Rojava, Syria, women, cooperatives, coops

The Role of Communes in the Communal Economy, Nisrîn and Shîlan are Examples of Successful Co-operatives

This is a translation of an Arabic article by Avin Yosef that first appeared on Ronahi on 1st March, 2017

The communes have been strengthened by common people, who also rely on them, despite the fact that they are new. Since being formed in 2012, they have slowly started to bear fruit. And despite the hardships of war, repeated attacks on our regions, and the obstacles that were put in the way of their development, the economic projects that have been launched are indicators of the development and success of the communes. This particular project started with 75,000 SYP, which has now grown to 1.5 million.

Backed by the principle of co-operation with members of the community, the communes initiated projects to improve the economy and raise the living standards of people in the suburbs and impoverished neighbourhoods, such as Shahid Saleh commune and Shahid Aram. A year and a half ago, members of Shahid Saleh commune founded a co-operative society called Nisrîn in the Hilaliyah neighbourhood in Qamishlo. The co-operative began on 11th April, 2015 with the inauguration of a shop that sells cleaning products and children’s supplements, in a small premises that was rented in the neighbourhood. Seven people collectively contributed 75,000 SYP out of their own pockets. Their aim was to improve their living standards, and also to sell the products at competitive prices in order to break the monopoly and limit the exploitation of people by some of the traders.

Nisrîn has recently expanded to include 54 members, and the capital increased from 75,000 SYP to 1.5 million, and that is a sign of improvement. The products are being sold by two workers, one female and one male, with the supervision of three administrative members. Avin Muhammed Shareef, the female worker, spoke to us in an interview: ”We started the project with limited capacities, and faced some difficulties in the beginning because the place was tiny and because we didn’t know many wholesalers, but we’ve solved these problems by making contract with some wholesalers in the industrial area, where they get the necessary products, like cleaning products, nappies and some cosmetics, at competitive prices. We, in turn, sell them at prices cheaper than market prices to break the monopoly and reduce exploitation.”

Avin continued: ”We do a monthly inventory of the goods, and the dividends get distributed in the co-operative. The co-operative deducts 100 SYP from each member to put in a co-operative fund, agreed by the members, to help some poor families around the commune.”

Women have an active role in economic projects

Avîn spoke to us about the importance of women in participating and working in these kinds of projects. She confirmed that over the past years and during the Syrian crisis, women have proven their capabilities. They have been working in many fields, getting out of their bubbles and standing alongside men. Women have had an active role in improving the economy of the region through their participation in the activities, projects and co-operatives. Avîn also said that her husband supports what she does.

The success of Nisrîn encouraged the commune to found another co-operative

After the success the commune accomplished with Nisrîn, the members of the commune formed a new co-operative called Shîlan in the Hilaliyah neighbourhood, with the participation of Shahid Aram commune. Shîlan is a shop that sells underwear, and the co-op is made up of 141 members. The price of a share is 10,000 SYP. Each member of the two communes contributed 50,000 SYP in order to support the project. A member of the Shahid Saleh commune spoke to us about the importance of the two economic projects. He said, ”Considering the economic situation, the deterioration of the living conditions and the lives of some of the people who live around the two communes, some steps have been taken to help them and support them financially. By letting people participate in the co-operative as members and workers who sell necessities at reduced prices, we help the people to endure the living conditions in the suburbs. There are some people who live in the neighbourhood working in the two projects, and that is reducing unemployment and creating a workforce. We are aiming to increase the economic projects around the commune in order to include more people, help them and cover their needs.”

Shîlan has one female worker who sells underwear with the supervision of the administrative committee of the co-operative, which consists of three women. She also contributed a sum of money as a member, and she gets her salary besides a share of the dividends of the co-operative. Shahid Saleh commune and Shahid Aram dedicate 10,000 SYP to be added to her monthly salary because she works a lot and her regular wage doesn’t match her labour. A decision was made to add the first three months profits to the capital to buy more products.

Fatima Hasan, a worker and administrator in Shîlan, said, ”I was invited to work in the co-operative by the members of the commune because they knew about my situation and my need for work. I was so happy with their initiative. Now I can help my parents with the living expenses. My job is to sell clothes, register sales in a daily record, and later do the inventory with the presence of the supervisors.

The Procurement Committee gets the products from the markets in Qamishlo by making contracts with some wholesalers to get the products at reduced prices, so that they can sell them at competitive prices in the neighbourhood. The co-operative is well received by the residents of the neighbourhood, and people in general, which proves its success and progress.

Opinions of people

During our visit to both co-operatives, we noticed that many people were interested in buying the exhibited products, and that they had a positive impression of the two co-operative societies. We asked one of the customers in Shîlan, whose name was Zaynab Aziz, about her opinion of the project, and she said, ”We used to get so tired trying to reach the market, because Hilaliyah is so far from it, and also the prices in the market are so high. When we compared the prices in the co-operative and the other market, we realised that the prices here are much cheaper and more reasonable, that’s why we were so happy about all these projects in our neighbourhood.”

Another customer said, ”Traders take advantage of us and control the prices. We cannot afford these high costs. Nisrîn and Shîlan are very good improvements, especially as we are contributing to this project, and it’s benefiting us, and we buy products from both co-operatives at lower prices.”