For doctoral candidates, attending continuing training to improve practical skills is essential, so as to not lose sight as what’s happening outside of academia. As my (Kendisha’s) doctoral research within the WoodCluster project is about forestry cooperatives for smallholders, I may have sufficient support for questions regarding the forestry part here in the institute, but not as much in the cooperative part. Thus, I am thankful to have been selected as a participant and to benefit from the trainings on cooperative entrepreneurship during the Global Youth Forum (GYF) 2020 on Cooperative Entrepreneurship. It took place between February 3rd and 7th 2020 in Kuching, Sarawak, Malaysia. It was organized by the International Cooperative Alliance (ICA) and hosted by Malaysia’s national cooperative body Angkasa.
What happened at the GYF?
In a course of 5 days and attended by about 150 youth participants from around 50 different countries, the GYF consisted of sessions for interactive training and experience exchange about cooperatives. The topics revolved around cooperative law, governance, business models, and linkages to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The trainers are of various background, coming from practice, academia, or consultancy. However, you don’t feel this trainer-trainee divide. Everyone is very approachable and interacts at the eye-level. In one session you may have a training with a certain trainer, and in the next one, this trainer sits next to you as a participant. The GYF was a platform for peer-to-peer and social learning, which anyway is embedded in the cooperative value.
I took part in sessions, where we participants had the chance to explore approaches like human-centered design thinking and the business canvas model. Both are useful to harness collective intelligence in designing a cooperative business idea, which, in its very nature, is for both economic and social impact. I also practiced pitching my forestry cooperative business idea, and employing sociocracy as an approach in a democratic decision-making process.
As an output of the GYF, we drafted a resolution in a participatory manner. At the venue of the GYF, one huge wall was dedicated for us to write down ideas leading to the resolution. In one session, moderated by colleagues from the ICA Youth Network, we gathered in a small group to merge and arrange these collected ideas. After, a voting document was distributed and everyone had the chance to vote for the two most prioritized points to be included in the resolution. The resolution, presented at the closing plenary, is a call to raise awareness about the cooperative business model in the education system, to engage more youth in the cooperative movement, and to upscale support in cooperative start-ups, among others.
Concerning research in cooperatives, I participated in a session about #coops4dev, which carries out research under the ICA. Currently their focus lies on cooperative law, the SDGs, and mapping out statistics on cooperatives worldwide, among others. We also brainstormed some gaps/interesting topics in cooperative research. I observed that the nexus between cooperative and the forestry sector is under researched. Nonetheless, I found some crosscutting issues, as follows.
What did I learn about the cooperative and forestry nexus?
I also had the opportunity to learn more about existing cooperatives from the initiators themselves. One that is forestry-related or livelihoods-oriented that I became acquainted with is a cooperative for cacao farmers in West Kalimantan, Indonesia. The primary cooperative, which is a part of the multipurpose cooperative “Keling Kumang Group”, enlists small-scale farmers who have about two hectares of land in West Borneo, Indonesia (which is my home country). This cooperative has the vision to empower farmers become independent, and to provide alternatives from oil palm or rubber plantations. The cacao trees are in an agroforestry system, intercropped with bananas, mangosteen and durian. The cooperative has three main activities: running a nursery, fermentation of cacao, and eco-tourism. The idea emanated from Yohana Tamara, who was inspired while participating in the ICA Asia-Pacific Youth Summit in 2018.
Also interesting is the ICA Africa program, which steered a nursery and tree-planting program (The Earth Garden Club) involving youth in Zimbabwe. This shows another example how the cooperative model is beneficial in the forestry sector. Its idea and implementation, as explained by its initiator Raymond, benefited from the Global Cooperative Entrepreneurs program of the ICA. Equally, I was happy to also learn more about a cooperative of cotton producers in Ivory Coast or of cashew farmers in Tanzania. The concept of workers’ cooperatives is also a proven collective action model that strives for more cooperation than competition in the dominant capitalistic context. Such cooperatives promote the “survival of those who cooperative”, instead of the fittest, and are a manifestation of Economy for the Common Good.
At the end of the GYF, we had the opportunity to visit a cooperative school in Kuching (the pupils of which have been volunteering for the GYF) and to explore Sarawak Cultural Village, where the rainforest world music festival is held every July. We could immerse ourselves in the traditional music, dance, houses and attire of Sarawak culture, and enjoyed local cuisines. It is no surprise that their local tradition is forest-dependent. The traditional stage houses consist of majestic poles, the traditional attire is made of tree barks, and even some dance is inspired by, e.g., hunting in the forest.
Of course, being in Chair of Tropical Forestry, I had to explore the tropical Borneo forest! On the very last day while waiting for my night flight, with some new friends from the GYF, we trekked together in a community forest called “Bung Jagoi” which is managed by a cooperative consisting of its local community members, NTFP (non-timber forest product) sellers and tour guides (most of whom are youth). Close to the summit of the community forest lies the mountain village of Jagoi, which is now used for homestay. At the summit, we enjoyed a nice view of Borneo rainforest. This cooperative is thus able not only to facilitate the management of the forest, but also to generate income through its eco-tourism and NTFP sales, as well as to provide jobs for the local youth. It is coordinated by a local man called Wadell, who studied forest management at the University of Malaysia Sarawak.
All in all, the GYF has enabled fruitful networking, experience and knowledge exchange. It was also interesting to learn the projects happening in ICA of various regions (Asia-Pacific, Europe, Africa, and Americas), all of which contribute to the SDGs. Now I know more doors to knock when I have questions about cooperatives. The cooperative movement is gaining momentum globally, and more than ever, youth are at the forefront in shaping it. My gratitude goes to the ICA and the ICA Youth Network, Angkasa, the volunteers, the funders, trainers and participants at the GYF, and everyone else involved to make the GYF a momentous event.
By Kendisha S. Hintz