The Cape Town Global Conference and General Assembly was an eye opener for Africa, said Tepsy Ntseoane, President of the South African Women in Co-operatives. Ms Ntseoane, who took part in the event, said the event had helped to raise the profile of co-operative enterprises on the continent.
In an interview with CNBCA Africa, she spoke about the great contribution of co-operatives to the African economy. “Co-operatives are a vehicle to promote inclusive growth. In South Africa we are still behind,” she said. According to Ms Ntseoane, co-operatives in South Africa are generally perceived as a means to rise out of poverty. However, co-operatives are also successful enterprises, she said.
Joining the discussion, Simel Esim, Chief of the Co-operative Branch at the International Labour Organization, also said co-operatives were not just successful small businesses. She added that co-operatives needed to make their voices heard.
“We need to get this message out to our leaders who are making these decisions about laws, policies and allocations. We need to get this message out to the private sector as well because co-operatives could help make the values chains more competitive and fairer at the same time.”
Finance is one of the key challenges faced by African co-operatives when starting up. Although the South African Government offers grants to people seeking to start-up co-operative enterprises, the lack of skills remains a great barrier, according to Tepsy Ntseoane.
“Co-operatives are started by people who are not educated. Co-operatives should be taught how to write up their own business plans so that they can have a compass that would direct them. They must have a vision. They must have an objective. They must know their products. Co-operatives should be able to identify where the gap in the market is,” she said.
She suggested providing training for co-operatives to help them develop a bankable business plan to help them receive finance. She said: “The financial sector comes on board when the business plan is good.”
Simel Esim also highlighted that saving and credit co-operatives (SACCOs) have been flourishing across Africa. They helped to finance producers and agricultural co-operatives. However Ms Esim thinks the emphasis should not be placed on co-ops as just small businesses.
“We need to think big,” she said, arguing that co-operatives had more than just a small community development function. “They are economic associations and need to be integrated and put at the centre of agricultural development, value chains, trade policies of Africa. We see that happening in other regions and I think Africa has a great potential.”
Ms Esim said Africa should look at Quebec in Canada, “a co-operative heaven”, and try to promote co-operative enterprises more. An ILO report showed that co-operatives have proved to be more resilient in times of crisis. They also help to create a sense of solidarity, said Ms Esim. In Japan co-operatives were among the first to help rebuild the communities affected by the earthquake.
“We really need to get the message out. Millions are benefiting from it. It is time that Africa does too,” added Simel Esim.