COOP Champions

Charles Bodwell, Enterprise Development Specialist at ILO DWT Bangkok

COOP Champions features ILO colleagues from around the world working on cooperatives and other social and solidarity economy enterprises. It highlights their contributions, and shares highlights of their experiences, current work, and future aspirations.

Article | 11 January 2019
Charles Bodwell, ILO DWT Bangkok
Charles Bodwell is originally an engineer. Prior to the ILO, he worked at the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) in the 1990s on manufacturing issues and developed a factory upgrading programme for production facilities in Africa. The programme was taken to the ILO when he moved organizations and eventually led to the modular approach of the ILO’s Sustaining Competitive and Responsible Enterprises (SCORE) Programme.

As the ILO’s Enterprise Specialist in East and South East Asia and the Pacific, his focus had been largely on the development of SMEs and entrepreneurship, using an activity-based, peer-to-peer training methodology rather than the traditional trainer-led methodology. It was when he started the discussion with ILO COOP Unit on adapting the new methodology for cooperatives that he got more involved in cooperative development.

In 2018, he worked with colleagues in the COOP Unit to develop a family of tools that build on the activity-based learning methodology – basically providing groups of cooperative members, or groups of small business people or farmers who might be interested in the cooperative business model, with templates and activities that guide them – without the need for external experts – through a process of considering cooperation, starting a cooperative and managing a cooperative.

The pilot workshop in Cambodia in November 2018
These tools were piloted in the region, initially in Myanmar, then later in Cambodia. The pilot workshop in Cambodia was organized in cooperation between the ILO and the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, and its Department of Agricultural Cooperative Promotion with the support of the ILO/Japan Fund for Building Social Safety Nets in Asia and the Pacific (SSN Fund). Following the nation-wide introduction of the tools to Ministry representatives from all 25 provinces, he started running the Think.Coop training package, the first module of the family with farmers in five provinces. This pilot work has gone well, with the Ministry including further use within its 2019 workplan.

“Faced with the integration process of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) and the pressures it will put on small farmers, cooperatives have a potentially vital role in the South East Asia. Such small farmers face new and much greater competitive pressures from external sources, and will need to improve their productivity, product offering and flexibility. Standing alone in such a market is hard to imagine for an individual farm – either small farmers will face consolidation, or cooperation,” says Charles. He believes that the ILO’s institutional partners, with the Organization’s assistance, can offer tools and approaches to support that path of cooperation and collaboration to deal with changing market pressures and demand.

He also imagines the so-called gig economy and related “crowdwork” could be an area for renewed interest with regard to the role of cooperatives. “On-line labour platforms present real challenges for ensuring decent work – and I imagine in the future the cooperative model will evolve and provide support to workers involved in this sort of short-term, job-based economy. We, at the ILO, will need to help figure out how our past experience with cooperatives and worker collaboration can help address decent work challenges in such a new and technology-based environment. With the rapid growth of gig platforms in Asia and around the world, this is an increasingly important area for us to consider.”