Development Cooperation Handbook/Defining Cooperation

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Defining Cooperation

We have seen that there is no unique world view of what "development" is and in fact by defining "development", one take a stand in the ongoing discussion on what are the determinants of development and growth. Is there an analogous debate on what "cooperation" is and what are the conditions that make cooperation possible?

Defining cooperation

"Cooperation" is not as controversial a concept as "development" is. It is easier to agree that cooperation is good thing and that it is preferable to conflict. Even those who support a competitive business environment think that cooperation is good and that open competition better enables alliances and cooperation. The problem is with identifying what enables cooperation. Sometimes, promoting conflicts is also seen by many as a means to motivate cooperation, as conflict tends to bring together those who have a "common enemy". But real cooperation happens only where the choice comes from reciprocal trust, not from shared fears. We find real cooperation where a conscious "win-win" game is played instead of "I win if you lose" modality of relationship.

The classic way of justifying cooperation is to indicate its "usefulness" in economic terms. Of course "A cooperative environment generates more prosperity than a hostile environment". But this is not sufficient to convince people to cooperate! If I become cooperative in a hostile environment, I would make myself more vulnerable! If my community is subjected to exploitation, being cooperative with the exploiters will surely alienate me from my community. If I cooperate with those who do injustice, I will be party to injustice. So the "utility" of cooperation is a good result of cooperation, but it cannot be the issue that converts hostility into amicability. There has to be an ethical drive. There has to be a human choice. It requires virtue and not just interest.

Etymologically, cooperation means "work done together" (from Latin com-"with" + operare-"to work"). This "together" however is not just physical closeness. It is a togetherness made possible by reciprocal trust. It requires consensus among co-workers about the objectives of the work and an accepted work mode. When there is true co-operation, co-workers enable each other's tasks and share a sense of belonging to a collective "working entity". Co-operation is communication in action.

Team work

In the chapter "Cooperation and Communication" we will analyze the modality of human relationships that enable, or disable, cooperation. In the practical section of this handbook, we will look at the practical elements of managing cooperation within "organizations" and within partner organizations that come together for achieving the objectives of a program or a project.

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