During this crisis, cooperatives around the world have responded quickly to help members and the communities they live in. Below you will read actions by organisations that show not just how the cooperative model can forge a strong path toward recovery, but also the leadership that grows in times of crises. Some of these stories are extraordinary, yet quite ordinary, as these are after all cooperatives. Concern for Community and Cooperation Among Cooperatives are strong values of the cooperative movement.
Return to Cooperative Endeavors During COVID-19
Self-Employed Women's Association
India’s Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA), members of the International Health Cooperative Organization (IHCO) and the International Organization of Industrial and Service Cooperatives (CICOPA) were among the first to respond to the pandemic highlighting the impact of the crisis on informal workers, identifying it as a double pandemic with people potentially losing both their lives and livelihoods. SEWA members like healthcare cooperative Lok Swasthya were implementing immediate measures to resist the crisis. Lok Swasthya continues to run low cost pharmacies, manufacture low cost sanitizers at their Ayurvedic manufacturing unit. The federation’s other cooperatives are supplying food to children and the aged, producing low cost masks while also creating awareness on the pandemic locally. SEWA is lobbying with government(s) for cash transfers to informal women workers’ accounts as solatium and loans to help women work and earn income again. SEWA is also pushing for universal health coverage, universal childcare and micro-insurance through investing in cooperatives. Read the full report made by the ILO here.
Bulgaria's Central Cooperative Union
Bulgaria’s Central Cooperative Union acted fast and created an online platform called COOP CARE to facilitate immediate requests of essential food products and PPE, and to keep the cooperative community abreast on the development of the pandemic. In their testimonial, the CCU-Bulgaria expressed gratitude to Italian cooperatives that delivered disinfectants and cleaning detergents for consumption throughout Bulgaria. Read coverage by Cooperative Europe here and watch the video-story here.
Association of Asian Confederation of Credit Unions
The credit cooperative sector in the Philippines transformed into reaction centres. Association of Asian Confederation of Credit Unions (ACCU) said credit unions in the Philippines were also able to redirect member education funds to assist frontline health workers and communities in response to the crisis. Cooperatives have participated in distributing food and fresh produce to people’s doorsteps. NATCCO cooperatives shared PHP 91 million to support members, community, staff and officers. CLIMBS Life and General Insurance Cooperative (CLIMBS) initiated many initiatives, to include mobilising teams to check on members in areas badly hit by COVID-19 and increased access to online platforms for members to communicate their concerns. A CLIMBS COVID-19 Task Force was created on March 11, 2020 to develop a Crisis Management and Communications Plan. Read more here about other CLIMBS efforts to help the community, and also efforts by AIM Coop, the PCC, and 1Cooperative Insurance.
Sweden based We Effect gathered information from their partner organizations (mostly cooperatives) in 23 countries and ran a Twitter campaign using #coronavoices. In collaboration with 30 organizations, this leading global NGO advocated with lawmakers to defend the 1% of Gross National Product dedicated to developing cooperatives. Complete coverage of European countries’ cooperative response prepared by Cooperatives Europe can be found here.
Karachi Cooperative Housing Societies Union
Board directors of the Karachi Cooperative Housing Societies Union in Pakistan individually assisted the community by arranging rations for several hundred people working with the union. Housing cooperatives in Canada launched a member survey to understand how the crisis affected cooperatives and how the federation can support them. These cooperatives also made significant donations to food banks across Canada. The Cooperative Housing International covered news related to cooperatives and the crisis in their bulletin that can be accessed here.
International Cooperative Banking Association
The International Cooperative Banking Association reported that the Polish National Cooperative Council developed multiple measures to support cooperatives. This included accessing exemptions for cooperative employees from paying social security contributions and for cooperatives to be exempt from taxes and levies in Q2 based on the percentage of loss in income. Further, the Cooperative Bank of Kenya donated US$1 million to the government of Kenya to help to contain spread of COVID-19. Cooperative Mortgage Bank of Nigeria donated medical aids to one of the states affected by the virus with an advisory to stay safe and stay committed to defeat COVID-19. Cooperative Credit & Banking Sector India was also making a financial contribution. The National Federation of State Cooperative Banks (NAFSCOB) in India released a statement that declared the cooperative model is the “right vehicle for reviving the economy during/post pandemic time.” This highlighted their support to the Government to rehabilitate 700 street dwellers (destitutes) permanently and contribute INR 20 million to the Chief Minister’s Disaster Relief Fund.
National Cooperative Business Association - Cooperative League of the USA
The National Cooperative Business Association - Cooperative League of the USA (NCBA-CLUSA) reported that cooperatives are eligible to have access to the economic disaster packages passed by the U.S. Congress. The organization is working to ensure cooperatives in all sectors are eligible. Cooperatives in major sectors deemed essential services – including food, agriculture and credit union, are part of this disaster package. NCBA-CLUSA is collaborating to demonstrate how cooperatives can play a significant role in the economic recovery from COVID to encourage a more inclusive social economies across the board. This includes converting small businesses to worker and consumer co-ops, making sure rural people can have access to broadband and beneficial electricity (more efficient energy use), and limited equity housing cooperatives.
