Rah Roshd Cooperative Educational Complex: A Brief Introduction
Rah Roshd Cooperative Educational Complex, active in the nation’s education system for three decades, was started up as a kindergarten in 1987 by a number of Tehrani teachers who had innovative ideas in the field of education and yearned to have a different philosophy of school administration realized. They were soon joined by some university professors and faculty members who had majored in pedagogy and behavioural sciences and were looking for a testing ground for their ideas. These founders have been standing there ever since, continuing to open new horizons before the Complex.
The kindergarten in fact turned out to be the seed which would grow into an educational complex that currently holds 650 personnel and educates over 2000 students. Given the areas which Rah Roshd has entered on the grounds of its social concerns, its audience and social networks have been constantly on the growth.

In 1997, Rah Roshd had by its side a coherent board of like-minded teachers who, going through enormous hardships over the years, had helped the school thrive. This coherence and like-mindedness which came especially from their serious and concrete common social concerns, called for a different sort of economics and administration which would resonate with the cooperative spirit of the school’s founders, colleagues and supporters, which is why Rah Roshd chose to take on the cooperative legal form. This was also decided with the prospect of promoting cooperative mechanism in the nation’s educational system to benefit children- an absolutely unprecedented approach to the concept of education by then. Furthermore, in view of the longstanding financial modesty of teachers’ guild across the country, Rah Roshed aimed to set a prominent example whereby competent teachers would enjoy a fairer and more permanent economy.

The all-adventurous success story of Rah Roshd has been compiled and published as a book titled “Rah Roshd’s Experience”. We would eagerly share this experience with all those who may choose to step on this path in the future.
Rah Roshd Cooperative Educational Complex is 20 years old now educating students from kindergarten right up to high school level. Over 80% of its shareholders are women, mostly its employees. The spirit prevailing the administration of the cooperative is truly a collective and participatory one, best evident in the members’ constant interaction at the regular meetings held for a whole range of issues.

The good news is that the functionality of cooperation at the administration level has penetrated down to the mindsets and behavioural characteristics of the students. They frequently take part in collective activities, receive their education through cooperative pedagogy, and have a different daily life at school.

The main concern of Rah Roshd is endeavouring to develop some kind of education which would duly represent cooperative principles and fair social relationships based on civic and democratic notions in its curricular contents. To attain this, it has constantly valued International Cooperative Identity Statement as a frame of reference in its schooling system.

The 1st Conference on the Cooperative School and Participatory Economics
Rah-e-Roshd, inspired by her experience of over two decades of synergy between education and cooperative principles, decided to go on to further recognize her social responsibilities by introducing to the public her fruitful experiments with cooperative school management. This was to a large extent met by a conference which was held on the cooperative school and participatory economics. The conference made for a breeding ground where a new discourse of education was conceived and has started growing since as a foundation on which Rah-e-Roshd has based her promotional and supplementary actions in line with cooperative schools.

The Iranian educational system falls within governmental and private sectors. During the conference, the cooperative school was suggested as a third way which “puts education on the right track” by avoiding inertia and lethargy in the former and educational commodifiation in the latter. Furthermore, a cooperative school is able to make a life-changing shift in and via its curricula, human resources, teacher-student relationship and school management system to train children who more responsibly contribute to global discourses and who resonate with the objectives of sustainable development.
What made these ideals look more within grasp was an MOU signed between the Ministries of “Education” and “Cooperative, Labour and Social Welfare” according to which cooperativization of schools, in the framework of economic liberalization policy, is prioritized over their privatization.
The research-executive team of the conference secretariat had long before started expert and managerial interactions with the two ministries in order to win their attention and leverage their cooperation to officially take the idea off the ground.
However, the conference also sought some other goals, some of which as the following:
– Pooling teachers’ trivial financial possibilities into a fair economic structure whereby teachers would become holders of school premises. In fact, expansion of coop schools would mean fairer working conditions and greater decision-making power which would in turn mean their more occupational commitment;
– Retired teachers through coop schools would contribute their valuable experiences and would have the chance to work in an entity which operates democratically;
– Education sector is one of the exceptional arenas in our country as half of its active population is comprised by women. Cooperative system’s inherent functions of social empowerment, fair access to benefits and eradicating gender inequality all make a coop school a perfect structure for women empowerment by increasing their bargaining power and decision-making in one of the vastest and momentous institutions of the country.
– Introducing an economic-educational structure which pioneers in education based on progressive principles and yet, unlike private system, is keen and able to share its socially oriented achievements with the mainstream education;
– Incorporating democratic character of cooperatives into educational system to make for civic empowerment and hence enhance political vision in the vast audience of education, especially among students and their parents.
– Cooperative structure, absorbing micro-scale capitals into a significant stable amount, would reinforce education system by giving it much better chances of enjoying social justice and fair distribution of interests. Meanwhile, at a higher level, promotion of cooperative schools in fact means the introduction of some sort of economics based on collective interest vis-à-vis the capital-driven individualistic one which clearly fails to meet truly public education and sustainable development objectives.
– Introduction and promotion of international models of cooperative schools functioning in developed countries and seeking legal procedures to get at a native model which would comply with the Upstream National Documents and the nation’s educational administration.

