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Starting the Carers Co-operative Movement in India

Published: 28 February 2024
Updated: 28 February 2024
A group of people smiling and posing for a photo in front of a building.

In India, where community and collaboration are integral, the co-operative movement empowers individuals and transforms communities. At Carers Worldwide we have used this to create something unique for unpaid carers – our Carers Co-operatives.

Last month our Founder & Executive Director Anil Patil, along with one of our trustees, Nicole Hunter, was in India for the official launch of the Sri Mathe Carers Credit Co-operative Society, which we have launched alongside our local charity partner Margadarshi, in the state of Karnataka.

People posing together near a tent at an outdoor event.

I feel so much joy and excitement to be launching these Carers Co-operatives. We are creating a more equitable and inclusive society, where every contribution is recognised, valued, and rewarded. As Carers Co-operatives grow in India, the impact will ripple beyond economics, touching communities and fostering collective progress.”

- Anil Patil, Founder and Executive Director

What is the context for co-operatives in India?

In India, co-operatives have a long history, beginning in the early 20th century, and play a crucial role in economic sustainability and social cohesion. Co-operatives are autonomous bodies that work independently in various sectors like agriculture, horticulture, dairy, fisheries, and credit. The co-operative members play a key role in decision-making, ensuring fair distribution of benefits. This participatory approach aligns with India's cultural values of collective responsibility and community engagement.

Co-operatives promote equality and shared responsibility. In a country marked by socio-economic disparities, co-operatives empower the most marginalised and vulnerable communities, offering the tools to improve their financial well-being.

A diverse crowd of people sitting inside a spacious tent, engaged in conversation and activities.

It was wonderful to be part of the opening of the Sri Mathe Carers Credit Co-operative Society today. It was so inspiring to see unpaid carers coming together to create opportunities for each other and set up a small enterprise. I’m looking forward to coming back next year and seeing what a success they have made of this!”

- Nicole Hunter, Carers Worldwide Trustee

What exactly is a Carers Co-operative?

A Carers Co-operative, at its core, is a socio-economic model where unpaid family carers voluntarily come together to address common economic, social, and cultural needs through a co-owned and democratically controlled enterprise. It is a formal, registered organisation which has to comply with co-operative regulations.

Our Carers Co-operatives are pioneering in the world of co-operatives, as they have been especially designed for unpaid carers. As well as providing economic empowerment to its members, a Carers Co-operative also supports their social and cultural needs, reducing loneliness and isolation, and building a community with which to share moments of cultural significance such as national festivals and Carers Day.

The Sri Mathe Carers Credit Co-operative Society, is the second that we have launched in India, and there are two long standing and successful Carers Co-operatives in Nepal that we established in 2017 and 2018, with our local charity partner.

The Sri Mathe Carers Credit Co-operative Society is a milestone for unpaid family carers in Chamarajanagar district, Karnataka State. It marks the beginning of a unique Carers Co-operative movement, supported by Margadarshi Association for the Physically Challenged and Carers Worldwide. I wish all co-operative members a successful and wonderful journey ahead and reiterate that 'Margadarshi always cares for carers’.”

- Ms Geethamrutha, Vice President, Margadarshi

How do Carers Co-operatives Work?

Individual unpaid carers, as well as Carers Groups, that have already been established through our work with our local charity partners, are the shareholders, each buying shares in the co-operative, opening accounts and depositing their savings.

The members can then apply for loans to start small business enterprises and the co-operative decides between them which of its members to support at which time. When the carer has set up their enterprise and started earning, they will pay back the loan, which can then be leant out to another carer.

All the Carers Groups in the area will be a part of the co-operative, which will take on the responsibility for running and monitoring these groups, with the support of our local charity partner. The Carers Co-operative will also employ staff through the profit they make, employing member carers to run the Carers Groups meeting and collect the savings for example. In this way, Carers Co-operatives are the next step towards economic sustainability, with control of the group being handed over to the carers themselves.

There are currently more than 450 unpaid carers in the Sri Mathe Carers Credit Co-operative Society, and we are looking forward to watching them go from strength to strength.

What is the need for Carers Co-operatives?

The Carers Co-operatives are vital for unpaid family carers, offering a transformative chance to unite, pool resources, share responsibilities, and improve livelihoods. This is particularly important in a society where unpaid carers’ contributions often go unnoticed, co-operative involvement becomes crucial for recognition and support.

The co-operatives address the specific needs of the most marginalised and invisible groups to break free from the cycle of poverty and dependence. By fostering financial independence and social inclusion, Carers Co-operatives become catalysts for positive change, impacting not only the economy but the lives of countless unpaid carers.

By improving the financial situations of unpaid carers and enhancing their overall well-being, Carers Co-operatives offer a sustainable solution to the challenges faced by unpaid family carers in society.

Four women in colorful saris standing together.

I acknowledge the immense mental and social challenges faced by unpaid carers, impacting their family's finances. With support from Carers Worldwide and Margadarshi, we launched the Sri Mathe Carers Credit Co-operative Society, with the theme 'SERVICE FOR SELF-RELIANCE'. This reflects our commitment to improving carers’ mental, social, and economic conditions. As shareholders, we unite to make Carers self-reliant, and we are guided by Carers Worldwide and Margadarshi towards achieving our goals."

- Dr Ajay KT, Carer and President of the Sri Mathe Carers Credit Co-operative Society