By Balu Iyer
In November we will meet in Antalya, Turkey, to look at the role of co-operatives in addressing the major global challenges towards 2020. The Alliance’s Global Conference will give us a chance to not only discuss about sustainability, participation, legal frameworks and capital, but also showcase the dynamism of co-operatives and their innovative approaches.
An important question to be asked is - how can co-operatives innovate and promote best practices not only to stay competitive, but also distinguish themselves as a co-operative enterprise? This topic was also debated at the 30th annual convention of the Indian Society for Studies in Cooperation (ISSC), which I have recently attended.
The Institute, a Deemed University, was set up by contemporaries of Mahatma Gandhi, Dr T. S. Soundaram and Dr G. Ramachandran in 1956. It embodies Gandhi’s revolutionary concept of “Nai Talim” system of education, in which knowledge and work are not separate. In the words of Mahatma Gandhi, “the principal idea is to impart the whole education of the body, mind and soul through the handicraft that is taught to the children.”
ISSC has long history of promoting study, research and teaching of co-operatives in the areas of policy development in India and abroad, and in administrative and management of co-operative enterprises. The main theme of the Convention was to highlight some of the innovative co-operative ventures and analyse the best business practices in co-operatives in India.
I began my speech by posing the question, if this is the case, shouldn’t we promote best co-operative practices rather than best practices? The rest of my presentation focused on two areas: global challenges and how can co-operatives respond to these; and the Alliance’s Blueprint for a Co-operative Decade. The blueprint sets out the “2020 vision” for the co-operative form of business to become: the acknowledged leader in economic, social and environmental sustainability; the model preferred by people; and the fastest growing form of enterprise.
With support from the Alliance, a number of initiatives have already been developed in this respect. These include the Doing Co-operative Business Report and the Blue Ribbon Commission on co-operative capital. In terms of identity, we have seen the launch of the co-op marque, which adds to the .coop domain. Another important project has been the Sustainability Scan, which was aimed at assessing to what extent co-operatives were compatible with the notion of sustainability. We have also seen successful co-operative stories featured on stories.coop. The Alliance wants to share information and provide guidance that leads to innovation in co-operatives.
The papers presented at the convention were divided into two areas: innovations and best practices. One of the innovative projects mentioned was scaling of self-help groups (SHGs) by forming co-operative societies with examples from Andhra Pradesh and Jharkand. Another case study came from the Karaikal Women Co-operative Printing Society, which measures performance not only in business terms, but also in terms of empowerment (along poverty, voting, decision making, participation in purchasing, participation in public protest, equality).
Some of the best practices looked were from credit, banking, consumer and industrial co-operatives. The Chiplun Nagari Sahakari Patsanstha credit co-operatives uses mobile service centres to collect deposits, uses of own funds (99.9% recovery and 0% NPA) to finance activities, and engages with children and youth towards their self-employment. The Bhagini Nivedita Co-operative Bank in Pune has earned consistent A class in audit, conducted recruitment on merit, kept politics at a distance, computerised its operations and actively engages its Board.
The two days convention showed the dynamism in co-operatives to innovate and promote best practices not only to stay competitive, but also distinguish themselves as a co-operative enterprise. These issues will be debated in their full complexity during the four plenary sessions at our Global Conference in November. More information on the conference is available at http://www.antalya2015.coop/.
Photo: Balu Iyer at the 30th annual convention of the Indian Society for Studies in Cooperation (ISSC)