1. How did you come up with the idea of the Social Cooperative Train?In Turkey, social cooperatives are not very well known. It was during a trip to Italy in 2013 that I learned about social cooperatives and their potential in offering innovative solutions to social issues in Turkey. I spent a couple of years studying social cooperative legislation and practice examples in various countries, including in Italy, Spain and France and prepared a thesis on social cooperatives, which is the first thesis written on the subject in the country.
Until recently, there were only a few social cooperatives in Turkey and some of them were not even aware that they were social cooperatives. Thus, the first step in tapping into their potential was to introduce the social cooperative model, identify areas where it could be used and bring the existing social cooperatives together.
The idea of organizing these activities under the “Social Cooperative Train” came about as a means of attracting interest and support from various stakeholders including youth, as trains hold a nostalgic value in the collective consciousness in Turkey.
2. What are the activities undertaken around the Social Cooperative Train?The first Social Cooperative Train took a journey between 1 to 14 October 2018 with funding from the Ministry of Trade, the Ankara Development Agency and various other institutions. Starting from Ankara, the train stopped in 10 different provinces in Western Turkey where a range of activities were held.
In the selected schools, coding workshops were organized with children and the role of cooperation and collaborative businesses was emphasized. Hackathons on social cooperatives were organized in Eskişehir and İzmir with young women and men. Information meetings with university students were conducted in each of the provinces. An international experience sharing panel was also organized with the participation of guests from Italy and representatives of NGOs.
The first voyage of the Social Cooperative Train brought together various stakeholders including government officials including experts of General Directorate of Cooperative and representatives from cooperatives (Youth Deal Cooperative, Needs Map Cooperative), NGOs (Habitat Association, Ashoka Turkey) and development agencies like the Ankara Development Agency.
The activities organized in the provinces were attended by local administrators, local civil society representatives, academics, university students, cooperative leaders and citizens who are interested in cooperatives in general and social cooperatives in particular.
3. What is next after this education and promotion initiative around social cooperatives in Turkey?An after action review meeting was conducted in Ankara to reflect on the lessons learned from the first edition of the Social Cooperative Train. In the spring of 2019, the second edition of the Social Cooperative Train will be organized to the Southern and Eastern provinces. These activities aim to create an enabling environment for social cooperatives by raising public awareness on social cooperatives and facilitating the revision of legal regulations to allow for establishment of social cooperatives in Turkey. I believe that social cooperatives can be one of the leading solutions to social problems such as regional development disparities, accessibility of special services for persons with disabilities and exclusion of disadvantaged groups from employment opportunities.
Spotlight interviews with cooperators is a series of interviews with cooperative leaders around the world, whom ILO officials have encountered in the course of their work with cooperatives. This article does not constitute an endorsement by the ILO.