University researchers moving cooperative learnings to cooperative involvement

Originally published on September 25, 2018.

Rhoda Kayongo has put away her computer, having taken diligent notes while learning about ways of disseminating research into publication from Dr. Annie Cafer, Assistant Professor of Sociology from the University of Missouri. Usually, Rhoda is the one at the front of this classroom in Rwanda, teaching others, as a faculty member for the University of Lay Adventists Kigali (UNILAK).

Rhoda devotes her research to cooperatives because she knows that agriculture is a backbone of the economy, especially in Rwanda. Her mother was a farmer and she grew up with nine siblings. Today, around 50 percent of Rwanda’s population are members of a cooperative, most of them agriculture-based. However, youth inclusion is a problem.

“The cooperative model is a good model to sustain peace and for economic development,” she says. “But we need to get young people involved.”

She and her husband, Moses, both teach at the University. Rhoda had the chance to work on the University’s major research project regarding inclusion and rice cooperatives. The research component and subsequent trainings from Dr. Cafer were supported through the USAID Cooperative Development Program, implemented by Land O’Lakes International Development.

And everything that Rhoda has learned – from being involved in the research, to the trainings from Dr. Cafer – are all a part of Rhoda’s teaching to her students.

The research study (Governance Practices and their Impact on the Inclusion of Youth and Women in Rice Cooperatives in Rwanda) supports what Rhoda and Moses have qualitatively observed about youth in cooperatives of their country. It was found that of those involved in the nine cooperatives sampled, only 9 percent of members identified as youth.

“The study with rice cooperatives drew me closer to it all – how can we make inclusion possible. What are people’s attitudes toward joining cooperatives?” Rhoda says. “I’m teaching our findings to my students. The best part is the students are becoming excited about it.”

There can be misconceptions among young students that agriculture is not as glamorous as a city job, she says.

“We need young people in cooperatives in this country. Cooperatives are the future job market. We need to get students to see it as an opportunity,” says Rhoda.

“We need to prepare students with high potential and our findings in our research help us understand future prospects,” says Moses.

Since being able to implement some of the research methods from Dr. Cafer, Moses and Rhoda have seen changes in their students.

“Being able to use scholarly resources we learned from Dr. Cafer and teaching students a global approach has enhanced participation and the quality of research,” says Moses.

Two of his students are forming a cooperative society at the school, for other students who are interested in becoming involved in cooperative research.

After talking with Dr. Cafer, Rhoda and Moses stand on the balcony looking out onto campus. They talk about their time in the Philippines getting their PhD’s and the rural development research they did there and how it relates to what they’re teaching now. They smile.

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