ILO COOP 100 Interview

ILO Interview with Mr Manuel Marino, previous Regional Director for International Cooperatives Alliance (ICA) Americas, Cooperative and Social Economy consultant and President of PromoCoop

Established in March 1920, the ILO’s Cooperatives Unit marks its Centenary in 2020. On this occasion, the ILO COOP 100 Interview series features past and present ILO colleagues and key partners who were closely engaged in the ILO's work on cooperatives and the wider social and solidarity economy (SSE). The interviews reflect on their experience and contributions in the past and shares their thoughts on the future of cooperatives and the SSE in a changing world of work.

Artículo | 22 de junio de 2020

How did you first get interested and involved in cooperatives?

In 1980 I was recruited by SIDA (Swedish Development Agency) to work in a rural development project in the Quelimane province of Mozambique, in a border district with Malawi). I was the manager of the commercial department of Agricom, a state enterprise responsible for rural development. After four years I went back to Sweden and worked for three months for SIDA writing a research paper about rural development in Mozambique.

What was the nature of your work with the Swedish Cooperative Center (We Effect)?

I collaborated with the Swedish Co-operative Center (SCC, now We Effect) in its initial work in Nicaragua and Costa Rica. Afterwards I was employed by SCC (We Effect) for projects in Kenya and Zimbabwe and to develop a cooperative work portfolio in Central America - first Nicaragua and Costa Rica, then Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, and later on Uruguay and Paraguay.

From 1984 to 1996, I worked at the headquarters of We Effect in Stockholm as project officer for projects in Kenya, Zimbabwe, Nicaragua and Costa Rica. My work during this period consisted largely of: following up and monitoring (with regular visits to the field) the projects in these countries; strengthening the collaboration with cooperative organizations in Sweden (including business partnerships); making the work of We Effect visible in these countries in order to engage the members of the Swedish cooperatives and the public in general in development cooperation; expanding the work of the organization to other countries; and improving the relationship with international organizations (EU, ILO, FAO, BM, IFAD, ICA).

In 1996 the Board of Directors decided to establish a Regional Office in Costa Rica and I was appointed as Regional Director for Latin America. The priorities for the Regional Office were to: strength the relations with the national authorities and the international organizations working in the region; develop strategic plans for cooperative development in Central America, Uruguay and Paraguay; establish local offices and recruit staff in each country; follow up, monitor and evaluate the projects in the region; and report to SIDA and We Effect. I stayed in this position till 2001.

You were the Regional Director for Americas with the International Cooperative Alliance from 2001 till 2017. What were key issues facing the cooperative movement during this time?

The cooperative movement was facing several key issues during this time, many of them are still the same today. One of the main challenges was and continues to be the question of cooperative integration. This is critically important to strengthen capacities to influence public policies related to cooperatives. Other important key issues were: developing new training and education tools for cooperatives (for ex., Social Balance, Good Governance Practices; Public Policy Advocacy, etc.); strengthening the relations with national authorities (governments, institutions for cooperative development, national and regional parliaments, etc.) and international organizations ( ILO, FAO, IDB, OAS, BCIE, EU, etc.); making the work of cooperatives more visible; improving relations with other actors of the Social and Solidarity Economy; establishing new contacts; strengthen social capital (a big problem for many cooperatives); and improving cooperative education and training for staff and members.

What do you think is the value added of the International Labour Organization with respect to the cooperative movement?

For the cooperative movement, the ILO's work in relation to cooperatives means having the alliance of an organization of great international relevance and importance. An example of this added value is the ILO Recommendation 193 on the Promotion of Cooperatives (2002) where for the first time an international standard of United Nations specialized agency included a document of an international non-governmental organization, namely the ICA Declaration of Cooperative Identity. The ILO has published numerous educational and training materials that have been used by cooperatives for the training of their staff and associates around the world, such as Matcom and My.Coop.

During my time as Regional Director of the International Cooperative Alliance for the Americas we had a very fruitful collaboration with the ILO COOP Unit in Geneva, the ILO Regional Office for the Americas in Lima and the ILO Country Office in Bolivia. Comparative studies of legislation and taxation of all Latin American and Caribbean countries were made with financial and technical support from the ILO as well as the Framework Law for Cooperatives in Latin America. Studies were also conducted on the cooperative movement in Latin America in general and specifically in Paraguay, Bolivia, Peru and Guatemala.

What can cooperatives do in the face of the changing world of work, and emerging risks such as pandemics and climate change?

Cooperatives have shown strong resilience during and after the financial-economic crisis of 2008-2009 and will surely be able to do so in the face of these new challenges: changes in the way of working and the emerging risks of the Covid 19 pandemic and climate change.

To do this, they must: strengthen their relationship with their members; involve them more in decisions making processes; develop platform cooperatives where the owners of the platforms are the members; establish and strengthen the collaboration between producers’ and consumers’ cooperatives; encourage engagement of youth and women in cooperatives by creating youth and women's cooperatives, and involving more youth and women in cooperatives (they are different things); develop products and services that the members really need and are useful to them (not trying to imitate the competition); work to change current consumption patterns for sustainable consumption; invest heavily in technology at the service of their members; put into practice the sixth cooperative principle (cooperation between cooperatives) where cooperatives of the large financial sector (banking, insurance,) promote and support the development of cooperatives in emerging sectors sectors, and among new cooperatives with limited resources.