KOPEL's Village Co-op
The original spark to set-up a co-operative was “the end of grant funding” for the forest restoration projects operated by the MESCOT Initiative. At that time, reaching out to donors for funding support was beyond the capacity of the village ecotourism associations, and the MESCOT group. Based on these events, a far-reaching decision was made to establish a “body corporate” at the community level, as a platform to strengthen the ecotourism activities and facilitate wider involvement and more formal investment from the wider community. One of the many goals of the co-op was to support the development of a specific key product (the Tungog Lake Eco Camp) designed to stand-alone and generate income for the forest restoration work. Not surprisingly, one of the first key projects of the co-op was to facilitate and formalise local investment of timber and labour to build the Eco Camp.
For the village tourism operations, the co-op (KOPEL) adopted the respective “operational procedures” and “rules”, already long established by the respective village ecotourism associations. In this way these associations remained as key sub-groups within the co-op structure, and their names were formalised as core co-op products until today. With KOPEL established, income from the various activities could be pooled, and finally after years of voluntary community organisation, the co-op had the capacity to employ staff to manage, administer, and collaborate with the many people involved and coordinate the ecotourism activities.
Twenty years seems to pass so quickly. Looking back, the learning processes, of so many people starting from zero, is rather phenomenal. The co-op structure demanded improvements in administration, communication, documentation, accounting, and reporting - both to members, as well as to various external organisations and government bodies. The patience and commitment of so many people is staggering. And the cooperation and support from so many people in KOPEL and in the wider family and community is extraordinary.
Over the years, many people have struggled, failed, and tried again. Friends and family have stepped-in and stepped-up to support and replaced those that have moved on to try new things. Albeit clunky at times, the co-op’s operations function as solid as any other business, with improvements being continuous, and never ending. Through this time KOPEL has received praise from many quarters, and received many awards, even meeting international standards (FSC, ASEAN CBT and so on). Fortunately, the community and the KOPEL team have risen above many challenges, and the co-op continues to embody the spirit of cooperation and support, holding the community as a central focus and its founding goals of benefiting both community and the surrounding forest ecosystems as key tenets.