Iran has a plan. It wants to expand its co-operative sector to account for 25 per cent of GDP. This is no small task. It would represent a five-fold lift in contribution from the co-operative sector to the national economy from the five per cent of GDP it already accounts for.

At the head of this push for growth is the Iran Central Chamber of Co-operatives (ICC). Established in 1994, the chamber is the overarching national organization responsible for all unions and cooperative companies, regardless of their size or their type of activity. Its members are active in national as well as international economic co-operative and related organizations, and operate within the framework of Iran’s political and economic policies.

The Chamber of Co-operatives is active in co-operative development, with responsibility for establishing co-operatives for university graduates, as well as service, consultative and export co-operatives. It also sees its role as promoting the role of co-operatives in the nation, and to that end holds exhibitions aimed at introducing the capabilities of the co-operative sector both inside and outside of Iran. It is particularly focused on Africa where it is active in the creation of trade zones, while at home it looks for support and sponsorship of national and international co-operatives.

Paving the way for co-operative export promotions is also part of its brief, as is coordinating co-operation among co-operatives and taking advantage of their individual potential such as organizing permanent exhibitions through regional feasibility studies. The chamber plays a part in privatization of businesses in favor of co-operatives.

Another important role it plays is acting as a middleman in making capital, including both national and international financial resources accessible to co-operatives. The chamber worked co-operatively to found Iran’s Cooperative Development Bank and on developing an Iranian Cooperative Fund. The ICC is also responsible for developing an IT centre of excellence.

All in all, ICC has more than 165,000 member co-operative societies with 25 million members across the nation in different economic sectors including agriculture, housing, hand-woven carpets and fisheries. Its structure is based on provincial chambers in each of the 31 provinces of Iran.

Aside from its aim to grow the contribution of co-operatives to the national economy, Iran is also very concerned with the betterment of citizens’ livelihoods, which co-operatives contribute to indirectly. The chamber also plays a role in supporting workers – it offers outreach services, including training, to its member co-operatives.

As for the international context, the ICC regularly sends delegations to initiate memoranda of understanding to pave the way for further co-operation among co-operatives inside and outside Iran. As an illustration, the ICC has established a trade center in the Kurdistan region of Iraq which actively takes part in the Iraq market through Iranian co-operatives.
Story from “Building a Better World: 100 stories of co-operation”, published by the ICA.