Since 1984, the work of the Institute has been with grassroots organizations which are organized for positive and progressive social, economic, political, and cultural change. Sectors, organizations, and groups which we currently serve include: farmers; fishers; aboriginal people; women; workers; Acadians; church groups; organizations of persons with disabilities; multicultural groups; seniors' federation; groups dedicated to youth at risk; community organizations; and schools. Most of the Institute's work is on PEI, but there are also requests to conduct workshops and conferences in the other Atlantic provinces.
The primary focus of our work is education, community development, consultation, publication, and research. All of this is directed towards empowerment of groups, individuals, and communities. The Institute has a lending library which makes local and international development education materials available to the public.
Most of Cooper Institute's education work is done through workshops and seminars within a community development model. This work is based on the assumption that those who are experiencing/suffering a given situation are the experts. The role of animators from the Institute is: to bring forth that experience from the participants; to facilitate analysis by which the participants recognize the root causes of their group's situation and the available strengths and resources at the group's disposal; and to identify concrete and feasible action which would change the situation.
Specific themes of empowerment workshops which we have organized and conducted with local and international groups are:
- sustainable community and economic development
- any specific current social or economic issues
- particular skills training
- philosophy and processes of participatory democracy
- creative/alternative models of leadership
- setting of priorities
- creative search for alternative action
- planning and evaluation techniques
- equal work sharing
- ecological concerns
- consensus decision-making
- collective accountability
- non-hierarchical organization
- staff-volunteer relations
- human relations within organizations, nurturing members, etc
- conflict resolution
- a new culture of inclusion
- gender equality
- anti-racism strategies
- human rights
- international solidarity
Cooper Institute's community development work is based on the following principles and processes. We say that community development must be: people oriented; truly democratic; responsible for the land, sea and the whole ecological system; inclusive of women, children, old people, people of varied cultures, orientations, and abilities; small enough for the community to control; related to place; able to generate community-based economic activity; connected to, and coordinated with, other communities in the province, country, globe; open to negotiating and settling differences.
Development cannot be imposed. Imposing often undermines people's development. (Outsiders to the community) can only act as allies in development, allies of the people whose lives are engaged in their own development.
Development ... involves a community defining its priorities and achieving its goals. This occurs when communities are able to identify and build on their capacities and to find ways to decrease their vulnerabilities.
The first priority should be in (re)building the capacity of groups and communities to take care of themselves. (Setbacks) can provide the opportunity to introduce new ideas, to question conventional ways of doing things, to reorganize in different ways, to raise new issues and to strengthen local control.