ILO COOP 100 Interview

Mr Alexandre Soho, ILO Senior Technical Officer on agriculture and rural economy in the Fundamentals Branch of the ILO

Established in March 1920, the ILO’s Cooperatives Unit marks its Centenary in 2020. On this occasion, the ILO COOP 100 Interview series features past and present ILO colleagues and key partners who were closely engaged in the ILO's work on cooperatives and the wider social and solidarity economy (SSE). The interviews reflect on their experience and contributions in the past and shares their thoughts on the future of cooperatives and the SSE in a changing world of work.

Article | 22 July 2020

Prior to joining the ILO, what was the nature of your involvement in cooperatives?

My first contact with cooperatives was in November 1980 in Cameroon, as technical staff of the Department of Cooperatives and Mutuality (COOP/MUT) of the Ministry of Agriculture. As I was also starting the preparation of a thesis for a doctorate degree in economics at the University of Yaounde, the cooperative movement appeared to be an obvious field of research. Within the COOP/MUT Department and during a 10-year period, I held various responsibilities on cooperative development and organization, and on cooperative education and Training. In particular, I worked on the registration of new cooperatives, capacity building of cooperative members, board members and staff, electoral processes and performance audits of agricultural producers, marketing and financial cooperatives.

A main contribution was on the drafting of the outcome document of the July 1988 national workshop on the cooperative movement, which set the tune of the reform process of cooperatives and rural organizations in Cameroon. Internships or other training opportunities abroad on the management and development of agricultural and industrial cooperatives, as well as cooperative internal audit also allowed me over that period to improve my understanding of cooperative matters, interact with many cooperative organizations and to better support the cooperative movement in Cameroon.

When and where did you start your career at the ILO?

ILO COOP 100 is a unique opportunity to celebrate the achievements of the cooperative movement in all the regions and to highlight the role of the ILO, in the spirit of ILO Recommendation on the Promotion of Cooperatives, 2002 (No. 193). I would like thank and congratulate ILO COOP for their continued support to the movement and for their commitment to build a better world of work, a world where “the each for all and all for each” finds its full meaning.
With the experience mentioned above, I joined the ILO in November 1990 in Yaounde (Cameroon) as the national expert on cooperative management and development in the UNDP-funded ILO Cooperative Promotion project. The project aimed to assist the country in the development of a new legal framework on cooperative and grassroots organizations, as recommended by the July 1988 national workshop above.


What are some highlights of your work at the ILO on cooperative development? What was it like working on cooperatives then?

Within the project above and with the collaboration of a team of DED volunteers, I conducted a technical and financial assessment of 12 cocoa and coffee producers and marketing cooperatives and their apex organization - the South West farmers’ Cooperative Union (SOWEFCU Ltd). I also advised various board of directors to get prepared and to adjust to the liberalization of the marketing system in 1992. Given the interest of other development partners (including the World Bank, European development Fund, USAID, GTZ, French Development Agency and French Cooperation Mission) to promote an autonomous cooperative movement in the country, a Central Unit for Rural Organization Reform (CUROR) took over the Cooperative Promotion project. As the national CTA of ILO/CUROR, my job over six years was to coordinate:
  • The dissemination of the 1992 law and decree on cooperative societies and common initiative groups and regulations, and the 1993 law on economic interest groups;
  • The setting up of the Registry of cooperative societies and common initiative groups at national and provincial level, and the training and selection of initial staff as well as the development and provision of tools and materials for start-up activities of the Registry;
  • Designing and roll out of a technical support fund for cooperatives and rural organizations;
  •  An assessment of cooperative credit union and other microfinance institutions, in view of facilitating access of newly registered cooperatives and related organizations to institutional financial services.
Between 1998 and 2000, as the Expert on cooperative promotion within the Norway –funded ILO/ACOPAM (Dakar), a regional cooperative programme covering 6 North Sahel countries, and later on as the regional coordinator for Central and West Africa (and Madagascar) of ILO COOPREFORM and COOPNET Inter-regional programmes, I assisted national governments in formulating and implementing cooperative reforms. The designing of cooperative policies and project as well as capacity building of national staff on the implementation modalities are some of the main achievements.

My recent engagement with cooperative has been on the design and facilitation of training on the role of cooperatives in the fight against child labour. This includes working with cooperative apex organizations (Malawi) and artisanal and small-scale miners’ associations (Niger, the Philippines, Ghana); supporting trade unions to extend their reach to the rural economy and to promote rural producers ’cooperatives (Ghana, Côte d’Ivoire, Uganda); working with ILO COOP to develop and pilot IEC and training materials.

Working on cooperatives has been a privilege: privilege of witnessing the benefit of solidarity and collaboration; privilege of helping people to count on themselves first; privilege of supporting disadvantage people to improve their living standards; privilege of being an actor of the social and economic transformation of informal economy vulnerable groups.

How do you see the role of cooperatives in the future of work?

As noted in the Declaration on the Future of Work, cooperatives and the social and solidarity economy can generate decent work, productive employment and improved living standards for all. If well organized, democratically controlled and financially sound, cooperatives will still play diverse roles in the production, the processing and supply of agricultural crops and other goods. Workers and industrial cooperatives will promote employment and contribute job creation and training of their members and staff. Financial cooperatives will continue to mobilize savings and to facilitate access to institutional loans and other financial services; as community-based organizations, cooperatives will contribute to the elimination of child labour and promote fair recruitment and treatment practices for adults. In a COVID-19 and post pandemic context, they will help to alleviate the ill effects of the crisis and will contribute to the economic recovery process.

How do you interpret/understand the growing momentum around the social and solidarity economy?

The prevailing economic model governed by the market and profits has left many people behind. Alone, they cannot find their own way and sustain themselves and their families. By joining their forces and means with others, they can increase their income and improve their living standards. With the growing socio-economical, demographical and financial and health challenges, including those imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic, social and solidarity economy organizations offer a great alternative to these categories of people who cannot (otherwise) make it alone.