Our Coffee Co-operative at Reddish Vale Technology College, a co-operative school near Stockport, North West England, sells Oromo coffee in school and to the local community, helping both Ethiopian refugees in the UK and the Oromo community in Ethiopia. It is a member of Young Co-operatives, a free scheme offered by the Co-operative College in the UK.
Reddish Vale students were challenged to set up their own enterprise selling Oromo coffee in just a day, from devising a business plan to coming up with marketing ideas and learning about the importance of coffee to the country’s history.
Members have established a working relationship with the Oromos and, in line with the co-operative principle of co-operation between co-operatives, help to improve their lives through community to community trading.
Our Coffee Co-operative is an example of how Young Co-operatives can foster international understanding and make a positive difference in the world through shared co-operative actions. The Oromo community uses the profits from coffee for improvements such as water standpipes, health programmes, clinic building, education, new schools, road improvement and a new bridge over the river.
Members of Our Coffee Co-operative work as a team to promote, sell and decide actions democratically together, as well as overcome difficulties co-operatively. Members are encouraged to think about the global issues involved and how to improve on the idea of Fairtrade. As well as being sold in school reception, the coffee is available for purchase at open evenings, community events and in tutor time. Profits have been put towards exploring African culture in school and democratic working.
Students aim to change the norms of thinking and learning in school, and help raise consumers’ understanding by challenging not just the impact of individual behaviours, but institutional decisions. Ethical trading has been promoted to the wider community, asking people to think about the consequences of their actions as consumers. Workshops have also been held for other schools on learning through direct, practical action and values-led ethical trading.
Lia, a Director of Our Coffee Co-operative, said: “Our Ethiopian Coffee Co-operative is a great idea! You get an amazing product whilst knowing you are helping others. You also get a great experience from being involved in a trading business that links one community directly with another. It doesn’t cost a great deal either only £3.50 a packet! You can buy it from the reception in school and we are using our money to promote an understanding of an Ethiopian culture in school.
I’m glad to say I’m part of this co-operative approach, and I’m glad for the experience, skills and knowledge I have gained. It’s making a big difference to lives at both a local and global level!”
Abiyot, a director of Oromo Coffee Company, who visited the school, added: “I would like to say thank you very much. We enjoy it coming to your school and sharing with you our quality product and Oromo Coffee Co-operative objectives. You proved that OCC objectives are not only for this generation but are even more important for all our coming generations. Again, we are very happy to work with you and look forward to taking this fantastic idea to further success. You are also the OCC speaker because together we can make the difference. In hope, Abiyot.”
Phil Arnold, Director of College Improvement at Reddish Vale, said: “Students directly engage with promotion of social justice in the Reddish community through direct action. The alternative co-operative approach grows learners’ understanding and knowledge of the impact of their decisions in the real world not a simulated business environment.”