As their island continues to rebuild after Hurricane Maria, Puerto Ricans are looking to cooperatives and the broader Social and Solidarity Economy* as a means to achieve economic independence and resilience.
Young people in particular are increasingly looking for ways to become self-reliant and earn a stable living.
More than 240 delegates representing 134 organizations across sectors ranging from agriculture to art met in Caguas, Puerto Rico this summer for the International Meeting of the Social and Solidarity Economy (SSE). Participants gathered to identify shared principles and practices across Puerto Rico’s SSE sector and lift up SSE as a model for economic transformation.
NCBA CLUSA sent three representatives to the event and helped fund the participation of six international speakers. Christian Klein, Technical Specialist, Creating Economic Opportunities; Douglas Barcenas, Chief of Party for NCBA CLUSA’s work in El Salvador; and Camila Piñeiro, Technical Specialist, Strengthening Cooperatives and Producer Organizations joined Dalia Borge, Director of the School of Social and Solidarity Economy in Costa Rica, to lead a session on co-op incubation.
The session focused on the incubation process necessary to help jumpstart co-ops. During this time, the co-op developer must take an active role in the process that goes beyond just facilitation.
Barcenas and Klein joined Dr.Silvia Abel-Caines, Staff Ruminant Nutritionist for Organic Valley, to lead another session on agricultural cooperatives.
As a key player in the Social and Solidarity Economy, NCBA CLUSA’s participation in this event will help cooperatives become a “significant force” on the island going forward, the team concluded.
While in Puerto Rico for the event, NCBA CLUSA also met with the League of Cooperatives of Puerto Rico (La Liga de Cooperativas de Puerto Rico), the apex organization of cooperatives in Puerto Rico that works to promote, develop and strengthen cooperatives through advocacy, education and direct services to cooperatives.
The reputation of Puerto Rico’s credit unions has contributed to a robust enabling environment for cooperative development. Still, other sectors face challenges: agricultural co-ops in particular need better access to crop insurance, for example. More broadly, because it takes more than a year and significant resources to incorporate as a worker cooperative, many would-be co-ops are instead incorporating as LLCs, L3Cs or similar business models.
NCBA CLUSA is working with both the League and the University of Puerto Rico at Utuado to provide trainings in early December on co-op governance and access to insurance to address some of these issues. Remaining funds from NCBA CLUSA’s previous work in Cuba funded by the Christopher Reynolds Foundation will cover these trainings.
*The Social and Solidarity Economy (SSE) spans enterprises and organizations—including cooperatives, mutual benefit societies, associations and foundations—that meet their communities’ needs while achieving broader social and environmental goals and fostering solidarity.