A cooperative is a social enterprise owned and run by its members. Whether those members are the employees, customers, or the local community, they share the profits and have an equal say in how the business is run. Cooperatives often enable underprivileged individuals to collectively compete in a market through democratic decision-making and joint-ownership agreements. The cooperative model in Morocco has been supported by donor funding and in the argan oil sector, has stimulated economic, social and environmental development.
Convinced by their potential, the High Atlas Foundation stimulates and supports the creation of coops. HAF's vision is to create a federation of cooperatives - called High Atlas Agriculture and Artisanal, or HA3 - to promote organic, fair trade agricultural and artisanal products from all over Morocco. This national-level social enterprise will support the local coops in order to improve the market price farmers receive and secure funds for reinvestment in participatory human development.
HAF has been working to transfer its 10 years of knowledge of community-run fruit tree nurseries and plantations to Essaouira Province for a little more than a year now. During the last months, the Essaouira team has accompanied the creation of the cooperative Amoud Mogador. It is an interesting learning process! We are slowly becoming experts in coop-creation. We proudly present you our practical guide: "How to create a coop in Morocco in 10 steps".
Step 1 - Have a "good" idea
Coops are businesses, not charities; they need to make a profit. The idea of building a tree and medicinal plant nursery is based on HAF's successful experience in using community nurseries as a tool to provide skills training, increase income and promote autonomy for rural and marginalized communities. During participatory community meetings, HAF adapted the model together with the local farmers of the Ounagha commune to the economical and social conditions of the Essaouira province. The idea was born!
Step 2 - Build your team
Because cooperatives are owned and run by everyday people, the second step to their success is to identify like-minded individuals who believe in the idea and who want to explore the feasibility of creating a coop. It is the members who are responsible for deciding the direction and who benefit from the profits of the business. The members of our coop Amoud Mogador form a rich mix of farmers and social workers, women and men, young and old, Amazigh (Berbers) and Arabs, who all are convinced of the potential of the idea.
Step 3 - Create a plan
A key element in creating a coop is the active engagement of potential members. It is crucial for HAF to encourage potential members to develop ownership of the idea, to stimulate commitment to the coop, and to ensure a variety of input to the action plan. HAF's role is to support the members in their working process, but it is up to them to think about how they will work together, make decisions, communicate and plan for the future. Thanks to the diversity of the Amoud Mogador team and their enthusiasm, there was quickly a clear task division: everyone engaged himself for certain tasks linked to his/her competences. Nevertheless, we feel that it will take a period of transition and support before the coop members will become totally independent of HAF. This enables HAF also to play a role in the transfer of knowledge and experience between the different coops we are creating.
Step 4 - Get the money
Whatever a coop is doing, and whoever the members are, it's likely to require some form of cash injection to allow the business to function and grow before it generates a profit for the members. Our fruit tree and plant nursery will only be able to sell its first aromatic and medicinal plants after three months, which means that the Amoud Mogador Coop needs financial support to be able to invest in the materials and to bridge this period. Besides the small investment of their own money, the members applied for funding from the National Human Development Initiative (INDH), a program launched in 2005 by King Mohammed VI of Morocco, as well as a number of other donors, to be able to get started.
Step 5 - Understand the mechanism of a coop
Before the effective creation of the coop, it is important that the potential members understand the mechanism and legal rules of a cooperative. This needs some research. Together with the members, we researched the Moroccan law on coops and we went to talk to experts and experienced people. One lesson we learned: laws are not written in stone. Sometimes the rules in Morocco depend on the interpretations of the local experts and authorities. Our advice: go and talk to the different authorities responsible in your region to get their advice, and be flexible.
Step 6 - Reconfirm commitment
Once the potential members understand the nature of coops and how they work, they can start working on the different administrative steps. An important step is the reconfirmation of the founding members’ commitment by signing a letter of intention to create a coop which needs to be sent to the Office of Development of Cooperation (ODCo).
Step 7 - Wait, wait and wait
And then you need to wait. A responsible of the ODCo will then send one copy of the letter to the governor of your region. His team will then investigate and send back feedback of whether he recommends cooperative or not to the OCDo. The Ministry in charge of the main activity of your cooperative - in the case of Amoud Mogador is it the Department of Agriculture - will also be invited to do their own feasibility study for the main project. If all goes well - Inch'Allah (God willing) - the ODCo will send a letter inviting the potential members to hold a General Assembly to create the cooperative. In Essaouira, for example, we are still waiting for this letter.
Step 8 - Develop the legal documents
Meanwhile, the members need to develop their legal documents, ie. write their by-laws, develop an internal code and choose a board. Armed with a laptop, projector and the law, we worked together on the statutes of the Amoud Mogador coop. Later on, we will also develop an official convention between the coop and HAF, to make our partnership official.
Step 9 - Organize the Assembly General
Once this step is done and we received the letter of ODCo, the members will have to start preparing the General Assembly. During this meeting, attended by the various authorities concerned, the legal documents will be approved, a board will be formally elected and the project plans for the future will be validated. Hopefully Amoud Mogador can soon organize this big day.
Step 10 - Get started!
And then it is just a question of starting: acquiring facilities, buying materials, preparing the land, beginning operations, starting the planting, training local farmers, hiring a project manager... implementing the action plan! We hope with all our heart that the Amoud Mogador coop will soon be able to start their project and we will support them as much as possible.
Our final advice:
Look for people who are like-minded and driven to succeed. Take your time. The process will take at least four times as long as you think it should. So just relax and go with the flow. Have fun and enjoy the milestones achieved because the road to success is a long one. But just go for it!
By Joke, Rakia & Lynn - HAF’s Essaouira team