Spotlight Interviews with Co-operators

Rah-e-Roshd: The first cooperative school working to advance inclusive and quality education in Iran

"Spotlight Interviews with Cooperators" is a series of interviews with cooperative leaders from around the world with whom ILO officials have crossed paths during the course of their work with cooperatives. For this issue ILO interviewed Ms Anahita Eslahpazir, a founding member and the Chief Executive Officer of Rah-e-Roshd Cooperative.

Article | 28 September 2017

Q. What is the Rah-e-Roshd Cooperative?

Ms Anahita Eslahpazir
A. Rah-e-Roshd (“the way of growth”) is the first and largest educational cooperative in Tehran, Iran. It has educated over 2,400 students in the past three decades across its six schools. Currently the cooperative has 163 members (shareholders); over 70 per cent of whom are teachers employed at the cooperative. The remainder of the members are also people involved in the world of education including retired personnel of the cooperative itself. Rah-e-Roshd is more than just a school which entails emboldened social activities especially in women empowerment.

Rah-e-Roshd was first started as a kindergarten in 1985 at a time of war. Seven passionate mothers who had yearned for quality education for their children came together to set up a kindergarten by pooling their savings. They were also concerned that the government’s privatization policy of state-run schools would bring irreversible consequences mainly by intensifying educational inequality.

Rah-e-Roshd members
While the kindergarten successfully took off and thrived, the high rental cost of the facility placed burdens on their finances. In order to secure a sustainable development for their school, the teachers decided to take on a cooperative legal form and started to have part of their salaries deducted for the start-up capital of the cooperative. In 1996, Rah-e-Roshd was officially registered as a cooperative with an initial capital of 40 million IRR (≈ US$ 1,200) and 1400 shares. Today Rah-e-Roshd has grown into an educational complex which educates students from kindergarten up to high school level.

As a cooperative which was started by a few women, Rah-e-Roshd continues to have over 80 per cent of its members and around 70 per cent of its workers as women. It has provided its members, workers and beneficiaries with a collective narration of economic success, which often socially associated with men. As one of the leading women cooperatives in the country, Rah-e-Roshd has increasingly engaged in gender equality and women’s economic integration issues through diverse social projects in partnership with other women cooperatives.

Q. How does the Rah-e-Roshd Cooperative work?

A. Over 70 per cent of Rah-e-Roshd members are teachers employed at the cooperative. If someone is both a member and a worker in the cooperative, he/she tends to put a priority not so much on profit but rather on the cooperative development compared to non-worker members who only come and engage once in a while.

Members regularly interact with each other in meetings on a wide range of issues. When there is surplus from the school operations, they are reinvested in the school to improve aspects of the educational activities. The cooperative values have influenced the mind-sets and behaviour of the students who frequently take part in collective activities, receive their education through cooperative pedagogy. The Rah-e-Roshd cooperative has been selected as the best cooperative in Iran for the last four years consecutively.

Q. What are the challenges and opportunities for the Rah-e-Roshd Cooperative in the future?

A. Rah-e-Roshd has been engaging with the Ministry of Education to promote the idea of cooperative school as a strategy to support the public education system. In 2016, a campaign to promote the cooperative school model was officially launched based on a MoU signed between the Ministry of Education and Ministry of Cooperatives, Labour and Social Welfare. A paragraph in this MoU prioritizes cooperativization over privatization of schools. In December 2016, the Secretariat for Development of Cooperative Schools (SDCS) held a conference with the theme “Cooperative School and Participatory Economics” in Tehran in collaboration with the two ministries. It brought together ministerial officials, teachers, sociologists, economists and educational activists to discuss the importance of the cooperative school idea and to examine the legal and structural challenges on the way forward. The SDCS will hold the second edition of the conference in January 2018.

As a first step to share the experience of Rah-e-Roshd, a delegation from the cooperative school has been visiting provinces around the country, sharing their success with local teachers, encouraging and orienting them to setting up cooperative schools. Rah-e-Roshd has been active in supporting and training potential women co-operators in these provinces. These activities have shifted Rah-e-Roshd from only being a cooperative school to being cooperative advocates. Rah-e-Roshd is also keen to engage with the global cooperative movement to share experiences also to learn from each other.

Spotlight Interviews with Cooperators is a series of interviews with cooperative leaders from around the world with whom ILO officials have crossed paths during the course of their work with cooperatives. The responsibility for opinions expressed in this interview rests solely with the interviewees, and the article does not constitute an endorsement by the International Labour Office.