The latest edition of the World Cooperative Monitor published on 20 January featured a section highlighting how cooperative enterprises responded to the COVID-19 crisis.
Based on existing data, as well as a members’ survey carried out by the ICA International Cooperative Entrepreneurship Think Tank (ICETT), the section looks at how large cooperatives coped with the pandemic, exploring some of the best practices in different countries. The survey revealed a series of measures adopted by large cooperatives to support members and their communities during the crisis.
Cooperatives have shown their rapid response face to the pandemic. For example, Rabobank was the first bank in the Netherlands to postpone interest payments and repayments on loans for SMEs. The bank also established a support fund for cultural and sport organisations. Similarly, the Buldana Urban Credit Cooperative Society in India reduced its rates to support members most affected by the crisis. And worker cooperatives such as Smart Belgium developed 0% credit mechanisms and training plans for their members, helping them to be more resilient during and after the pandemic.
Bruno Roelants, the Director-General of the ICA, said: “The global pandemic has put a strain on many businesses, but as you’ll read in this report, many large cooperatives have stepped in to help employees, members, and communities to face the health and economic repercussions of COVID-19. We wanted to thank the newly formed ICA International Cooperative Entrepreneurship Think Tank (ICETT), a group of large cooperatives engaged in strategic thinking around cooperative entrepreneurship, for its contribution to this year’s World Cooperative Monitor, as well as the organisations that provided their data, and the supporters of this year’s edition for making it possible”.
For retail cooperatives, such as S-Group and Midcounties Co-operative, the key priorities were introducing new health and safety requirements and support mechanisms for the most vulnerable members and customers. Midcounties set up a £75k Community Restart Fund to provide immediate financial support to the group, while working with local volunteering organisations, and S Group implemented a ‘Click & Collect’ system to reduce crowding and improve efficiency.
In the agricultural sector, the Indian Farmers Fertiliser Co-operative Limited (IFFCO) carried out social awareness campaigns and delivered PPE across several regions. Meanwhile in the Americas, the Argentinian Cooperativa de Trabajos Portuarios Limitada, which operated in the sector of port and maritime services, focused on ensuring that at-risk workers receive an increased remuneration while preserving their health.
The Kibbutz Movement in Israel protected its unemployed members with economic assistance and provided the elderly and children with social support, supplies and recreational activities, initiatives made possible due to its structured solidarity mechanisms.
For the Mondragon Corporation in Spain, being part of a cooperative network played an important role during the crisis, enabling it to develop collaborative and participative solutions, such as increasing health and safety protocols. At the request of the Spanish government, Mondragon stepped in to address the lack of available PPE. Throughout 2020 Mondragon's worker cooperatives produced 340 million masks for healthcare professionals.
Likewise, for Sancor Seguros Group in Argentina the cooperative principles were key to gaining customers’ trust, as were the insurer’s contributions to its local community.
Long term measures
Cooperatives also adopted long-term measures to help members, employees and communities recover from the pandemic. Midcounties launched a £75,000 Community Restart Fund where charities and community groups could apply for emergency financial support. in addition to carrying out surveys and holding virtual events. Similarly, IFFCO implemented a range of long-term measures such as flexible office and home working hours to support colleagues while continuing operations.
The survey confirmed that continuing to operate while protecting stakeholders was a key challenge for most ICETT members surveyed and that the values and principles at the core of the cooperative identity contributed to the efficient and effective adaptation of these enterprises to unpredictable, often extreme conditions. Throughout the crisis, ICETT members maintained a clear focus on supporting the economic recovery while rebuilding businesses and communities.
As shown by the ICETT survey, despite being thoroughly affected by the crisis, cooperative businesses proved once again to be resilient in times of crisis. Taking this into account, the Monitor recommends that governments and private institutions conduct surveys and investigate what cooperatives need the most during crises. Once the key issues have been identified, policymakers and financial institutions could put in place more effective countermeasures.