For establishing an equitable and cooperative economic model as a robust alternative to profit-driven economies.
Cecosesola (Central de Cooperativas de Lara) is a network of community organisations from low-income areas that produces and provides affordable goods and services to more than 100,000 families across seven Venezuelan states.
Guided by a process of cultural transformation, the network has vastly expanded over the last 55 years to include cooperative funeral services, food markets, a health network, savings and loans services, as well as agricultural production and small processing plants. Cecosesola’s economic activities are almost entirely self-financed and are offered well below retail prices.
Cecosesola is a beacon that inspires those that are looking for a different way to approach economic activities, transcending the traditional hierarchical model present in private and governmental enterprises. The organisation centres on learning, through collective reflection, about the relationships that emerge in the workplace and its surroundings, guided by transparency, mutual support and equity.
Cecosesola has routinely evolved its ways of working to best address the problems oppressing Venezuelan society, including food shortages, hyperinflation, massive migration and financial crises. Today, Cecosesola maintains a flat organisation where all voices are valued equally, and decisions are made in the collective.
With more than half a century of experience, Cecosesola has improved the lives of thousands of families, providing them access to healthcare, education, and food. In the midst of their country’s economic and political crises, Cecosesola operates in an open, horizontal, and cooperative way to meet the needs of communities. Their success proves that we can build societies – and economies – on trust, solidarity and sustainability instead of greed, competition and short-sightedness.
Cecosesola was founded in 1967 as an “Organism for Cooperative Integration” that initially provided funeral services, joining under its roof ten cooperatives from low-income areas. However, the organisation soon recognised wider purposes. First, to meet the communities’ essential needs, including food, healthcare, financial services and food production, especially in times of economic hardship. Second, to make the workplace conducive to the development of a cultural transformation based on the collective reflection of the relationships that emerge in the workplace.
The organisation replaces competition with cooperation, efficiency with resilience, short-term thinking with sustainability, and profit-centred approaches with a needs-centred outlook. Cecosesola has operated effectively for more than half a century. It is now a network that integrates more than 50 community organisations in seven Venezuelan states.
Since 2014, Venezuela has faced an unprecedented economic crisis and political turmoil that have led to extreme shortages, hyperinflation, unemployment and an on-going humanitarian crisis. These hardships have caused more than 6 million people (around 17 per cent of the population) to leave the country, leading to one of the region’s worst migration crises. Cecosesola has witnessed first-hand that in times of scarcity, the principles of fairness and cooperation are the most difficult to follow. However, Cecosesola has remained steadfast in its collective solidarity approach and rejection of competition and individualism, which in turn has provided livelihoods, food and essential services for thousands of people. In stark contrast to the plight of millions fleeing Venezuela, Cecosesola’s work has allowed many people to remain.
Cecosesola’s approach revolves around full and open participation, respecting religious, ideological and political plurality, and taking responsibility for almost all realms of life “from the cradle to the grave.”
In the early 1970s, Cecosesola developed their approach and operations after questioning the traditional cooperative model. At the time, their system was hierarchical and profit oriented, which led to cases of theft and corruption. They felt the need to open the cooperative to the whole community, emphasising the full participation of their workers and committing to meet collective needs. Today, Cecosesola does not follow hierarchical structures or chains of command, with all decisions being made during collective meetings. The organisation maintains a system of rotation that emphasises knowledge sharing, allowing everyone in the network to grow and preventing roles from becoming stagnant. Cecosesola considers the process of cultural transformation to be a permanent challenge, rather than an end goal.
In 1976, Cecosesola decided to take over the management of Barquisimeto’s bus network, with the commitment to avoid a tariff hike. In response to their success and solid community support, the local government seized Cecosesola’s properties and destroyed over 70 per cent of the bus fleet. Despite these challenges, and without financial resources, Cecosesola started to use the buses to sell food. This decision helped Cecosesola repay their debt, as well as develop their food fair network, which now fulfils the needs of 40 per cent of Barquisimeto’s population. Currently, 100,000 families benefit from these fairs. 20 community agricultural organizations of Cecosesola’s network produce the 700 tons of food sold weekly at the fairs.
In the early 2000s, Cecosesola decided to self-finance the construction of their own cooperative hospital, valued at 3 million USD. With their own resources, Cecosesola established the Cooperative Centre for Integral Health, which includes two operating rooms and 20 hospital beds. Annually, they perform up to 1,700 surgeries with prices 50 per cent below that of private hospitals. Additionally, they have created a network of more than 150 health specialists, including physicians, nurses, dentists, therapists and acupuncturists. This network serves seven communities, caring for over 250,000 people each year.
As a whole, Cecosesola self-finances crops, vehicles, construction projects, and medical equipment and supplies. Their services represent annual savings of 20 million USD for communities. Cecosesola’s 1,300 full-time staff makes these services possible. Even during times of severe crisis, Cecosesola has proven resilient and effective in meeting the needs of the communities it serves. Cecosesola is considered an inspiration in many countries and collective movements around the world.