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Out of the box: Don’t get mad, set up a co-op


If ELT professionals work together, they can demand better pay and conditions and improve their skills

Four people working in ELT in Barcelona, including myself, set up the Serveis Lingüístics de Barcelona co-operative in 2014.

It was a reaction to the disdain shown towards ELT as a profession where we are based, and to the consequent precarity which comes with teaching in private schools.

I’m sure there are still many ELT professionals working all around the world who feel as we did then.

We wanted to become our own bosses, but also enjoy a support network of like-minded professionals who want to improve things for the collective of teachers and students, not just themselves.

When we started the co-operative of freelance language teachers, translators and materials writers, we had just €3,000 and two main objectives: to improve both our economic conditions and our technical abilities.

Addressing the first aim, we’ve set our own minimum rates, attracted well-paying clients, and saved our members money on accountants and lawyers. In terms of the second, we’ve scheduled training sessions, created a bank of materials and resources, and built our own online platform.

Each of our members invests €200 in our social capital (returnable if they leave) and pays around €20 a month subscription towards our services.

This gives everyone an equal say in how the co-op is run.

As freelancers, our members can work with whoever they like, but often they find clients with big demands – and that’s when the co-op can step in. We act to some extent as our own agents, but the ‘cut’ we take goes straight back into the pot for the benefit of all.

Our co-op is now 17 members strong, including some international members who share our vision. It’s an ongoing project that has got so far on minimal financial investment and a lot of time and love, but we are starting to meet our objectives in a robust way, and we remain optimistic.

It’s not easy, but if you find yourself in similar conditions to the ones we did in 2014 and can get a small team and money together, a cooperative might work for you too.

Neil McMillan is a teacher-trainer, writer and translator, and founding member of the Serveis Lingüístics de Barcelona www.slb.coop.