Cooperative development

Training and organizing university students in cooperative enterprise and its management.

Efforts to stimulate the formation of cooperatives in Hualien, on the east coast of Taiwan.

Local Proutist Chou Yi Ru, jointly working with other progressive-minded people, and after persistent lobbying, received government funds in 2016 to assist in local economic development.

This represented a victory, procuring finances that would have otherwise been used for grandiose schemes and projects largely divorced from the lives of common people in the region.

The tangible results of that initiative include: four cooperatives were formed, teaching materials and several films were produced, and training programs were conducted. Perhaps the most enduring and valuable outcome is the network of like-minded people and contacts that developed.

Three of the cooperatives now continue to operate – a credit union at one university, and in nearby villages of aboriginal people (local inhabitants before the KMT fled to the island from Mainland China in 1949) an agricultural cooperative formed and another for people who make traditional arts and crafts. The fourth is a housing cooperative for families with autistic children whose parents are now elderly or deceased. Legalities and difficulties with local authorities have prevented this coop from getting properly established.

Despite these gains, important lessons were learned about what to avoid. Government funds helped but local authorities who wielded control were not authentically interested. The approach was top-down, enticing people’s participation rather than igniting their aspirations and vision.

Now Mr Chou and his allies work mostly with students in three universities (TCU – Tzu Chi University, TCUST – Tzu Chi University of Science and Technology, and NDHU – National Dong Hwa University). A network of mentors and professors with varied knowledge and professional experience supports new ventures. Students learn to envision a new economic alternative to the dominant paradigm controlled by the ruling elites. A consumers’ cooperative has been established through the university-based credit union in NDHU.

The same team now develops new training programs in all three universities. These programs focus on the skills and knowledge needed to successfully establish both consumer and producer cooperatives. The training program’s motto is “Be Part of the Solution, Not the Problem”. Students learn through applied problem solving, identifying needs and cooperatively finding solutions.

The ultimate goal of Consumer-side Courses is to reinforce the establishment of consumer co-ops in the Universities. These coops will make use of a shared E-commerce platform allowing members to place orders on their smartphones and participate in decision-making within their own coop.

The purpose of the Production-side Course is to bring students to the farms and villages, to experience the real difficulties of local farmers, and come up with solutions based on cooperation. Making use of the same E-commerce platform, needed data of consumption patterns will be collected which allows the production coop to plan accordingly.

TCU Students use the Design Thinking Process to explore the challenges of forming consumer coops.

A three-year grant from Taiwan’s Education Ministry will be applied for in June 2017 as funding for the program’s initial phase. The trainers see this integrated focus on both consumer and producer coops will result in a local circular or self-sustaining economy based on cooperatives.

Chou Yi Ru works as an associate professor in the Center for General Education, Tzu Chi University.

Cooperative development
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Proutist movement

Public rallies, protests and marches on various cultural and socio-economic issues.

In the state of Odisha, India, Kanhu Behura has built a strong organization of many ideological, full-time Prout workers. They have organized agricultural producer and consumer cooperatives with tribal people and very poor farmers. A successful cooperative credit union was also formed. Now they are starting to organize poor miners in another part of the state. They are also working with non-governmental organizations and building a grassroots Proutist political organization that is putting pressure on the government to effect real change.

Proutist movement
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Proutist movement

Weekly newspaper, conferences, movement/party that organizes public rallies, protests and marches on various cultural and socio-economic issues.

In 1968, Proutists formed Amra Bengali, a samaja movement whose name means “We are Bengalis.” Their newspaper, Notun Prithivi (“The New Earth”) from Kolkata has been published weekly from then until now. The movement has since become a political party in West Bengal, as well as in other states with large Bengali populations: Tripura, Bihar, Odisha, Assam and Jharkhand. The party platform is based on uniting the Bengali-speaking states and districts to form a Greater Bengal (“Bengalistan”), ending the domination of the economy by outsiders, giving preference to local people in employment, and using the Bengali language in official work.

Proutist movement
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Agricultural development projects

The rural Bilaspur District in Chhattisgarh, India had been torn apart by communal violence, forced religious conversions and human trafficking. With limited water sources and poor crops, most young people migrated away for jobs. There was huge mistrust among the different communities due to unequal land distribution and ownership of resources. Alcoholism and domestic strife were common.

Pradeep Sharma and 15 young proutists started meetings in different villages, listening to the problems of the people. Then they invited all the different groups to meet; together they resolved to construct an earthen check dam with volunteer labour. With local materials and indigenous techniques, they created a reservoir of six million liters of water which irrigated 43 hectares. This has raised the underground water table as well.

Several agricultural cooperatives were also formed that shared the income generated so that both landowners and landless farmers benefited from their contributions. This was all accomplished without any outside funding or donation, greatly raising the spirits of the people.

Next Pradeep started an organic farming technique that is very successful and which is now implemented in more than 100 villages of the district. First the men of the village dug an Akshay Chakra, which means a non-depleting energy center, a large hole that is two meters deep, two meters wide and two meters long, with canals and branching canals leading away from it in all directions. Then the men filled it with a mixture of cow dung, cow urine and rice water, creating a very fertile area of land in which the women intensively plant a wide variety of vegetables. Every day a truck from the cooperative collects the organic harvest and pays each woman the equivalent of about US$4 for the produce, which forms new additional income for thousands of families. Malnutrition among women and children is falling. The purchasing capacity and quality of life of the people is increasing.

Agricultural development projects
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