The conference was held in Dec. 2016 with the cooperation and support of the two Ministries, Tehran’s Municipality, and all-out helps from Sina Bank- the only sponsor of the event. It was greatly welcomed by education community and elites (for detailed information in this regard please see https://www.coopschool.ir)

After the conference
Arguably, challenges began to emerge immediately after the event: teachers who had heard about the resolution of the conference were inquisitive and expressed immense interest in and support to the idea. This strongly suggested that no retreat was possible anymore and the promotion of the cooperative school had to be taken all seriously. Having anticipated such a feedback, we had prepared beforehand to hold a number of compact workshops on the fundamentals of the cooperative school.
Still, the audience of the workshops were interested in setting up their own coop schools. This called for a great deal of legal and economic advisory which was hard to provide especially considering a significant number of legal and structural predicaments.

Currently, there are a few certain groups who continue to be the audience of the coop school promotion project. They are either in the course of training or due to set up their own cooperative school. In these workshops, there were a great number of participants from other provinces, as well as from Tehran who, with supports from Rah-e-Roshd- are soon going to start up their own coop schools mainly in Golestan, Sistan and Baluchestan, Central, and Kordestan provinces.
The two series of the workshops held by the Secretariat for the Development of the Cooperative School (SDCS) are as the following:

First series (Dec. 20016):
– basics of participatory work; management and decision-making in participatory structures;
– fundamentals of setting up a cooperative school: opportunities and challenges; legal procedures of a cooperative registration; introduction to practical aspects and labour law;
– fundamentals of participatory economics and the cooperative school;
– cooperatives: means for women empowerment

Campaign of Women Employment and Empowerment through Cooperatives
This is the broader mission which Rah-e-Roshd is set to follow. The Campaign is meant to train middle and working-class women while helping them form cooperatives. The mission sets out the following:
– spotting workers groups prone to coop formation;
– training workers groups in cooperative principles and procedures of coop formation;
– introducing cooperatives as an solution to empower socioeconomically vulnerable categories;
– raising awareness on the palpable advantages of cooperatives in terms of job security and labour rights;
– supporting established cooperatives up to the start-up point and onwards.

In line with the above, Rah-e-Roshd initially set to spot the target groups via a number of need-assessment studies on women employment: Women teachers; working class women; and in some cases, middle class women. With regard to the latter, the campaign has achieved concrete achievements which will be touched here later on. In her approach, what Rah-e-Roshd has called to challenge is the provisional solutions which are typically meant by so-called empowerment and are forged out of general culture which is based on gender inequality and thus turns a blind eye to the root causes of the negligible female share of economic markets and of decision-making statuses. It is Rah-e-Roshd’s conviction that with the target women groups identified, she will be able to enlighten them, via training courses compiled by her research division, that to make a significant change to their lives they need to pick up a legal business form which would ensure synergy, formality, capability of integration into a guild, democratic promotion to decision-making positions, ability of absorbing idle amounts of money into effective socioeconomic activity, constant interaction with the rest of the society, and commitment to women’s ongoing training and occupational promotion.

Historically as opposed to the charity-based attitude typical of capital-oriented activity, the cooperative structure has been one of the best available to have the above materialized by getting women to experience some sort of social activity parallel to boosting their economic sustainability. Moreover, a cooperative business form would provide women with effective legal and practical means by which to avoid the conventional pyramid of power prevalent in other forms.
To set this in motion, Rah-e-Roshd has supported to the formation of Barg-e-No, a training and research cooperative. Barg-e-No’s members mostly come from middle-class educated women. This cooperative has the duty of training other coops. Currently, Barg-e-No is sifting data of different women categories across Tehran and other provinces to spot target groups that are potential to form as women cooperatives in various fields of activity.

