»The cooperative movement’s values and focus on sustainability through a membership-based democracy, long-term economic thinking, social responsibility and transparency, are more relevant than ever.«
Anna Tibblin, Secretary General, We Effect
Q&A with We Effect – new member organisation
Swedwatch is pleased to welcome We Effect as our new, and seventh, member organisation. With focus on the right to food and empowering rights holders in rural areas, We Effect connects with 3,7 million people across the globe through its local partner organisations.
Anna Tibblin, Secretary General of We Effect, shares her view on rural development, the Covid-19 pandemic, cooperative values and much more.
Tell us a little bit more about your organisation – what are your focus areas and what regions are you active in?
We Effect collected over 55 million Swedish kronor in 2020, in donations from private people and businesses. 92 percent of our funds are used directly in our development work. Half of our funds are used in East and Southern Africa, followed by Latin America which receives 24 percent of all funding. The remaining funds are divided between Asia, Europe and global activities.
The focus is on sustainable rural development and adequate housing, with a strong focus on women’s rights. Target groups for our development cooperation are our partner organisations and their existing and potential members. Most of our partners are member-based farmers’ organisations, housing cooperatives or savings and credit associations.
Tell us more about your work with and support to rural development and why that is important.
Most women and men in poverty live and work in rural areas. Many are smallholder farmers who lack land and capital, and female farmers are the most vulnerable. As an example, women only own 13 percent of all land at global level. We Effect’s strategy is to support smallholder farmers and their organisations. We support with funding as well as organisational and business development, always with a strong focus on gender justice. We also support the abilities of farmers’ organisations to advocate for the rights and interests of their members, especially women. The world bank has concluded that investments in rural development are up to four times more effective in poverty reduction as compared to other investment strategies.
We Effect’s support smallholder farmers and their organisations, always with a strong focus on gender justice. Here Jamia Salimo, a smallholder in Lussanhando, northern Mozambique. Photo: Edson Artur
Your member organisations are all cooperatives and/or customer-owned companies, and you are the world´s largest cooperative development organisation (based on number of projects). Tell us more about your cooperative roots and its impact on your work today.
We Effect is the development organisation of the Swedish cooperative movement. We were founded in 1958 by the movement’s dominant organisations, including KF, Riksbyggen, HSB, Folksam, the former Föreningsbanken and LRF. The objective was international solidarity and providing support to movements. The motto was self-help: by organising themselves into cooperatives, women and men living in poverty would improve their living conditions.
Today, more than half a century later, our core philosophy remains the same. The cooperative movement’s values and focus on sustainability through a membership-based democracy, long-term economic thinking, social responsibility and transparency, are more relevant than ever. This has not least been proven during the corona crisis. Swedish as well as international surveys show that cooperative businesses are more resilient in times of crisis. Never has an old idea felt so new.
Can you give some examples of projects you supported during the last two years and what they have resulted in?
In Latin America, restrictions imposed by governments further increased the shrinking democratic space for civil society organisations. Traditional means of advocacy and building public opinion was banned. In response, we launched a digitalisation project for our partners and their members to facilitate online meetings and raise their voices digitally. This has proven an efficient tool to continue to hold governments and companies accountable for upholding and respecting human rights.
This digitalisation has also offered opportunities in Latin America and other regions where we work to initiate so called “virtual field visits”. For example, the office in Guatemala, in partnership with the Embassy of Sweden, hosted a virtual visit for the Minister for International Development Cooperation, Per Olsson Fridh.
Talking about digitalisation, what have been the main impacts of the pandemic on We Effect and your way of working?
The corona crisis has changed our way of working. Not only are we working digitally and not travelling, but we have also sharpened the focus of our development cooperation. The basis is still support to people’s own organisation with a sharp focus on gender justice, but now we work more specifically against hunger and for everyone’s right to food.
We are supporting our partner organisations in the immediate crisis, but also on how to reduce vulnerability and build stronger resilience for the future. The pandemic affects everyone, but people living in poverty are hit the hardest. Many are now being pushed into hunger and don’t have access to fundamental rights such as health care and social security. Most affected are women and girls, who are also exposed to increased violence. As the situation stands now, the people we are supporting don’t know if they will ever have access to a Covid vaccine.
How do you hope to contribute to Swedwatch´s work, and vice versa?
We Effect’s work reaches out to 3,7 million people across the globe, through close to 200 partner organisations. We are in turn owned by the Swedish cooperative companies with more than 5 million members. Combined, this is a people’s movement. This allows for greater impact of Swedwatch’s work in Sweden and countries where we operate together. Added to that, We Effect’s expertise in the area of the agriculture and housing could contribute to Swedwatch’s work on the OECD markers and on due diligence.
Swedwatch would be able to support our staff and partners in their work with businesses’ respect for human rights. Land rights is one example where we would benefit from more in-depth knowledge, research support and dialogue on a policy and advocacy level. It would also be interesting to explore a collaboration between We Effect and Swedwatch around the extractive industry or the impact of the private sector and corporations on farmers’ rights and indigenous rights, an area we are looking into.
Anything you would like to add?
The corona crisis is a game changer; all global development indicators are pointing in the wrong direction. We must make efforts to work together, across organisational borders, to see how we can support inclusive and sustainable development. As a development organisation, we try to practice what we preach and remind ourselves that development cooperation is not a goal – it is a means. Our goal therefore must be to joint forces and focus on achieving Agenda 2030. If we don’t believe it is possible, who will?
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Swedwatch has seven member organisations: Afrikagrupperna, Act Church of Sweden, Diakonia, Fair Action, the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation and Solidarity Sweden – Latin America and We Effect. Many work with partner organisations in countries and regions where Swedwatch also focuses its research and impact goals. This underpins efforts by Swedwatch to ensure project and activity relevance, dialogue and capacity development.
»The corona crisis is a game changer; all global development indicators are pointing in the wrong direction. We must make efforts to work together, across organisational borders, to see how we can support inclusive and sustainable development.«
/Anna Tibblin, Secretary General, We Effect