11th September 2009 at 01:00

Collective strength

University researchers are re-examining the potential of an old-fashioned organisation, the co-operative movement, to tackle some of the world's biggest problems.

The "Co-op", which traces its roots back more than 200 years in the UK, has over one million members worldwide.

Last week, the Co-operative College released three reports, produced with support from DFID (the Department for International Development), showing how the co-operative business model can be effective in helping large numbers of producers in developing countries to get markets for their produce.

The first report, by Johnston Birchall and Richard Simmons from Stirling University, concludes: ". on their own, the poor can only stay trapped. They have to work together to gain collective strength that they do not have individually; the poor need to get organised. But what types of organisation are best at doing this? There are several types . We think that co-operatives are the best form . "

The Fair Trade movement, subject of the second report by Samantha Lacey of the Co-operative College, is a case in point. Small farmers, grouped together into co-operatives, have been able to sell their product at guaranteed prices, and get a social premium for local development projects.

Linda Shaw, who wrote the third report, on co-operative education, points out that there remain many problems with co-operatives, especially in those countries where top-down government-controlled co-operatives are still the norm.

Co-operative College T: 0161 246 2922

Co-operatives and poverty reduction: Evidence from Sri Lanka and Tanzania, by Johnston Birchall and Richard Simmons

Beyond a Fair Price: The Co-operative Movement and Fair Trade, by Samantha Lacey

Making Connections: Education for Co-operatives, by Linda Shaw.

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