What is la Polea?
La Polea Sociedad Cooperativa Andaluza, is a non-profit worker cooperative that was established in the town of Al Margen (Malaga) in March 2020. Its main goal is to create new job opportunities and reduce depopulation, so through education in values and equality, it seeks to strengthen their community and invest in its growth through allowing young people to remain in their small, rural village while exercising their professions.
New opportunities in adversity!
This initiative was born from a group of young people who, having finished their studies in other cities, returned to their hometown with the clear idea of wanting to live and invest their knowledge in their community. The problem arose when these educated young people could not find a way to support themselves, since in the town they live mainly from agriculture and livestock, but there are no vacancies for skilled jobs.
Because of this, they began to organise themselves and finally decided that the best way to find a job for what they had been trained for was to create it themselves. And so they did. They started a fairly multidisciplinary group of professionals, such as teachers, anthropologists, psychologists, environmental technicians, biologists, agronomists, economists, among others. However, they managed to find a meeting point in education, so they decided that all actions would be directed to it.
Another point they had pending was to try to somehow transform what was happening in their village to also address the challenge of depopulation and they thought that education was the element that best unites their sensitivities. Thus they created a Cooperative that works from environmental education in values and equality.
Once set up, they received support from local entities, such as the Town Hall, the Business Development Support Centres (CADE) in Andalusia and the Andalusian Cooperative Network. They also received subsidies at the Andalusian level for the registration as self-employed, which helps to cover the first two years of the self-employed quota and also, as they are located in a town of less than 5,000 inhabitants, the quota is reduced by half, since, despite being in a cooperative, they are self-employed.
What is it about?
To address the remaining depopulation through education, in the Guadalteba area, through two lines of work, on the one hand, generating new services. We consider that one of the main problems of the villages is that there are not enough services and that is why people decide to leave. Especially educational, cultural and leisure services, which in the end are the spaces where people develop their concerns beyond their obligations, if we do not have this, it is usually difficult to live in a place without these types of issues. And on the other hand, we offer the opportunity to other young people like us to find a job for what they have been trained for, what they know, what they want and what they like to do, also giving a benefit to the community, and the long-term objective is to try to continue growing little by little and making the team grow more and more, so much so that more young people join the initiative and we can work in other towns.
It starts with the young
This incredible group of young people work primarily with children and young adolescents, but can also do many community activities for the elderly, for families, among others. They work with all kinds of people, but they focus their work mainly in schools and institutes.
Support is all we need!
From our conversation with one of the founders, we learnt that one of the main reasons of the success of this initiative is due to local and national support, allowing them to implement 200 activities and workshops in several towns in Granada, Cadiz, Seville and Malaga; 14 contracts for young people under 30 years of age in municipalities of less than 5,000 inhabitants; and participation in 3 environmental projects. All this in the midst of a pandemic and severe health and security restrictions.
As for the difficulties there are several. One of the main difficulties they have encountered is the political framework of the country; namely their short-term vision when it comes to policy making. Their initial idea was to create transformation in their community, but they quickly realised that it would all depend on the will of policy makers.
It is clear to them that you cannot transform someone’s reality by working with a group of young people for one hour a year, but of course, there are much more short term and opportunistic logics that exist in politics.
Other difficulties have been due to a simple lack of experience in many issues. Most of them did not have experience working. They all had good academic training but lacked experience, so they have been learning through trial and error.
The politics of efficiency
Even with a lack of experience, La Polea managed to be born and stay alive throughout a global pandemic.
The efficiency of this initiative has depended mainly on the decisions of policy makers in their working areas. For example, most institutions only contact them during special occasions when they “need” an activity to fill space, but do not wish to continue with their workshops throughout the school year.
Turning a global pandemic into an opportunity
For this group of young people, COVID-19 brought with it a space of personal and professional growth. It became a moment to learn to manage many fears but also many illusions and many frustrations when you feel that you have just created something that has cost you so much (like finishing a long educational journey) and now suddenly everything falls apart. On the other hand, it allowed for the time and space to think up new ideas and solutions to some very real problems, and how to bring it back to the community. This incredibly difficult and unprecedented situation became an opportunity to create something new, something that probably would not have happened under “normal” circumstances, as each one of these young people would have gone their own way individually.
Who are the Young people behind this initiative?
We talked to Juan, one of the founding members and workers of La Polea and this is what he had to say:
“We are a group of young people who came together and created a Cooperative.I am Juan, I am a teacher and anthropologist and the contact person for the project. My colleagues are psychologists, environmental technicians, biologists, agronomists, economists.”