UEN Norway: Organisational development as the first step towards strong unions

published 2 December 2021 updated 16 December 2021

The organisational development of unions is at the core of all UEN cooperation projects. The Norwegian union focuses on three key areas: social dialogue, gender equality and equity, and capacity building.

1. When and how did your organisation decide to get involved in international cooperation?

Union of Education Norway has a long history of cooperation with other teacher trade unions, dating back several decades.

Our cooperation’s has the overall goal of strengthening both our own and other unions in order to promote the teaching profession, and achieve quality, inclusive and free public education for all - and to secure human and trade union rights.

2. What are your union's priorities in international cooperation work?

Our priorities, when it comes to development cooperation projects, are based on our partner organisations concrete needs, and our own and Education International’s policies and strategies. We also work closely with Education International’s regional offices.

To be specific, all our projects have at their core organisational development, and our main thematic areas are social dialogue, gender equality and equity, and capacity building.

3. What do international cooperation projects bring to your union?

The cooperation projects give us the opportunity to both learn from other unions, exchange ideas and to get knowledge about what is happening around the world.

By working together with other teacher trade unions, we understand that teachers around the world face the same challenges and struggles, even if they are different in scale and severity. We experience that we are one global profession. And we see that the only way for us to succeed in our common fights is to unite and strengthen each other.

Union of Education Norway strongly believe that we are “Stronger together”, both locally, nationally - and internationally. Working with international cooperation underlines, strengthens and guides our understandings of this. As such, our international collaborations are important for us in, for instance, developing policies and capacity building of our members.

In addition to this, the knowledge, and experiences we get through our international cooperation gives us higher credibility when we engage with our national government and other organisations on international education issues.

4. Do you have any concrete examples of success stories from a cooperation project?

Union of Education Norway has been a part of an Education International-consortium project supporting Persatuan Guru Republic Indonesia (PGRI) for many years.

I think the trust and mutual understanding built through this long-lasting cooperation has been a very good platform and vital when we see the changes within PGRI the past years.

Very concretely, PGRI has a program called Lingkar Belajar Guru (LBG), directly translated “Study circle for teachers”. As methodology, the LBG program uses, as it says study circles, but also dialogue sheets.

When training our own union representatives, Union of Education Norway use dialogue sheets as a methodology. The experience from our own trainings is the direct reason why we introduced dialogue sheets to the leadership in PGRI, as a possible way of engaging and training union representatives.

At the same meeting, Lärarförbundet of Sweden, another partner in the consortium working with PGRI, introduced study circles – which they have good experiences with themselves.

PGRI adopted both these methodologies and created their own version, which is a mix of the two. This new version, from what I hear, suits the organisation very well. A new training program building on this new methodology was adopted by the PGRI congress in 2019, and PGRI is now implementing this program at grass roots level. The response, so far, is very positive.

Other positive examples are from the two women’s networks we support: one in Latin-America and one in Africa. Both have been evaluated by external researchers and the evaluations found that the networks have had positive effects on gender equality in the unions participating in these networks.

5. What is the most difficult thing about international cooperation work?

One difficulty when engaging in international cooperation work is how to meet as equal partners. This might sound a bit strange, but usually when partners collaborate, one is providing financial resources to the other. This can affect the power balance, and it needs careful attention. As the Education International’s Development Cooperation Handbook states: “This is likely to create inequality in the relationship and each partner should pay a great deal of attention to make this relationship as equal as possible.”

Another difficult issue is of course the environmental footprint related to traveling. This is something for which all partners must find solutions. Luckily, we have experienced that digital meetings can help us with this, but at the same time it is very important to also have physical meetings when doing project work.

6. What advice would you give to a trade union wanting to get involved in international cooperation?

Based on our own experiences we think these issues are of great importance:

  • Use time in the beginning to get to know each other, discuss needs, organisational cultures, and structures etc.
  • Trust and respect for each other are vital components – which take time to establish.
  • Roles and responsibilities need to be thoroughly discussed and addressed before starting the project.
  • Country knowledge is important to better understand context and culture.

In addition to this, we would advise all organisations that engage in development cooperation to go through and discuss the Education International’s Development Cooperation Handbook at the beginning of a cooperation project.