Most cooperatives in Nicaragua were formed by State or international aid agencies to channel resources to rural populations. The end result is a plethora of organizations in Nicaragua with cooperative in their name, but whose actions do not reflect local initiative nor buy in, two key elements to the cooperative movement. In contrast, the way they operate promotes passivity among their members and concentrates power and key information in the hands of a few leaders, basically repeating the hacienda system´s form of operation. As a result, cooperatives do not have a reputation for being transparent, nor for promoting innovation and territorial development in Nicaragua .
While we continue to work to help cooperatives in their attempts to bring about needed changes, this experience has led us to study and explore other forms of community organizations which do involve local initiative and investment – community social enterprises. We are also studying traditional forms of community collaboration, like sharecropping and “mano vuelta” [shared labor].
Community stores can act as economic motors for rural communities, bringing in necessary goods from outside, and buying those produced within the communities, thus saving costs of time and transportation for local producers and consumers. Furthermore, they create an incentive for the development of other local community enterprises, like milling and roasting services, baked goods, breadmaking, vegetable and basic grain production, .etc, as all these products now have a place to be bought and sold locally, without having to be transported to the provincial capital and then brought back out to the community.
In times of COVID this has had the added benefit of keeping the population from having to travel outside their community to meet their basic needs.
WPF has accompanied these community initiatives, helping them develop forms of local co-investment, regular reporting and oversight, essential elements which are often missing in the cooperative movement.
These local initiatives facilitate the participation of women, even those with small children, as they do not have to travel outside the community to attend meetings. Young women frequently serve as managers of community stores, keeping records of the movement of inventory, providing regular reports to investors, working with suppliers to ensure supply, and managing loans for local production of beans and coffee.