Spotlight Interviews with Co-operators

Francesca Ottolenghi, Chief of International Relations, EU Policies, International Development Cooperation and Internationalization Office, and Chief of Sustainability and Cooperation Office Legacoop in Italy

“Spotlight Interviews with Co-operators” is a series of interviews with cooperative and wider social and solidarity economy (SSE) policy makers, researchers and practitioners from around the world with whom ILO officials have crossed paths during the course of their work. On this occasion, the ILO interviewed Francesca Ottolenghi who is the Chief of International Relations, EU Policies, International Development Cooperation and Internationalization Office of Legacoop in Italy. She is also Legacoop’s Chief of Sustainability and Cooperation Office.

Article | 15 February 2022

Could you tell us a bit about your background?

I work in the Italian cooperative movement since 1998. I started by creating a women cooperative in the fishery/aquaculture research sector, as I am biologist. I then started collaborating with the national association of fishery cooperative Lega Pesca, establishing a specific non-profit organization for international cooperation, Haliéus. At the same time I kept on working for the cooperative and collaborated with the FAO. Since 2012, Haliéus and Legacoop stated collaborating with the University La Sapienza of Rome, where I manage a course on cooperatives in international development projects. Since 2016, I have been working in the Legacoop (National League of Cooperatives and Mutuals) International Cooperation Office. In January 2022 I have taken on the responsibilities for leading this office. In this capacity, I promote a vision for a stronger network between cooperatives (at the national, European and international levels) and key stakeholders, including the ILO, to seize the opportunity to solve common challenges by joint action. A key challenge for international relations and cooperation activities is to align the efforts toward the sustainable development goals.

What is your vision for the international relations work of Legacoop in the rapidly changing world of work?

The key dynamics in the world of work (e.g. digitalization, green transition and increased global integration of economies), require that the cooperative movement adapts and re-organizes. The integration of economies, which are only temporarily held back by the COVID-19 crisis, requires us to facilitate the collaboration of Italian cooperatives with counterparts from around the world. Even cooperatives traditionally strictly linked only with local communities, are nowadays opening to international synergies. The digitalization of the economies, offers great opportunities for platforms of collaboration between cooperatives across levels and also in sharing data. In this process, the cooperative model must represent a strong alternative to current extractive digital platforms.

Has the unfolding crises around COVID-19 affected the work of Legacoop International Relations Office in the past two years?

In our international work, the COVID-19 crisis has clearly hampered numerous meetings and missions of outgoing and incoming delegations. In our international development work, we kept our focus on supporting cooperatives in developing countries to overcome the crisis. Most recently, an Italian consumer cooperative started a fundraising with an NGO to provide vaccination in developing countries. Concerning ongoing projects of Haliéus, several activities had to be modified or cancelled including some field activities. It was possible to modify many activities by making use of digital tools. In the long term, the increased capacity of all actors to use digital tools could turn into a positive improvement on the efficiency of the activities. However digital exchanges cannot substitute the value of in person meetings and exchanges.

How does the unique experience of Lega Pesca translate into international development?

The engagement of Italian fishery cooperatives with international development is driven by two factors. One is around collaborating with countries from around the Mediterranean for common policies and approaches on the use of common marine resources. The other is the demand for Italian fishery cooperatives’ experiences from international organizations worldwide. To share its experiences worldwide Lega Pesca decided to create Haliéus in 2005. More recently, Haliéus has been adopted as the international cooperation structure of Legacoop, for cooperating across sectors where Legacoop cooperatives are active.

What does the Haliéus Association do?

Haliéus is a non-profit association that is a structure of Legacoop for international development cooperation. Haliéus contributes to sustainable development at the international level by promoting the cooperative business model as a tool for empowering individuals and communities. Haliéus now leads the international cooperation initiatives building on the experiences and expertise of more than 10,000 cooperatives that are members of Legacoop in various economic sectors: from agriculture to fisheries, from consumption to welfare and from fair trade to sustainable tourism. The members of Haliéus are: Legacoop (National League of Cooperatives and Mutual Aid), Legacoop Agroalimentare representing cooperatives from the agrofood sector, Legacoopsociali representing social cooperatives, ANCC COOP representing Italian consumer cooperatives and Legacoop Emilia Romagna, Puglia, Veneto and Liguria regions. H Haliéus is also supported by: Fairtrade Italy which is the Italian representative of Fairtrade international; 4 Form, a consortium specialized in training cooperatives, and AITR (Italian Association of Responsible Tourism).

What is the role of the cooperative movement in supporting sustainable development internationally?

The 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development and the sixth (Cooperation among Cooperatives) and seventh (Concern for Community) principles of cooperatives are closely aligned. At the national level Haliéus and the International Relation Office of Legacoop work toward advancing sustainable development. Toward reaching these objective we work in strict synergy with the Alleanza Cooperative Italiane (Italian Cooperative Alliance) including Confcooperative.