Cooperative and Association Development

Cooperating to Strengthen Markets, Build Communities, Improve livelihoods


ACDI/VOCA’s cooperative development roots date to 1963 when U.S. farmer co-ops founded ACDI’s predecessor organization to assist cooperatives in developing countries. Worldwide, cooperatives have demonstrated their contribution to economic growth, food security, and community development.


ACDI/VOCA retains a strong commitment to helping rural beneficiaries and since 1963 has helped millions of farmers and entrepreneurs help themselves using the cooperative business model.


Cooperatives and Associations Make a Lasting Impact

A true cooperative is “an autonomous association of persons united voluntarily to meet their common economic, social, and cultural needs and aspirations through a jointly owned and democratically controlled enterprise” (International Cooperative Alliance). Co-ops are:

  • user-owned—members finance the cooperative
  • user-controlled—an elected board of directors serves as the link between the membership and the manager
  • user-benefitting—patronage refunds are returned to members based on the amount of business conducted with the cooperative

In some developing and transitional countries, cooperatives are not democratic entities, and a stigma may be attached to the name “cooperative.” In this case, producer associations, clubs, or otherwise-denoted organizations may be formed to channel the economic ambitions of a group. Cooperative principles frequently underpin these entities. However, an organization is only a true cooperative if it meets the three criteria listed above.


ACDI/VOCA’s Approach to Cooperatives and Associations

ACDI/VOCA promotes different types of organizations based on community context and goals, including legally registered cooperatives, associations, community-based enterprises, private limited companies, and informal self-help groups.


ACDI/VOCA’s cooperative and association development approach is tailored to the needs of group members and designed to be appropriate to the development context. The types of programs that ACDI/VOCA champions are designed to stimulate, and not replace or deter, the expanding private sector in developing countries. The goal is a more vibrant, competitive, and diverse market environment.


Groups Strengthen Local Capacity, Enable Scale

ACDI/VOCA strengthens the capacity of cooperatives and associations by helping to professionalize management, provide training or information services, scale up production, and apply quality-control standards. We assist groups in accessing essential technical services, linking to higher-value markets, forming business alliances, and advocating for a favorable regulatory environment.


Through cooperatives and associations, farmers and entrepreneurs can mobilize capital, pool knowledge, achieve economies of scale, and foster vertical integration. They can create greater leverage in the marketplace and policy arena, attract business service providers, and more efficiently link to urban and export markets.


Co-Ops and Associations Drive Economic Growth, Promote Participation

Such groups not only catalyze local economic growth but often also serve as the “glue” for social initiative and effective, equitable community planning. Co-ops develop human capital by encouraging the participation of women and youth. Effects are often widespread since job training, health initiatives, and recreation programs can provide more prosperous and vibrant communities and even help deter urban migration.


ACDI/VOCA uses participatory methods and procedures to enable groups to form and to equip managers and members to perform their respective roles, assessing economic performance, overseeing technical and financial operations, and propelling growth.


PDF version available here


Click on the links below to learn more about ACDI/VOCA’s work in developing cooperatives and associations.



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Media Coverage

July 25, 2014

USDA Rural Cooperatives Magazine: The Missing Piece: Why women farmers are key to global food security (PDF, see p. 26)

July 4, 2014

Co-operative News: International Co-operative Day’s focus on sustainability comes at a ‘critical time’

January 13, 2014

Sustainable Cocoa Initiative: Cocoa transforming lives in Vietnam

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