[Translation of their presentation at the First Global Prout Conference in Venezuela, “Building a Solidarity Economy based on Ethics and Ecology”, July 7-9, 2011, Caracas.]
Lizeth Vargas: Good day everyone. For us it is a great pleasure to be here with you in this event, and we thank you very much for the invitation.
We start with a happy picture. This presentation is called “Building Here and Now the World that we Want.” This is what we are developing now through a network of cooperatives in west central Venezeula, including the states of Trujillo, Lara, Portuguesa, Barinas and Yaracuy.
CECOSESOLA, the Lara State Central Cooperative, began as a funeral service. Today a weekly fee of 3 bolivares (approximately US$0.35) covers a cooperative member and up to eight direct family members for funeral services.
Education has been the fundamental base to develop our activities since our beginning. Everyday we practice this through constant reflection. Historically, we also organized a local transport bus cooperative. Though we no longer run that cooperative, it makes us very proud, because through it we learned much and gained experience from the many mistakes we made.
Dario Gonzalez: CECOSESOLA was born out of a genuine need. Eventually we developed production and supply sectors. This includes an agricultural production group, as well as small production cooperatives that produce cleaning products, cereals and other products for the community. All these production units, like the producer groups, were created by the common people who live in and around the city of Barquisimeto, and in the states that were previously mentioned.
In the beginning, agricultural producers started the cooperative Alianza (the Alliance), which is located in the Sanare highlands of the state of Lara. We began a relationship with the farmers, eliminating the need for the “middle man” distributors, those who fill their pockets. We started to bring the agricultural produce directly to the market, and started forming long-term reliable networks with the producers.
Every week we sell approximately 450 tons of vegetables in our markets, gathered from 12 organized groups of producers throughout the region. Approximately 200 farm producers are members of this cooperative network. CECOSESOLA also has 11 production units with 80 members who produce on a small-scale various products.
We are able to sell everything at about 30 percent less than the market price. We try to all be as one. Around 55,000 families shop at the fairs during the three days a week when we are open. The other days we dedicate mostly to our meetings and planning.
Lizeth Vargas: Another activity we started was selling home furnishings and appliances, providing all kinds of products for homes. This activity was created due to the needs of the cooperative members of our organization. We sell everything at 25 or 30 percent less than regular market prices.
Cooperative financing for our members is another activity that developed to fulfill a need as we grew. We needed loans and we managed to obtain them from our own resources. We have been developing what we called funds or pots as a percentage of our productivity. We basically concentrate at our work, in our relations, and since we believe our work will bring good results, it is natural that money will come to develop our activities.
Another activity that we began 11 years ago is health care. From our cooperative financing, we have built a wonderful health center in the west of Barquisimeto that we are very proud of. This building has a variety of specialties, including surgery, maternal care, hydrotherapy and acupuncture. We have tried to integrate alternative medicine in our health care. This is a holistic center developed through the support of every cooperative and community member.
Dario Gonzalez: Our cooperative network has 20,000 members, including those who regularly save money through the CECOSESOLA credit union. 1,200 active worker members have a daily activity, including some who may not receive any income. There are 50 organizations located in working class neighborhoods. We have been active for 44 years. During the financial year 2009-2010, our total sales were 100 million dollars.
Lizeth Vargas: After listing our activities, we can better understand the economic aspect and how we develop it. Our organizational process starts basically from what we are and what we are becoming. How is that? Because we consider our life, our culture, how we are, our strengths and our weaknesses. Starting there, we analyze our experience in order to improve every day, to continue building our future, based on our everyday reflections on life, with our defects, with our virtues, in order to build up a wider sense of “we”. A “we” that does not stop with my family, a “we” does not stop with my immediate context, a “we” that goes beyond to our community, to our planet, precisely because we are a global “we”.
How do we do this through our activities? We believe in job rotation and cooperative exchange and space exchange. This means we socialize our knowledge and our skills. If we have a member with technical skills, that person will offer his or her knowledge to the entire organization and to all allied organizations. We have a permanent exchange between our farmer producers, the market workers, the doctors, and the facilities. This day-to-day sharing helps us to create a bigger community for all and for each one of us.
The other thing we want and try to develop through this constant analysis is mutual respect. Respect has to do with transparency that we all need to develop, and that transparency generates trust. These are not isolated words. Trust generates transparency, and transparency and trust generate mutual respect. What do we aim for? We want to develop every day as people who are more ethical, people who understand ethics as a way to be responsible for all their actions. It is becoming responsible of the fact that every action that I do has a consequence, and that consequence, whether good or bad, is my responsibility.
Dario Gonzalez: We want to share a bit about our open conversation that we usually call meetings, but they are actually open discussions where every member can participate and give his or her opinion. We create collective criteria. Those criteria are actually agreements that sometimes enable us to make individual or collective decisions. Because it is through these criteria that we make our decisions. Since they are not rigid, they can change at any moment. We make decisions by consensus without voting.
If a member does not agree at some point, we continue analyzing the decision we are making. We do this for any agreement in which a member does not agree or was not present. If it is a question with no end, we may talk two or three times about the same subject, we may even discuss it for a month, and we don’t make the decision until we all agree. We share responsibility as Lizeth mentioned. When we have knowledge, we share that knowledge, and when we make a wrong decision that causes economic loss, we share that loss, because that is the way we can move forward. Being responsible helps us to grow as individuals.
If any economic loss is caused by the organization, then all the members assume responsibility. But if one person is responsible for the loss, he or she has a larger responsibility. Prices are usually established by our own criteria. The prices we pay to producers are set according to everyone’s agreement based on our production costs. Whatever it costs to produce a kilo of tomatoes, plus a fair profit, is the way we fix prices at the market, not according to the market criteria of supply and demand.
Extra income usually goes into social projects. That way everyone in the fair also receives money from it. A member who joined yesterday may receive the same income as I, who have been working for so many years in the organization. The same is true for everyone in the organization.
Lizeth Vargas: Thank you, and we close with the following invitation:
“There is a simpler way to organize human endeavor. It requires a new way of being in the world. It requires being in the world without fear. Being in the world with play and creativity. Seeking after what’s possible. Being willing to learn and to be surprised.” [From A Simpler Way by Margaret J. Wheatley and Myron Kellner-Rogers ]