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You are here: Home » News » Lesotho Youth and Student Co-ops Forum

Lesotho Youth and Student Co-operatives Forum

A member of a youth co-operative at the Forum in Lesotho

Two men went out into the Australian outback to sell shoes. One came back and said to his boss: “There are no opportunities here, no-one wears shoes…” The other returned and told his boss: “There are massive opportunities here – no-one wears shoes!”

How young people can generate successful co-operative business opportunities in financially poor communities in sub-Saharan Africa was the challenge on the table at this year’s Youth and Student Co-operative Forum held in Maseru, Lesotho, in December 2011.

A member of a youth co-operative at the Forum in Lesotho

The Forum is an annual event bringing together youth co-operatives from all over Lesotho and further afield in southern Africa. The Co-operative College has supported the event for several years providing activities and facilitation. The co-operative members who take part are engaged in a range of enterprises from savings and credit co-ops to poultry farming, horticulture, marketing and IT services, tourism and handicrafts.

A new development over the past year has been a project established by the National University of Lesotho to transfer new technologies being developed by research students into real business ventures operated by youth co-operatives. One of the co-ops is now installing biogas plants in people’s homes. These replace septic tanks (which require costly, regular pumping out) with a bio-digester that turns human waste into methane gas. This is then piped back to the kitchen to fuel specially installed stoves, saving on cooking costs.

The University, along with the youth co-operative sector, is also developing new products in the fields of geo-polymers – energy-efficient plastic materials made from the country’s abundant shale and basalt rock.

Julie Thorpe with members of youth co-operatives at the Forum in Lesotho

The Maseru Aloe Multi-Purpose Cooperative Union brings together co-operatives who make aloe products from the Agave plant, a native species across southern Africa. They are now working with the University to find ways of using the waste fibres left over from the aloe production. The first product to be marketed will be ceiling tiles which are made by bonding the fibres into slabs with geo-polymer resins.

The collaboration with the University is now providing opportunities for the young and student co-operatives to develop enterprises which, rather than being small-scale, have the potential for significant job creation.

Members of youth co-operatives at the Forum in Lesotho

Julie Thorpe, Head of School and Youth Programmes at the Co-operative College, attended the Forum this year and facilitated sessions on international trade, school-based co-operatives and planning for the International Year of Co-operatives. “It was great to be back in Lesotho and to see some significant development taking place within the youth and student co-operative sector. Many of the young people involved come from very poor backgrounds and have few chances to improve their situation in a place where employment opportunities are very limited,” she said.

“It has been great to witness the way in which, over the last few years, the co-operative members have grown in confidence, developed their skills and had their aspirations raised through working together in co-ops. Some of the school co-operatives still operate on a very small scale – raising funds to help fellow students to cover their school fees by, for example, keeping a few chickens. But the idea that co-operatives can make a significant contribution to the economy is beginning to take off amongst young people and they are working really hard to improve their communities through co-operation.”