Business


This month, as the world observes the 100th International Day of Co-operatives, it is worth thinking about the role co-operatives might play in stimulating economic activity within a new global economic paradigm.

Though they may not often be paramount in our minds when we think of financial institutions, co-operatives nonetheless play a vital role in economies all over the planet. They employ ten per cent of the world’s employed population. And more than 12 per cent of humanity is a member of any of the three million co-operatives in the world.

Many co-operatives in this country, which has a large and active credit-union sector, are deeply entrenched in communities. There is a reason.

Co-operatives operate under certain defining principles. These include: voluntary and open membership; democratic member control; member economic participation; autonomy and independence; education, training and information; co-operation among fellow co-operatives; and concern for community.

This means these organisations are locally autonomous but internationally integrated. They encourage people to adopt a philosophy of self-help to meet goals that include not only economic, but also social and environmental objectives, such as overcoming poverty, securing productive employment and encouraging social integration.

In a system in which large financial organisations can often be perceived to be at a remove from grassroots communities, co-operatives can potentially fill a crucial gap, allowing wider participation in the financial market.

Such wider participation is essential if the road to recovery post-covid19 is to embrace meaningful transformation of the economy.

Given recent concerns about the influence of conglomerates in relation to things such as price-gouging and profiteering, co-operatives offer a different model of operation that could do more than just address inflation, but also foster a greater culture of social responsibility within the economy more generally.

It is important to remember, however, that co-operatives are still subject to rules, regulations and standards which must always be kept under review to ensure they are effective.

Reports in recent months of high-profile police probes into holdings in some organisations underline the vital importance of regulation by the Central Bank and the Commissioner for Co-operatives.

There is a need to give consumers confidence in the economy and to encourage them to pursue their goals. Facilitating co-operatives can not only bring communities together, it can also tap into a different segment of society, one that would otherwise not be inclined to engage in more intimidating financial behemoths.

The allocation of $100 million by the State to credit unions for the purpose of providing emergency support during the pandemic was an acknowledgement of the role played by such organisations. It’s important for there to be accountability in terms of the status of this allocation and how it may have been administered.

Co-operatives, too, must now focus on capitalising on their unique position. This means, at the very least, avoiding things like highly-publicised managerial-level conflicts, and instead seeking to convince more people to capitalising on the opportunities they may provide.