Reshaping inclusive development? The case of cooperative enterprises

Borda-Rodriguez, Alexander and Johnson, Hazel (2015). Reshaping inclusive development? The case of cooperative enterprises. The Open University, Milton Keynes.


In spite of many achievements against the Millennium Development Goals, the gains from economic growth and poverty reduction have been accompanied by growing inequality and low income people are part of development on adverse terms. These issues inform debates about inclusive development: How can the terms and conditions for low income people’s participation in national development be changed for the better? What potential do low income people have to establish improved terms of engagement with the market? What does it mean to pursue inclusive development? This paper engages with different conceptualisations of inclusive development, noting that they fall into two broad perspectives: one that is policy-oriented directed at the redistribution of benefits, the other focusing on poor and low income people’s voice and agency. With respect to the latter, there seems to be a gap on the role of formal organisations, such as co-operatives. Adopting the second perspectives, we examine data from fieldwork on co-operatives unions in Malawi and consider the experience of two Unions with extensive histories – one involved in the smallholder marketing of coffee, and the other in savings and credit. We consider the potential, challenges and tensions of co-operatives in providing a platform for inclusive development based on economic control and benefits, and voice, both contributing to co-operative members’ agency. We show that while co-operatives can have an important role in promoting inclusive development, there are many challenges and contradictions. Thus inclusive development needs to be seen as an ongoing dialogic and deliberative process, not simply an outcome of policy or an end state. Without idealising their potential, co-operatives can play an important role in such a process and in shaping how we understand inclusive development.

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