The Co-op Business School – Harnessing innovation and technology for gender equality – NCBA CLUSA

As International Women’s Day (IWD) and Women’s History Month celebrations come to a close, NCBA CLUSA’s Creating an Environment for Cooperative Expansion (CECE) project is[...]

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As International Women’s Day (IWD) and Women’s History Month celebrations come to a close, NCBA CLUSA’s Creating an Environment for Cooperative Expansion (CECE) project is reflecting on the United Nations 2023 IWD theme—DigitALL: Innovation and Technology for Gender Equality. This year, the UN’s observance of IWD highlighted the gender gap in digital access, but also focused on the potential of digital technology to empower women, girls, and other marginalized groups.

Through NCBA CLUSA’s CECE project—funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)’s Cooperative Development Program (CDP), the Co-op Business School demonstrates how women and youth can harness the power of the internet and social media to strengthen their cooperatives and other business ventures.

Since the start of the Co-op Business School (formerly the Co-op Marketing School) in Peru in 2021, this online learning platform has attracted many women and youth. Nearly half of the 5,200+ students in the online courses are women, with even higher rates in courses about digital marketing and social media.

“I used my new marketing knowledge to create an online product catalog and improve customer service, which has led to increased sales.” – Ana Acuña, Co-op Business School participant

As Co-op Business School (CBS) participant Ana Acuña said, “I have expanded my knowledge on various topics with an emphasis on cooperatives, which I have been translating into the work I do daily in the Maranura Cooperative. I used my new marketing knowledge to create an online product catalog and also improve customer service, which has led to increased sales.” Many cooperatives that have participated in CBS courses are now actively using a variety of social media platforms like Instagram and Facebook to market their products, connect with clients and potential new customers, and ensure more effective communication internally with members.

Another CBS participant reflected on the challenges many women with family obligations face. “In my organization we are working with women even though it is a bit challenging because some women do not usually take positions or lead in our cooperative,” said Maria Rosario Toribio Espinoza. “This is because they find it difficult to attend to their children and the responsibilities of the position. But I have been able to take courses to continue learning and I tell my classmates that they, too, must continue learning.”

Finding time away from household duties to attend trainings is a common hurdle for women, and although internet access remains a barrier, some women like Maria Rosario are better able to navigate these challenges when they can participate from home, at a neighbor’s house or from a nearby café. The Co-op Business School has even welcomed women participants from other countries, including Argentina, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador and Guatemala.

The expansion of the Co-op Business School into Guatemala with support from the Cooperative Development Foundation is targeting women as a way to increase their participation and leadership in cooperatives. As José Luis Navarro, Deputy General Manager of the National Institute of Cooperatives (INACOP) explained, the CBS is critical for helping cooperatives gain the digital marketing skills needed to navigate market trends and social media: “Cooperatives, in order to consolidate and develop their business, must have a presence where their future customers are interacting, which is why moving towards digital marketing is a wise decision.”

As Navarro continued on a broader scale, “Within this whole context, the role that women play is very important, since they are leaders and promoters of change. The leadership they demonstrate encourages other women, and even men, to participate in demanding their rights, strengthening their communities, and protecting the earth. Their participation is essential to achieve democratic governance.”

The Co-op Business School is just one example of how digital platforms can advance gender equality in cooperatives and in communities, moving the needle from inclusion to active participation and leadership.

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A course sign-up reminder from the Co-op Business School in Guatemala.

Over the past two years, the Co-op Business School has grown beyond digital marketing and social media and offers courses in other topics critical for cooperative growth and sustainability. These types of courses including taxation, finance and accounting are also being adapted and developed with key local partners for the Guatemalan context.

As Rosa Amalia Mejia Davila, Vice President of Guatemala’s National Committee of Women in Cooperatives said, “Cooperative women will be able to exercise our rights, empowering ourselves day by day through the knowledge acquired, and consider the different management positions in cooperatives, thus playing a more participatory role. As women, we are an example of strength and leadership, and we contribute to the development of our families, our cooperatives and our society.”

The Co-op Business School is just one example of how digital platforms can advance gender equality in cooperatives and in communities, moving the needle from inclusion to active participation and leadership.

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