ILO participates in SEWA Workshop on Development of Grassroots Women’s Cooperatives in Ahmedabad

News | 26 August 2019
The Gujarat Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) Cooperatives Federation, the All India Federation of SEWA (SEWA Bharat) and the International Cooperative Alliance Asia and Pacific (ICA-AP) Regional Office have delivered a capacity building workshop aimed at developing grassroots women’s cooperatives in Ahmedabad, India from Aug 8-9 2019.

The workshop aimed to leverage the experience from the grassroots leaders in exploring the commonalities among women-led cooperatives; address regulatory issues pertaining to establishing and developing women-led cooperatives in rural and informal economies; share good practices and challenges of marketing across sectors, and to explore the relevance on online economy and digitization for cooperatives. The two-day workshop included panel discussions and working group sessions around four themes: access to finance, online economy and digitisation, market linkages and governance. Throughout the two-days, women cooperatives also held a ‘Mahila Haat’, showcasing and selling their products.

The workshop had representation from academia, civil society organizations, cooperative federations such as National Cooperative Union of India (NCUI), grassroots cooperative leaders, government departments responsible for cooperative development and international development agencies. The ILO’s Cooperatives Unit Manager Simel Esim and the ILO Enterprises Specialist from New Delhi Office Kelvin Sergeant also participated in the workshop.

During her keynote Ms Esim noted that not only is the majority of the global workforce in the Global South, but also 90 per cent of all workers in developing countries are informally employed. Underlining the importance of organizing the unorganized especially among rural and informal economy workers, she noted that cooperatives and other social and solidarity economy organizations allow the workers to be the producers, owners, shareholders, and managers of their own labour.

She indicated that SEWA has inspired the world with its dual strategy of unionism for rights and cooperatives and other social and solidarity economy organizations for development since its foundation in 1972. She said “As a movement of over 1.9 million women informal economy workers, SEWA experience provides many great lessons for the cooperative movement in general and for informal economy workers’ organizations in particular.” She emphasized the importance of principles of cooperation, mutualism, joint action, self-help and collaboration for women, youth, rural and informal workers to come together and build their social and solidarity economy enterprises.

Reflecting on the megatrends affecting the world of world, including technology, demographics and climate change, she noted that cooperatives and the wider social and solidarity economy enterprises can adapt to and mitigate these changes. They can adapt by incorporating new technologies (online marketing), tools (mutual insurance) and strategies (diversification of crops, irrigation techniques) into their practices. They can also mitigate by working through forestry, care, renewable energy and platform cooperatives.

Kelvin Sergeant at the session
In a session on international experiences, the ILO Enterprises Specialist in Delhi, Kelvin Sergeant shared his experiences of working with cooperatives in general and women-led cooperatives in particular in the English Speaking Caribbean. In discussions between the ILO officials and the leaders of SEWA Bharat, SEWA Academy and SEWA Cooperative Federation, it was agreed that ILO’s Think.COOP orientation tool on cooperatives would be translated and adapted to the SEWA context in 2019 for roll out in Gujarat and across India (in Hindi) in 2020.