Retail cooperatives from across the UK recently came together to provide much needed emergency supplies to cooperatives and communities in India during the Covid crisis.
Over GBP 100,000 was donated via SEWA, a Cooperative Federation in India which works with 106 women’s coops, enabling them to provide a sustainable livelihood for female workers. ICMIF member VimoSEWA Cooperative is the insurance part of the SEWA Federation. The support from the UK-based retail societies allowed SEWA to provide essential basic supplies through their female networks, including masks and paracetamol, critical supplies including oxygen, and supporting Indian cooperatives to restart their businesses after lockdown. Established in 1972, SEWA currently has 1.8 million members, across 18 states in the country.
Mirai Chatterjee, Chairperson, SEWA Cooperative Federation and member of the ICMIF Development Committee said, “We would like to thank you for the solidarity of the cooperative spirit in action. We are very happy to be your partners in the rebuild. The situation in India is thankfully slowly improving and we are seeing a reduction in cases in the urban areas, although we are less sure about the rural areas as the data is sparse.
“Our country is now slowly coming out of the health emergency, but we are now staring in the face of a huge livelihood and humanitarian crisis. Workers and families have been busy with the health emergency but now they are extremely anxious about how they can restore their livelihoods and that’s where your contribution and your support to us has been critical.”
During the crisis period 4,000 household health kits were prepared by the Indian cooperatives that form part of SEWA. These included masks made by an artisan cooperative and soap and immune boosters produced by a health cooperative distributed across eight states across India. Crucially they also provided lifesaving information about the symptoms and spread of Covid to families in rural and low income urban areas – to dispel myths and provide accurate health information.
The support from the UK retail societies will support seven Indian cooperatives to restart their businesses, buying raw materials and re-establish market links. SEWA also used this substantial donation as a bargaining tool to leverage support from corporate donors, securing additional funds for women farmers and a catering cooperative in this way.
The emergency response was co-ordinated by Co-operatives UK and the Co-operative College, who worked together as part of the International Working Group to collect and co-ordinate the donations from The Co-op Group, Midcounties Co-op, Central England Co-op, Scotmid, Lincolnshire Co-op, Southern Co-op, East of England Co-op, Channel Islands Co-op, Chelmsford Star Co-op, Heart of England Co-op and Co-op News.
Rose Marley, CEO of Co-operatives UK said; “This is true cooperation in action, with some of the largest coops in the UK collaborating to provide financial support and solidarity to coops on the other side of the world. Our global cooperative movement is based on values and principles that are as strong today as they ever were. It’s fitting that we are sharing news of the impact of this donation on International Day of Cooperatives, which has a theme of Rebuild Better Together, which is exactly what this support will help to do.”
“The response from the cooperative community was really quite phenomenal and it meant that we were able to get funds directly through this female network of cooperators to provide support on the ground, where it was needed, at speed with minimal red tape or admin fees,” she added.
Sarah Alldred from the Co-operative College said: “One of the aims of the International Working Group is to be able to respond quickly to international crises. It is made up of representatives from coops across the UK who want to keep links to the global movement alive and well. And it’s not just emergency response, we’re proactively working towards the UN sustainable development goals too, to help create a better world through cooperation.”
On advising the International Cooperative Alliance (ICA) President, Ariel Guarco, of the UK’s response to the India crisis he responded by saying: “The whole world is suffering the scourge of the pandemic. However, your effort to cooperate with those who are most affected at this time is extremely valuable and necessary. This expresses the cooperative values and principles in action and shows us that the only way to get out together from the health, social and economic crisis that we are going through on a global scale is through solidarity, mutual aid and cooperation.”
Watch a video from SEWA explaining the impact of the support in India.
Earlier this year, The ICMIF Foundation launched an appeal to ICMIF members to ask them to support another ICMIF member the DHAN Foundation in its work supporting communities during the pandemic. Learn more about our appeal here.