Member Spotlight: A Chat with Global Communities

The 2022 IMPACT Conference offered our community a chance to hear from Carrie Hessler-Radelet, President and CEO of Global Communities, a global development organization working at the intersection of humanitarian assistance, sustainable development and financial inclusion to save lives, advance equity and secure strong futures. At the conference, Hessler-Radelet spoke favorably of cooperatives and locally led development based on her decades-long international experience leading global health efforts with public and non-profit institutions. For this edition of the Overseas Cooperative Development Council (OCDC) member Spotlight, we look at Global Communities.

Thanks to the Cooperative Development Program (CDP) staff who provided some insights on our Spotlight questions:

1. When was Global Communities formed?
Global Communities was actually formed in 1952 as the Foundation for Cooperative Housing. At the time we were a purely U.S. focused organization that helped build houses for people in need using the cooperative housing model. We have grown and changed so much since that time. In 2012 we changed our name to Global Communities to reflect the breadth and reach of our programming (we’re in more than 30 countries) but the name reflects our commitment to partnering with communities to bring about sustainable, positive change. In 2020, Global Communities merged with Project Concern International (PCI), a global development organization driving innovation from the ground up to enhance health, end hunger, overcome hardship and advance women and girls. It’s been a long journey from housing cooperatives in the U.S. to a global oriented organization but the common thread is the focus on thriving communities.

2. What is Global Communities mission and how does it work to fulfill that mission?
Our mission is bringing local ingenuity and global insights together in order to save lives, advance equity and secure strong futures. From a cooperative perspective, this means we are always seeking new opportunities for communities to expand their experience with the cooperative model in their local economies, which may mean that are testing with cooperative models that are new to them such as urban worker-owner cooperatives in Nairobi or it might be experimenting with new ways to support members or clients through digital solutions. We facilitate linkages with U.S. based cooperative experts and cooperative executives who can offer them new perspectives and potential solutions to challenges that have been transformative elsewhere.

3. As far as international cooperative development programming, what has Global Communities engaged in over the last 5 years?
The past 5 years has seen a shift in how Global Communities sees cooperatives. We believe that the cooperative model can apply in so many environments and contexts in support of community resiliency. While we have always worked from a market lens with cooperatives as fundamentally member driven market entities, we have also engaged in almost a decade of research into the types of experiences that individuals have when they join a cooperative and when they build relationships as a result of their cooperative. We have worked to deepen our understanding of how experience and relationships have positive impacts at the individual, household and ultimately, the community level – meaning that cooperatives are contributing positively to their members’ empowerment across the entire spectrum of their lives. We have seen positive outcomes in gender empowerment, self-actualization, leadership opportunities, financial health and stability, and in many other areas of life. This has changed fundamentally changed how we collaborate with a cooperative and how we view the partnerships and initiatives that we engage in.

4. What is the role of the cooperative movement in supporting sustainable development internationally?
The cooperative movement has an incredible opportunity to play a range of roles because cooperatives are people centric and locally focused social enterprises. But most critically right now, I see an opportunity for cooperatives to lean into their identity as democratic entities (Principle 2 Democratic Member Control) and truly embrace the opportunity to showcase leadership in communities across the world (Principle 7 Concern for Community).

5. What can you tell us about future plans for Global Communities?
As Global Communities wraps up its 70th year, our focus is on continuing to adapt and innovate to meet today’s most pressing challenges. With our roots firmly in the cooperative movement, we continue to apply those lessons to our work at the intersection of humanitarian assistance, sustainable development, and financial inclusion. We are working to grow our partnerships and collaborations with local leaders, governments, civil society and the private sector to solve complex problems with proven, multi-sectoral interventions, and also focusing on our commitment to live out our values of dignity, integrity, humility, creativity, and connection.

Author: Kristin Wilcox-Feldman, former Clear Program COP and Technical Director for Cooperatives & Inclusive Business Global Communities.