ILO COOP 100 – ILO PROSPECTS Webinar: The role of cooperatives and social and solidarity organizations in forced displacement contexts

The webinar was organized by ILO COOP and ILO PROSPECTS to highlight the role and contributions of cooperatives and other social and solidarity economy organizations (SSEOs) in forced displacement contexts, and the work of both field practitioners and the ILO on this subject.

Actualité | 14 janvier 2021
The webinar took place on 23 November 2020, and brought together four speakers and over 65 participants from around the world. The event provided a global picture on the responses of cooperatives and other SSEOs in forced displacement contexts, and shared experiences of practitioners from Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq, Uganda and Turkey as follows:
  • Ms Simel Esim, Head of ILO COOP Unit;
  • Ms Courtenay Cabot Venton, independent consultant and author of the ILO report on ’Mapping responses by cooperatives and social and solidarity organizations (SSEOs) to forced displacement’;
  • Ms Shaza Jondi, Regional Chief Technical Advisor, ILO PROSPECTS in Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq;
  • Mr Ivan Asiimwe, General Secretary/CEO of the Uganda Cooperative Alliance (UCA);
  • Ms Eda Kayadibinlioglu, representative of Youth Deal Cooperative in Turkey.

Key role of cooperatives in the PROSPECTS programme

In welcoming participants, ILO PROSPECTS Global Programme Manager Nicholas Grisewood provided an overview of the PROSPECTS programme, a partnership between the ILO, UNICEF, UNHCR, the World Bank and the International Financial Corporation that works towards the inclusion and integration of refugees into the socio-economic life of their host countries. It is spearheaded by the government of the Netherlands and covers eight countries: Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq, Egypt, Sudan, Ethiopia, Uganda, and Kenya. Cooperatives and SSEOs have played a critical role in the ILO’s response to the Syrian crisis in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey over recent years and this experience is now being leveraged and expanded in the PROSPECTS programme.

The upscaling of experiences of cooperatives as a tried and tested model in forced displacement contexts, including Jordan, the Occupied Palestinian Territory and Sri Lanka, was reinforced by Simel Esim. She pointed out that they can help achieve economies of scale and improve access to markets by securing collective voice and negotiation power of members, including refugees. She noted that the ILO uses a systems approach through macro, meso and micro level interventions, for example:
  • reform of relevant legislation and policies to become more inclusive of refugees;
  • conducting market assessments, including in agricultural value chains, to understand the ecosystem around cooperatives;
  • providing adapted capacity building interventions using ILO training tools such as Think.Coop, Start.Coop and My.Coop.
In considering cooperative interventions, it is important to be aware of the significant level of skills and know-how among forcibly displaced populations which also affects the selection of economic sectors and not only limiting this to the selection of traditional sectors, such as agriculture or construction. There are worker cooperatives with forcibly displaced people as founders and members in non-traditional sectors, notably translation services, graphic design and legal advisory services. In conclusion, Ms Esim emphasised the need to ensure a conducive enabling environment and supportive ecosystem for such cooperative and other SSEO initiatives to be sustainable.

Building on this broader foundation, Ms Courtenay Cabot Venton provided an overview of the recent extensive research conducted on behalf of ILO COOP, “Mapping responses by cooperatives and social and solidarity economy organizations (SSEOs) to forced displacement”. The research found that these organizations were delivering both practical services and fostering social capacities and peacebuilding, which was particularly important in bridging the divide between refugees and host communities. Moreover, as community-based and locally-owned organizations, they provided integrated and flexible responses. Ms Cabot Venton emphasized the importance of a democratic and participatory management structure with local ownership, as well as a strong focus on cooperative values around solidarity, mutualism and working together for cooperatives to succeed. Another success factor, she explained, is the role of support organizations that serve as a bridge between the macro-level policy frameworks and the micro-level governance structures of cooperatives. She ended her presentation by highlighting some key recommendations, including the creation of a community of practice and investing in research regarding other SSEOs, such as self-help groups and social enterprises, economics of refugee cooperatives, and the impact of cooperatives on women's empowerment and gender equality, among others. The full presentation can be accessed here.

Country experiences of cooperative interventions

Arab States

The focus of panel presentations subsequently shifted to country-level experiences as Shaza Jondi explained that the ILO had been responding to the Syrian refugee crisis in Arab States since 2012 through a human-centered (refugees and host communities), development focused and employment driven approach. Most of this work has been concentrated in Jordan, where activities involving cooperatives started already in 2016. Following an agreement with the Ministry of Labour, selected cooperatives have been able to issue 68,000 work permits for Syrian refugees in the agricultural sector. The ILO also helped to set up 38 joint ventures between Syrian refugees and Jordanians in the agricultural sector. Most recently under the PROSPECTS programme, the ILO supported the establishment of career guidance and employment units in six cooperatives in governorates that have the highest number of refugees.

