In February 2023, the College hosted our largest ever international study tour, when we welcomed 52 delegates from the Philippines on a six-day visit. The learners came from 17 different Filipino co-operatives and were brought together through the Global Executive Masterclass programme, run by CLIMBS Life and General Insurance Co-operative and the Co-operative College of the Philippines.
So, what does a six-day study tour involve? What were the highlights for the learners and our staff? And exactly how many post-it notes can fit on a whiteboard? Read on to find out!

The Programme

No two study tours are the ever the same, with each group requiring different learning outcomes, guest speakers, and experiences.
Through several online co-design sessions with CLIMBS, we established their specific learning needs and other desired outcomes, which included incorporating co-operative history and heritage, into the visit. We teamed up with some of our long-standing co-operative partners to help put together a bespoke programme of learning that looked like this:
Day one

  • Visit to Rochdale Pioneers Museum including viewing of ‘CLIMBS corner’, a section dedicated to the Filipino co-operative movement
  • Learning sessions on the history of the UK co-operative movement with Liz McIvor, Co-operative Heritage Trust Manger
  • Learning session on the history of the global co-op movement with our tutors, Amanda Benson and Stacey Salt

Day two

  • Tour of One Angel Square
  • Session on the outlook of the UK co-operative movement with Emma Laycock, Head of Co-operative Advice, Coops UK
  • Walking tour of the co-operative quarter
  • Operational overview of the Co-operative Group with David Knight, Community Business Partner, and Russel Gill, Head of Community Delivery the Co-operative Group

Day three

  • Visit to Holyoake House
  • Overview of the Co-operative College including an interactive session on our co-operative learning approach
  • Sessions on climate change and trends impacting the global mutual sector by the International Cooperative and Mutual Insurance Federation (ICMIF). With ICMIF guest speakers Liam Carter, Sustainability Lead, and Mike Ashurt,Vice-President Reinsurance and Professional Development

Day four

  • Co-operative leadership masterclass day one with our tutors, Amanda Benson and Stacey Salt

Day five

  • Co-operative leadership masterclass day two

Day six

  • Free day (sightseeing, shopping, and visiting other parts of the country)

Our Reflections

There was a common theme that ran through the reflections of all College staff who were involved in the CLIMBS study visit: that the group could not have been more enthusiastic! All learners threw themselves into the activities, were keen to present their ideas, and really embraced the collaborative and co-operative nature of the learning sessions.

They were all so friendly, enthusiastic, and keen to participate, which was lovely to experience

Cat Darby, Learning Administrator

To create an engaging learning environment, our approach utilises lots of interactive activities, such as group storytelling, team discussions, quick polls, and reflection sessions. For the CLIMBS study tour, this encouraged participation, dialogue, friendly debate, and plenty of co-operation amongst learners, many of whom had never met each other before the visit. The week’s learning culminated in a two-day ‘masterclass’ in co-operative leadership, which explored topics including leadership styles, diversity, how to embed co-operative values into leadership, and overcoming tensions and problems.

After getting to know the group gradually throughout the week, as well as the group members themselves getting to know each other, it really gave everyone an opportunity to get the best out of the learning experience.

Amanda Benson, Curriculum Development Manager

We’re proud of the strong relationships we’ve built with other UK co-operative enterprises, and it is through these partnerships that we were able to further enrich our CLIMBS study tour, with visits to One Angel Square, Holyoake House, and the Rochdale Pioneers Museum. Our guest speakers were also very well received, and their presentations helped to add context and insight, as well as generating lots of questions and discussion from the group.

The trip to the Pioneers Museum was great. It was fantastic to see all the delegates really involved and they loved the coach ride with our very own Stacey Salt being the ultimate local tour guide!

Jess Rule, Business Development Officer

The mix of our distinctive learning approach, combined with the enthusiasm of the group meant that the levels of creativity in all activities were consistently high, and this was commented on by all College staff. We provided the space for people to explore their own experiences, individually and jointly, as well as to unpick assumptions, challenge themselves and reflect on putting the co-op values into practice.

Walking into the room at the end of the two-day masterclass and seeing the walls absolutely covered in colourfully illustrated flip chart pages and post-it notes – you could feel the creativity and sharing of ideas and practice that the activities had generated.

Ali Longden – Director of Learning and Teaching

I felt it was very much a two-way learning process. This was my first experience of a study tour, and I developed in so many ways.
Stacey Salt - Adult Education Tutor

Learner Feedback

At the College, we look for learning opportunities in all that we do, so gathering feedback from our learners is a key part of our journey to improve and grow. We were delighted to receive loads of positive feedback on most aspects of their visit from our CLIMBS study tour. Although there was one part of the visit that didn’t go down too well...the weather! Unfortunately, we’re unable to influence that – although we might add a section on the best places to buy an umbrella to our delegate pack!

Here’s a sample of some of the comments our learners made:

Donna Dizon, CEO and Principal of the Co-operative College of the Philippines and VP of Administration and Corporate planning at CLIMBS Life and General Insurance summed up the visit by saying:

The immersive learning experience from day one’s visit to the Rochdale Pioneers’ Museum, co-operative tours and talks and classroom learning exercises in the weeklong program has been a wonderful shared learning from among our diverse participants representing different cooperatives in the Philippines.  

We are indeed grateful for the leadership of Neil and the College’s delivery team for the depth that has been integrated in this co-designed program and the sustained enthusiasm which has opened doors of opportunities for continuous learning and collaboration. We are already looking forward to the next!

Final thoughts

International study visits are not new to the College, however organising and facilitating one of this size and scope provided our team with many learning opportunities in terms of logistics, planning, working together, and even a few TikTok dances!

The visit took many months to plan, and delivering it successfully was no mean feat, but the College teams's overwhelming feeling about the CLIMBS visit was that it was worth every bit of the effort.

With several more potential study visits already in the pipeline, we're looking forward to welcoming many more international learners. Now if we could just do something about the Manchester weather...

If you're interested in organising a study tour for your organisation, find out more and get in touch today!

Study tours