once a year, following each general assembly. If this communication channel can be built so that cooperatives may profit from it and actively participate in it, it will allow for collecting cooperative survey data. As a result, traditional data collection methods based on fragmented administrative registry databases will almost certainly be supplanted by more dynamic and comprehensive approaches based on a broader range of integrated administrative registers. Under this paradigm, cooperatives are also positioned as active agents in the statistics creation process.

The ISC is projected to improve the quality, efficiency, timeliness, and consistency of cooperative data, particularly those pertaining to the number of cooperatives and membership. However, there is still an opportunity for improvement in data coverage, accuracy, completeness, and comparability. To accurately analyse cooperatives' role in economic and social development and to promote data-driven and evidence-based policymaking, statistical data on cooperatives should include employment, revenue, and turnover statistics from relevant government agencies' administrative registers. The Turkish Statistical Institution's Statistical Business Register should be used to give information on the economic performance of cooperatives and employment in the cooperative sector.

In summary, cooperative statistics are improving in parallel with the transformation of the cooperative movement in Türkiye. I am very happy to be a part of this change and to contribute to this process.