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Major(s): International Studies
Project: Researching the cooperative Cecosesola in Venezuela
laurabradylarge"La cooperativa es la solución de lacomunidad” [the cooperative is the solution of the community]. –Cecosesola (Organism for Cooperative Integration) associate
These are the words that I have remembered most clearly since my return from Barquisimeto, Venezuela this September. For one month, I made my home at Cecosesola,Organismo de Integraci ón Cooperativa , a ‘cooperative of cooperatives,’ to research what is celebrated internationally as one of the most successful cooperatives. Though this would become my most academically and personally transformative experience to date, it was never my intended ethnographic site. I originally traveled to Venezuela to research President Hugo Chávez’s cooperative program, responsible for an increase in the number of Venezuelan cooperatives from 762 to 185,000 during his presidency. Upon my arrival, however, I learned that Chávez had just declared the program a failure, condemning it for its inability to truly create an alternative to capitalism.
This shocking news led me to Cecosesola (a pre- Chávez cooperative) and by doing so, forms of community mobilization and organization that I had never imagined possible. Cecosesola is an umbrella organization for cooperatives, with about 300 core members and 3,000 total associates distributed among 75 associated cooperatives and civil associations. The cooperative runs three large ferias (discount food markets), six community health centers, a funerary service, a savings/loans and financing service, and is in the process of constructing a hospital, which will be communally owned by all 3,000 members.
Cecosesola has accomplished these projects without the guidance of any hierarchical organizational structures, such as a board of directors or president, or even set jobs. Each member participates in every aspect of the cooperative that she or he desires through rotating teams and takes part in nearly daily meetings to make all decisions by consensus. During my trip, I attended the year-end meeting and sat in a circle with 300 other members to discuss how to best use the cooperative’s profits in the community!
Since returning, with the help of a Mary Gate’s research grant, I have been analyzing the data I collected on site (in the form of 53 informal and semi-structured interviews) to construct an argument for why Chávez’s cooperative program failed in light of Cecosesola’s astounding success. Through the analysis of what I describe as a collective Cecosesola narrative, I am constructing an argument about the dynamic relationship between national narratives and community mobilization.
This challenge has stretched me as a student but, most importantly, as a citizen. I see now how the cooperative is a model for forming resilient communities that can learn to ‘help themselves.’ I hope that I can succeed in applying what I learned from Cecosesola in my own work as a community leader and activist. The thesis that I will complete for the Jackson School Honors Program is merely the first product of what I have learned from this research experience—the rest is yet to come. As one Cecosesola associate patiently explained to me, “[It] is more than my transformation. In the moment that I as a person start to act and think differently, then I am transforming myself and…the world.