Capacity building of cooperatives has been the backbone of the interventions in Jordan given that the objective of the project was to ensure cooperative sustainability in host communities. This year, 31 trainers benefited from the online ILO My.Coop training-of-trainers programme on the management of agricultural cooperatives. In addition, the ILO is supporting the development and validation of a national strategy and action plan for the cooperative movement in Jordan, in close collaboration with the Jordanian Cooperative Corporation, ILO constituents, the cooperative movement and other relevant stakeholders. In Lebanon, the ILO is starting to support SSEOs that generate income opportunities, namely in the agriculture and agri-food sectors in the north of the country. Similarly, ILO PROSPECTS is exploring the possibility of supporting SSEOs that were originally set-up by young people to respond to the needs in their communities in the aftermath of the explosion in Beirut in early August 2020. In Iraq, ILO PROSPECTS is looking into new opportunities to revitalise cooperatives and enable them to play a stronger role in responding to challenges faced by both internally displaced Iraqis and refugee communities. The full presentation can be accessed here.


Ms Eda Kayadibinlioglu explained that Youth Deal Cooperative in Turkey is a not-for-profit training, research and development cooperative, which provides start-up and capacity development training. YouthDeal also incorporates entrepreneurship training for under-served communities, such as Syrian refugees and rural women. The presentation focused on the experience of Youth Deal in supporting cooperatives and provided five major lessons learned:
  • outreach and needs assessment of a specific profile of members to clearly understand competencies and needs;
  • orientation of members on the cooperative enterprise model; • peer-to-peer mentoring;
  • relations with governments and other support ecosystem actors, while ensuring independency;
  • ensuring sustainability by gradually transferring responsibilities to cooperative members.
In concluding, Ms Kayadibinlioglu described the support that Youth Deal Cooperative provided to SADA, a cooperative with host community and refugee women as members, established in March 2019 in Gaziantep with the support of the ILO Office for Turkey and UN Women. Youth Deal undertook a needs assessment of this nascent cooperative and provided a tailor-made capacity-building programme. The training included basic principles of cooperatives, distribution of surplus among members, corporate marketing, teamwork, communication and the corporate surplus creation and distribution.


In opening his presentation, Mr Ivan Asiimwe pointed out that Uganda hosts over 1.4 million refugees, the majority of whom come from South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Uganda has relatively refugee-friendly policies that provide rights for refugees to access education, work, private property, healthcare and other basic social services and cooperatives are a key catalyst in strengthening this enabling environment. In this context, Mr Assimwe focused his presentation on the establishment of Savings and Credit Cooperatives (SACCOs) by refugees and host communities. At least 10 SACCOs have already been set up, offering a wide range of services to members, including safe custody of member deposits, agricultural credits, loans for business, school fees and asset acquisition, emergency loans, facilitating linkages between markets, agricultural services, bank, buyer and partner services. To provide more details, he presented the cases of Katalyeba SACCO in Rwamwanja refugee camp in Kamwenge District, and MOBAN (Moral Brotherhood and Neighborhood) SACCO in Nakivale refugee camp in Isingiro District, which have 1,000 and 3,600 members respectively from both host communities and displaced populations. These and similar cooperatives have had a positive impact on refugee livelihoods through:
  • strengthening social cohesion;
  • improving access to credit for different economic activities;
  • ienhancing food security through agricultural production;
  • supporting the economic participation of women and youth;
  • providing access of members to capacity-building, especially in financial literacy;
  • reducing dependence on services provided by refugee support agencies and host government, among others.
Currently, SACCOs have also been active in the COVID-19 pandemic response, embarking for example on massive public sensitization and mobilization of member savings and loan rescheduling. The full presentation can be accessed here.

Concluding session

During the webinar, participants raised a number of key issues relating to the roles of cooperatives in forced displacement. Among others, these related to collaboration between trade unions and cooperatives, the possibility for cooperatives to issue temporary work permits, the possible timeframe to build sustainable cooperatives, and the role of cooperatives in internal displacement contexts.

In her concluding remarks, Ms Esim stressed the importance of inclusive policies in the micro-, meso- and macro-environment supporting cooperatives and SSEOs. She also reminded participants that time was a critical consideration in introducing a sustainable cooperative strategy in these disrupted environments and that building cooperatives is a trust-building exercise, further reinforcing its value-addition in forced displacement contexts. The PROSPECTS programme offers a unique opportunity to provide adequate support to ensure sustainable outcomes that will also impact policy and advocacy and strengthen coordination of all key stakeholders, leveraging their experience and expertise. In this perspective, the ILO can play a meaningful role across a range of intervention areas, including promoting freedom of association which is essential to a thriving and inclusive cooperative movement.

The webinar marked the beginning of a conversation that will continue online and in the field, contributing to the eventual establishment of a Community of Practice. The cooperative movement has significant experience in transforming the lives of refugees and host communities for the better and it will be important to establish networks and knowledge management processes within and beyond the PROSPECTS programme to leverage this potential and inform the ongoing development and promotion of a rich learning agenda.