Barg-e-No’s main concern regarding working women is to raise their awareness on the necessity of their structuration, rules and regulations of labour, the significance of the cooperative formation in women empowerment, how to set up a coop, etc. Rah-e-Roshd believes that working women by formation as cooperatives can show the workers community a successful alternative which redefines the employee/employer notion thanks to the cooperative principles. This formation is where women could attain self and collective awareness on their rights and this would translate into their better bargaining power, empowerment, and eventually, a fairer economy for them.
The formation of Hamyaran-e- Roshd cooperative has well verified the above expectations in practice. The cooperative is a working women cooperative active in the field of catering and is due to registration after undergoing compact training courses. Hmayaran-e-Roshd catering women cooperative will be under guidance of Rah-e-Roshd in the early stages of activity and will proceed independently in the coming months. It is estimated that the cooperative will generate 60 permanent jobs considering its successful membership expansion.
Workshops held by Rah-e-Roshd in this regard are as the following:
1) technicalities of setting up a cooperative

2) Labour Law and Workers’ Cooperatives

3) Cooperatives as Means for Women Employment and Empowerment

Rah-e-Roshd, in line with its women empowerment mission, has identified several women groups and is set to demonstrate cooperatives’ role in their empowerment to the state authorities and workers community by encouraging and enlightening them to structure as workers’ cooperatives.
In view of relentless pursuit of such mission, Rah-e-Roshd is honoured to have officially been tasked to follow up cooperative promotion activities in Sistan and Balouchestan province.

  1. Trip to Chabahar port
    a) The cooperative school
    The trip was basically taken for the purpose of signing a sisterhood agreement between Rah-e-Roshd cooperative school and an educational complex which is under the University of Chabahar. The complex consisting of elementary right up to pre-university schools was created under the investment and sponsorship of the University of Chabahar. A delegation of the complex attended the conference on “the cooperative school and participatory economics و”became familiar with Rah-e-Roshd and showed deep interest in exchanging experiences on educational materials and styles of school administration. After a number of meetings with the authorities of the complex and university in Tehran they knew more about Rah-e-Roshd and it was decided that we take a trip to Chabahar to meet two objectives:
    1) Running a workshop on the curriculum designing methods and pedagogy on a participatory basis with the prospect of improvement and change in the educational status quo. The 3-hour workshop which was attended by teachers across the city of Chabahar, was an introductory one updating them on the following themes:
    – Why participatory methods are essential in education;
    – The significance of comprehensive educational strategy in streamlining educational contents;
    – How general strategies in all educational contents could be converted to annual curriculum designs;
    Rah-e-Roshd holds annual workshops on participatory education with an emphasis on cooperative principles and curriculum design on the basis of these principles. It was decided that a number of Chabahar teachers participate in these workshops. By these workshops we are meant to share with them how to design a cooperative school curriculum, familiarize them with how cooperatives work, and demonstrate how more useful education can become in a cooperative format.
    2) Considering the positive response of the university on the theme of the conference i.e. the coop school, the blueprint of the work, including the identification of teachers eager and interested in setting up a coop school was laid out. This is also to be cited in the agreement and will be acted upon soon. We also believe that participatory trainings which are meant to empower the schools of the university are partly a motivational shot which would further make the idea possible to take off.

Needleworkers’ cooperatives in Chabahar
Needlework is an ancient handicraft art which every Balouch girl gets to learn from an early age. So, it is not a surprise that all women in Chabahar have a hand in it and can earn a living through it for their families.

Having just arrived, at a preliminary inquiry the first thing that caught our attention was the sizable number of needleworkers’ cooperatives with a lot of women working in them. We had initially planned to empower them through training and marketing advice. However what we found on the ground was such a bitter fact: the so-called cooperatives stood diametrically opposite to cooperative principles, and had nothing to do with empowering women.

The dynamic to these cooperatives was that the coop was usually set up by a family or a significant other with the minimum number of members legally allowed. One of these members was assigned on behalf of the rest to supervise the women who were not members and work in a substandard working condition in return for a negligible sum of money. These women had no idea what a cooperative is, all they knew was that they worked in a needleworks’ cooperative.

However, the truth of the fact was that the employers had converted the legal form of their businesses to a cooperative one out of the sheer motivation of taking out low-interest governmental loans and enjoying tax exemptions. Such an ambiance would make it so difficult, even impossible to talk to women about a cooperative’s perks. No point about cooperative work would draw their attention because they were already working in cooperatives… hopefully!

