Since 1963, ACDI/VOCA has expanded economic opportunities by tackling intractable development problems. The Humphrey Amendment to the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 encouraged the development of cooperatives, credit unions, and savings and loan associations as part of United States foreign aid. As a result, major U.S. farm cooperatives formed the International Cooperative Development Association (ACDI’s parent organization), whose membership soon grew to include farm credit banks. Its objective was to “provide management for cooperative economic enterprises … in those foreign countries that are objects of the foreign aid program of the United States.”
Bob Fries, executive vice president at ACDI/VOCA, reflected on the milestone: “When I joined ACDI/VOCA, most of our projects worked on strengthening cooperatives. We stressed their value in providing smallholder farmers with more reliable access to information, inputs, markets, negotiating power, and scale. These elements expanded economic opportunity and were rooted in a respect for the dignity of those who lacked access. Then, when we started working in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, we encountered many countries where the word “cooperative” did not evoke hope and dignity. But the elements for expanding access to markets remained the same. The core principles informed our work in value chains, rural and microfinance, food security, market systems, and catalyzing investment. I appreciate better now how the core elements of our cooperative roots are like our DNA. It has been a pleasure to watch us apply them in creative and effective ways to help smallholder farmers, rural families, and small businesses expand opportunity in ways that last.”
ACDI/VOCA has continued to develop cooperatives around the world that reflect the merits of joint ownership, democratic governance, and economies of scale. And we’ve expanded our reach to many other forms of economic growth. We deliver expertise in catalyzing investment, climate smart agriculture, empowerment and resilience, institutional strengthening, and market systems. Fifty-five years and 146 nations later, ACDI/VOCA continues to expand opportunities for the disadvantaged through sustainable business solutions.