Usually I take this opportunity to focus on the credit union projects we are doing around the world.
|CCA and the Rwandan co-operative development organization UGAMA are helping co-operative farmers regain their confidence and productivity. |
Photo: Jim Lowe
But this year I want to deviate from that script. I want to talk about something that is really on my mind these days. It goes to why we do international development and also where we do international development.
I want to talk about conflict. CCA is not, and has never been a humanitarian relief organization. You won't find us in the middle of a crisis or a shooting war - in Afghanistan, or Darfur, or Libya. Yet in the last few years I have been struck by how much of the work we are doing has its roots in conflict. I am so painfully aware of how difficult it is to rebuild communities that have been shattered by conflict, but I have also seen with my own eyes how co-operatives - including credit unions - can be an olive branch in a troubled community. Our support for co-operatives is offering hope - both for economic progress and for peace - in so many troubled places.
When I sat down to think about this, I was amazed at the list of places where our co-operative and credit union development is part of the healing process. - Aceh, Sri Lanka, Sierra Leone and Nepal are all emerging from civil wars that have ended within the last one to six years. Those scars are fresh. But we also work in Northern Uganda which is just now emerging from 20 years of terror inflicted by the Lord's Resistance Army. We support co-operative development in Northern Ghana where a long standing land dispute has resulted in tribal bloodshed. The co-operatives we work with in El Salvador are one result of land reform that came about due to civil strife. We are back working in Colombia where a civil war, followed by a prolonged period of organized narco-terrorism has left a damaged society. Two weeks ago our interns working with our partner in Rwanda reported that work shut down for an entire week for national genocide remembrance activities. A new society is emerging from the ashes of one of the most horrific chapters in recent human history. And co-operatives are part of the re-birth.
This list is remarkable because we do not seek out conflict. Rather conflict finds us because there is a unique need for co-operative development in those circumstances. In thinking about this, a couple of simple truths have emerged. First - poverty and conflict are inextricably linked. Conflict often starts because of poverty, and conflict inevitably causes poverty. Our co-operative development approach is all about finding long term solutions to poverty. The second truth is that where people find a new common purpose, where they work together for the benefit of all, the liungering tensions are reduced. That is what co-operation is all about. Would it make sense to encourage competition in communities where animosity is just below the surface? I don't think so.
I could go on - on how the co-operative principles offer a careful blueprint for avoiding and healing the frictions that cause conflict. But let me just say, instead, that thinking about this topic has given me a new appreciation for the 2012 slogan "Co-operative Enterprises build a better world". In the context of post-conflict situations all over the world, that simple phrase is so true. So when the headlines start to get get you down - bloody stalemate in Lybia, a new conflict in Ivory Coast - just remember that phrase, and remember the work that CCA is doing with your help.