Beforehand, we had announced that we intended to run a workshop on women empowerment through cooperative employment. Considering the grave situation we had found the working women in, we asked for a meeting to be arranged at the Chabahar Governorship Office with the employers who were mostly entrepreneurs. At the meeting we frankly said to them that there was absolutely no hint of cooperative spirit in the businesses through which those working women were being exploited. Also, we strongly criticized the entrepreneurs who were calling them “cooperators”; and Lastly, a great deal of criticism was flooded on the local state authorities who had done absolutely nothing all this long to alter to this course.
The meeting was greatly fruitful: right away, the Governor decided to give the cooperatives some facilities only in return for working woman to become cooperatives’ members. This startling breakthrough in the socioeconomic status of the needleworking women also woke up the local authorities to the cunning fact that a business simply registered as cooperative isn’t necessarily meant to be a cooperatively functioning one. So, on considering loans for cooperatives that would be the least to make sure if cooperatives grant membership to their working women.

In the early hours of our presence, a few working women had become surprised and hopeful by a couple of simple hints which we had given them as to how cooperative work can pay off. As we had rightly guessed each women turned out to be a potential media who would later on persuade other women to listen to our talks. Our next trip to Chabahar will involve running a number of workshops on the cooperative principles, labour rights and their improvements in cooperatives, and procedures of forming needlework cooperatives with technical supports included.
However, as there are a great deal of impediments, such as membership fee and more generally, women employment outside of home which entailed their husbands’ permission, in the way of women independence, right from the outset we were seeking an alternative to turn to just in case.

Meanwhile, we got to know a person who was deeply passionate about the prosperity of Chabahar and out of ethnic concerns was vehement on the needlework’s gloomy future. He believed given the high levels of exploitation in the business, it is unlikely to see any creativity in the art. He confirmed our perception from the situation and said that cooperative’s name and business was being misused there. We encouraged him to set up an equip a needlework workshop, next to the hotel which he had built, whereby he could provide quality training for needleworking women and insert some simple but effective creativities such as weaving the names of celebrities on the handicraft for them which would help their socioeconomic status significantly change. Further details on this will follow later on.

Fishing is one of the few ways of earning a living in Chabahar. For 9 months of the year fishermen hardly hit back home, often on the boat sometimes as long as 3 months. On the last day of our trip we managed to mingle with them and win their trust in a friendly chat. What they shared with us was even much bitterer. We soon realized that they too thought that they worked for fishermen’s cooperatives whereas they had neither shares, nor voting rights, nor insurance. We learnt that by cooperative they meant the businesses which the local Fisheries Organization employees were running, apparently as cooperative. They believed that the so-called cooperatives had no difference with “Arbabs” (the owners of the boats); even some of them insisted that Arbabs were much better than the coops. Even the capitan who was senior to his fellows and supervised them didn’t enjoy any more perks than the others did. So, here too the cooperatives’ infamous and disgraceful reputation was a big barrier for us to enlighten them.

However, we started out by suggesting that if a hundred of them collectively bought a small boat (around USD 90, 000) and registered their own cooperative, then they would be their own employers and employees. We also revealed to them that they deeply needed to learn labour law in cooperatives and learn to work collectively. We highlighted that currently they had to give two-third of the catch to the employer but when they had their own cooperative, they would have much more, would make profit and would be much stronger a voice; so much so that they would set an example for the rest of fishermen who were languishing in such a plight.

It was hard for them to believe all this. And then we showed them the short documentary which we had produced on the newly established catering women’s cooperative. We said to them that we helped these women and now they have their own cooperative. We elaborated a bit more on what being a member-worker means in a cooperative and signs of attention and curiosity started appearing as we were being circled by more and more crowd.

Some of them said that it was low season then and fishermen were going to be idle for 3 months. After that, they wouldn’t see each other for 9 months because they would separate, each sailing on a different boat. One of the fishermen was so excited after the talks, saying “[we] fishermen are paying for our illiteracy of law, rules and regulations and that’s why we are unable to claim our rights. So far there hasn’t been anyone around to help us out of this”. He asked for our promise to go over to his village when he gathered his village fellows and to advise them on how to start up a cooperative.
By gathering more accurate information on the status of the fishermen, their employers and barriers that may turn up on the way, we hope to be able to make the most out of this trip. We also hope it will be possible to join all potential regional forces- both private and state- to transform fishing into a permanent decent work which would be an exemplary result of self-help of the workers who help themselves out of their misery with consciousness and effort.
It goes without saying that starting up cooperatives in this filed will be so difficult and calls for overall endeavors, given the cultural and regional considerations; however, we are in firm belief that in case of powerful willful institutions coming forward, empowerment of workers will be doable. What’s for sure, formation of even one single true fishermen’s cooperative will inevitably get to start a knock-on effect.

