A personal tale of life-long cooperation in a small Slovenian community. Lenka Puh tells us about intergenerational cooperation, importance of cooperative practice and community empowerment. 

About Etri community

For introduction let me tell my personal story. I was born in 6-members family and have been an active scout since my childhood. I have been entrepreneur for the last 27 years. All the mentioned facts are important to understand my personal inclination to the cooperative concepts.

My first contact with ZDUS and iCareCoops project was in summer 2015, when our cooperative Etri had been already developing certain services for support of older people by introducing young people into the world of entrepreneurship. The goal was to provide support to old people by specific approach of distribution of work and coexistence of two generations.

Lenka Puh pic-1.jpgI used my own family as a pilot test – a case study; the family members were taking turns to help their grandparents, already needing care and help in everyday life.

Family conflicts and disagreements are often the main reason for loneliness of older persons. When intensive care for old relatives is needed, the family relations are at stake, as disagreements and resentments might result in poor quality of life and consequently bring alienation.

Unfortunately, we lost our grandad Lojze soon after our first contacts with iCareCoops project. He had not been only the head of the family, but also the main force and investor of our Etri community from the very beginning back in 1989 till the last projects, pitched by his grandchildren.  He was our idol for his curious nature and endless energy; he invested in our projects and also took part in them. As he was computer savvy, I can easily imagine him using the tools which are being developed in the iCareCoops project.

Our Etri community is the best example of successful intergenerational cooperation and proof of the richness of experiences and rewarding satisfaction as a result of common work: you can call it »work under the guidance of care receiver« or »transfer of knowledge between grandad and grandchildren, based on common life rules”.

In old times of Yugoslavia only agricultural cooperatives existed. Private ownership was not allowed with the exception in agriculture. Such cooperatives were owned by their members, which in a way meant that they were privately owned. The absence of private initiative tradition, which requires certain responsibility, results nowadays in the challenges facing the foundation of new cooperatives. Being a member of cooperative means investing your share to the cooperative as well as active and responsible participation. Otherwise you can lose your share, or you are not paid for the work performed or you are not any more entitled to certain benefits.

My personal interest in the cooperatives began back in my childhood. My grandad was a farmer and I remember our visits to a local cooperative store. At that time there were no supermarkets to buy food; in rural areas it was most common to buy it in local food cooperatives. I kept on asking what a cooperative meant and the answer was “this is our store”, as it was not only the place where my grandad was buying food, he was also selling his food products there.

My father was a main investor in our company and taught me how to take decisions and responsibilities. There were no schools for entrepreneurs at that time.

From the first steps our company was not a very usual one, mainly consisting of family members and colleagues from the scouts movement, all used to the rule “one member, one vote”. When the company grew, new people joined, but not all of them identified themselves with the mission and philosophy of the company. We soon learned that the business culture of the company and shared values of involved people are a key component for existence and development.

The care for children and older people, as well as our health and food production was “delegated” to the state and as a consequence we became dependent of what the state can offer to us, or – as it seems nowadays – what multinational corporations offer us for our money. We lost our community based power, which helped our ancestors to survive. Therefore, it is important to rely on each other and not on some abstract concepts, alienated from the individuals, to develop offer and services, based on the community control and cooperative concepts, where each member has a vote no matter the status or the size of invested share.

Basic cooperative principles are: solidarity, mutuality, justice and equality.

Etri 1.jpgWe incorporated tradition, knowledge and experience to the Etri development cooperative and made a great leap forward in 2012, the international year of cooperatives and in the same year celebrated the 140 anniversary of cooperative movement in territory of Slovenia. Etri community initiated different activities for development of the services and products, which are considered as key elements for creation of inclusive society. If the right steps are taken and the principles of cooperatives are respected, in combination with the use of new technologies, this can bring higher quality of life. New concepts have to be promoted – circular economy, change of consumerism attitude, waste management etc.

All the above mentioned concepts and principles are also a promising basis for development of services and offer for old persons.

The expression “cooperative movement” involves also a social power for changes tailored to human needs. In a way it can be much stronger than labour movement, as the latter has been conceived as opposition to “the other” side – employers and capital. In the case of cooperative movement there is no opposition, therefore it is not a fight, but a creation of co-operation and co-existence.


Written by Lenka Puh