Hyperinflation, low economic growth, lack of banking access in rural areas, loss of credibility with the authorities and the population – these were just some of many adversities that Brazilian cooperatives had to face in the 1980s and 1990s on a day-to-day basis. Fortunately, the Brazilian cooperative members were able to see the silver lining. They knew that credit unions were an extraordinary opportunity to change lives and regions. Willing to change a daunting fate into a hopeful future, they decided to create local solutions and to learn, grow and exchange experiences with other countries. The cradle of credit cooperatives was in Germany, where there was already existing a much more mature sector with robust structures, from which valuable knowledge could be extracted for the learning and development of Brazilian cooperatives.
The first collaborations materialized with technical visits of Brazilian groups in Germany and through education and training initiatives, which had key figures for a greater collaboration. Two of them being the director of the international department of the DGRV (German Confederation of Cooperatives) at that time as well as the former president of the OCB (Organization of Brazilian Cooperatives). It was not only the information and education that the Brazilian cooperatives lacked, but also a culture, a much more solid and healthy cooperative spirit. These good relations, combined with a vision of cooperation, culminated 1996 in the start of the first DGRV project. Subsidized by the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), it was possible to offer technical assistance for the strengthening of a credit cooperative center in the state of Mato Grosso.
The collaboration between the Brazilian and German cooperativists has been very fruitful and many other projects followed for more than a quarter of a century. Currently, credit cooperatives in Brazil have a strong structure with two or three levels (local, regional, national), like in Germany. They have their own deposit protection fund with preventive action, and they can offer their members all kinds of financial services. The regulatory and supervisory body of credit cooperatives, the Central Bank of Brazil (BCB), is a special actor that sees the importance of these cooperatives in the regions where they operate and in the lives of their members and should therefore be safe and viable. On the German side, the exchange of information with institutions of the financial cooperative sector, such as DZ Bank, BaFin, ADG, BVR, regional associations and local cooperative banks is constant and continues to this day. According to OCB’s coordinator of credit cooperatives, Marco Aurelio Almada, Brazilian cooperatives today are in a much stronger position, which is due to the support they have received 25 years ago, as well as to the structure that has been established during this process. Now they can be reciprocal and initiate their own aid projects to support vulnerable cooperatives from other economic sectors or even from other countries. A showcasing example of their gained capacity surfaces when analyzing the total assets of Brazilian credit cooperatives, which represent 50% of all assets of savings and credit cooperatives throughout Latin America. Facts and figures that speak for themselves and that are a testimony of the exceptional collaborative work that has been carried out during all this time. In recent years, cooperation with OCB and SESCOOP has expanded to different sectors, using their expertise in renewable energy cooperatives and agricultural cooperative networks.
Currently a new program, called AceleraCoop, offers consulting and training to support and strengthen agricultural cooperatives in northern Brazil. In this way, it is possible to improve the quality of life of people who, compared to the south, live in a less developed region. Another important area is the production of renewable energy, which offers enormous potential in this country. Together with the OCB, DGRV promotes new energy cooperatives, as well as cooperatives from all sectors to achieve fairer prices and a reduction in environmental impact. Although the challenges sometimes seem insurmountable, there is one certainty that has been continually reaffirmed over the past 25 years: Working together is an opportunity to create a more inclusive and sustainable present for a future in which all of us can flourish.
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