Rah-e-Roshd is more than a school. Its cooperative organization which entails emboldened social activities has rendered the school characteristically larger than a usual one. It is a well-known cooperative with 163 members; thereof, over 70% teachers employed. Meanwhile, part of the remaining 30% comprises its retired personnel, with the rest stakeholders in the school in a way or other. Members of this cooperative across its 6 schools have been proud to educate and train 2400 students in the past 3 decades.

Since its inception, Rah-e-Roshd has been directly experiencing 30 years of ups and downs in the nation’s history: First was the hard-line post-revolutionary era; next broke out the eight-year Iraqi imposed war, then sanctions and all the rest of it. These far-reaching developments also influenced Rah-e-Roshd; still women of this cooperative school managed to tactfully steer clear of the related harms.

The establishment of Roshd Kindergarten back in 1985 reminds us of perseverance. In those days the nation was at war and many cities were under heavy Iraqi fire; the situation was too critical to think of educational standards as a priority. Despite these circumstances, in the summer of 1985, 7 passionate women came together and started a kindergarten. Although a kindergarten was much meant to be a place to look after kids, these women who established it were moms who were concerned with quality education for their children. However, to start out they had to face financing problem, a robust barrier, as they had no other resource than their limited savings. Fortunately, not always is limitation hindrance and it can often lead to brilliancies. They turned this threat to a great opportunity for collective action. They hired a building by pooling their savings; and shortly they had managed to set up their kindergarten.

The kindergarten successfully took off and thrived until the landlord decided to put the premise for sale. In view of high rent rates, women started thinking of establishing a cooperative. The new strategy would enable the women to secure further finance by involving kindergarten employees who were mostly young women. Kindergarten’s manageresses, out of their collective success experience on starting up the kindergarten, now tried to in turn elevate these simple young employees to motivated owners to make the collective enterprise even more successful. Therefore, ten years on from their kindergarten success, teachers decided to have part of their salaries deducted in favour of securing the startup capital of a cooperative, and that’s how the kindergarten became a de facto cooperative.

Rah-e-Roshd Kindergarten Cooperative’s high-standard education and training which kept earning it increasing fame led to more families interested in having their children enrolled in it. This created in the minds of teachers and parents the idea of moving further on to set up a primary school. While the primary school’s formation was in process, Rah-e-Roshd Kindergarten Cooperative which had yet to be registered as cooperative became officially registered and started life as the first cooperative school across the nation. Three years on from its primary school, Rah-e-Roshd started its middle school, and 2 years later, its girls’ high school; and one year after that, its boys’ high school. Last year, on its 30th anniversary, Rah-e-Roshd’s boys’ high school premise was purchased by the cooperative and became the school’s own property.
Rahl-e-Roshd people are mostly women who have managed to keep their business going over 3 decades. The cooperative school which started life out of a feminine wisdom, provided them with opportunities to live and depict a both collective and female narration of economic success- a phenomenon which tends to be socially regarded as a male concept. In other words, what has made Rah-e-Roshd far more than a cooperative success is its caring and nurturing female spirit which has shaped its identity.
Today, having grown mature and experienced in reconciling cooperative values and education, Rah-e-Roshd has begun to push the limits of its social responsibility by turning to women’s empowerment issue through undertaking diverse social projects. It is negotiating the idea of cooperative school with the Ministry of Education as a strategic idea to support public education system. Also, the cooperative school’s delegation has been away on missions to deprived provinces of the country, sharing their success with local teachers, training and encouraging them to set up their own cooperatives. What’s more, Rah-e-Roshd has been highly active in supporting and training female cooperators in such places. These missionary activities have gradually framed Rah-e-Roshd as far more than a cooperative school. We are in firm belief that “Cooperatives Make a Better World”. Now we feel we need to officially join the membership of the global cooperative movement to share our ongoing valuable hard-earned experiences with our fellow cooperators across the globe and also learn from them. We are optimistic that this will happen soon.