National-level government agencies and departments relevant to cooperatives can join the International Cooperative Alliance (ICA) as associate members. One of the first such departments to have joined is the Ministry of Economic Development (MEO) from Curaçao. We talked to them to find out what motivated them to become a member of the ICA.
Why did you join the ICA?
We joined the ICA because our department - Economic Development and Innovation (within the Ministry of Economic Development) is responsible for the development and the execution of the cooperative policy. Our department wants to be more involved in and more informed about the cooperative world and to form a cooperative network. By becoming a member we hope to show cooperatives in Curaçao that the Government of Curacao is committed to helping to develop and sustain the cooperative sector in Curaçao. The yearly membership fee is not cheap, thus our sector has to really emphasise the benefit of being a member to get the membership fee approved in the budget.
What is your department’s role within the government?
The sector Economic Development and Innovation is responsible for helping to develop and execute the cooperative policy and attending, within our possibilities, to the needs of the cooperative sector in order to develop as much as possible cooperative enterprises and enhance the economic value of the cooperative sector on the island. We aim to stimulate other product and service cooperatives, not just credit unions, which have been the main focus until now.
What can you tell us about the cooperative movement in your country?
The cooperative movement was very strong up to the ‘90s in Curacao. It received a special boost from a well-known and respected cleric named Dr Amado Emilio José Römer, also known as Monseigneur Römer. In addition to being a cleric, he was very involved with the founding of several workers’ unions and cooperatives. Thus in the past there was a close relationship between workers’ unions and the rise of cooperatives in several economic sectors.
The movement has experienced the closing of several cooperatives over the years due to mismanagement, among other things. Today it’s obvious that cooperative federations and organisations have been dedicating more attention and have organised courses regarding management. As mentioned before the focus has been for a long time on credit unions only.
What do you hope to gain by joining the ICA?
We hope to be part of a big (ger) network through which we can gain more knowledge and information and broaden our contacts. Our goal is to share this knowledge and information with the federations and individual cooperatives and align them as much as possible with other international cooperatives with whom they can partner.
With these actions we can also show the local cooperative federations, cooperatives and prospective cooperators that the Government is taking the development of cooperative enterprises seriously.
What are the benefits of being an associate member?
At present time we cannot really say or show any benefit(s) other than the fact that the Ministry of Economic Development as a Government entity is one of a very few Governments that are members of ICA.
In April 2020 our first Cooperative Development Policy was approved by the council of Ministers. The next step is to implement the action plans described as part of the implementation of the policy, which includes developing a cooperative law and enhancing our education system with the cooperative principles. We hope and are looking forward to when and where we will need to count on the support and advice of the ICA.
Photo: the Government building in the historic center of the city of Willemstad on Curaçao