The Indian Farmers Fertilizer Cooperative (IFFCO)
The Indian Farmers Fertilizer Cooperative (IFFCO) continues to operationalize all its plants during the lockdown period. IFFCO’s managing director called an urgent meeting of its leadership to encourage all to take necessary steps to support cooperatives and rural communities in the fight against the pandemic. IFFCO is taking a multi-pronged approach to address a plethora of challenges, starting with contributing INR 250 Million (approx. USD 3.5 million) to a special fund created by the Prime Minister of India to tackle the crisis. Making use of its network of 36,000 cooperatives, IFFCO organized more than 1000 relief and awareness programmes across India, which provides citizens and individual members with PPE including masks, sanitizers, soaps, V-C tablets and food ration. The cooperative implemented safety measures and kept its plants running to ensure that India’s 1.3 billion people don’t have to face a plant-nutrient deficiency in the future. IFFCO also kept its Farmer Service Centres and other outlets operational and eliminated constraints on the last-mile delivery of products. A ‘Break the Corona Chain’ social awareness program was also launched to decrease the rate of infection. Read more on IFFCO’s mammoth efforts here.
The Uralungal Labour Contract Cooperative Society (ULCCS)
The Uralungal Labour Contract Cooperative Society (ULCCS) of India started community kitchens to feed the hungry, specially arranged transportation for guest workers to reach their homes (3000 km away from Kerala), and provided cleaning and sanitising services to cities and hospitals. Their disaster management team was ready to meet any urgent hospital needs. ULCCS and its members have also provided information technology support to Government of Kerala to include what is now the official COVID-19 communication for the government called “GoK Direct”. ULCCS, one of the oldest and largest workers’ cooperative (Primary level) movements in Asia remains committed to take this crisis as an opportunity to redefine the future and move to the next level of excellence by creating meaningful global collaborations and partnerships, bringing together management professionals, engineers, and entrepreneurs to work as a single team to find solutions to redefine the future. ULCCS is collaborating with the Indian institute of Management Kozhikode (IIMK ) on defining the post COVID-19 environment and how organisations like ULCCS can use new opportunities in key areas like construction, IT/ITeS, education, agriculture, tourism sectors. As one of the premier management institutes in India, IIMK can play a pivotal role to study the new possibilities and prepare for the post-COVID-19 era.
The Confederation of Cooperatives of Catalonia
The Confederation of Cooperatives of Catalonia in Spain has implemented a series of measures for cooperatives, including free legal and economic advice, a solidarity contingency fund that offers immediate liquidity and opening of a line of guarantees to access higher funding, and online training sessions. Courier cooperatives distributed health care material to the community, agricultural cooperatives collaborated with local governments to disinfect installations and streets in cities. Bookstores have enabled online sales distribution and healthcare centres have implemented an online service to provide psychological care, support for families, care for children and the elderly living alone. School cooperatives have operationalized their work through the use of ICT.
HeW Coop, Japan set up a task force on February 19, 2020 to take cognizance of the crisis and ascertain the role of cooperatives in fighting the pandemic. The Japanese Consumers’ Co-operative Union (JCCU) informed the government the difficulties and challenges in the healthcare and welfare businesses. Some of the important measures taken to provide relief include providing compensation based on the period of suspension and the expected number of service users; compensation for medical institutions that provide outpatient services for those who returned to Japan or who had a close contact with the infected; and establishment of conditions to secure PPEs.
National Federation of University Cooperatives Association
National Federation of University Cooperatives Association in Japan actively provided updates using social media, enabling connections all students – new and senior students. Sales have remained steady this year, nevertheless, when the university re-opens in the future, they will have to operate cafeterias, stores and other areas with safety measures in place to avoid crowding. Thus, the number of users will be greatly reduced. This poses a challenge to NFUCA.
iCOOP Korea increased its capacities in special disaster zones and created a COVID-19 Social Healing Project which collected KRW 4.9 Million to support the underprivileged as well as travel and service organizations. Read more on the iCOOP website here.
NTUC FairPrice Cooperative
Singapore-based NTUC Income announced that over 500,000 employees of organisations insured by its Group Employee Benefits policies will receive COVID-19 coverage at no additional premium. NTUC FairPrice Cooperative (FairPrice) supplied food and daily necessities. Along with strategic partners, FairPrice had pledged S$240,000 to the ComChest Heartstrings Buy, a community engagement initiative to benefit the less privileged. FairPrice has also pledged a donation of S$500,000 to the Lee Ah Mooi Old Age Home, Metta Welfare Association, Assisi Hospice, Touch Community Services and Food from the Heart, through online grocery orders. In addition, FairPrice Group, NTUC Foodfare Cooperative and Kopitiam have provided S$120,000 worth of MILO beverages to hospital healthcare workers.
Central Union of Agricultural Credit Cooperatives
Turkey’s Central Union of Agricultural Credit Cooperatives took a series of measures to protect its members against COVID-19 and helped primary cooperatives continue their grassroots work. All enforcement and bankruptcy proceedings carried out throughout the country have been suspended as of 30 April 2020. The union offered flexibility on loan payments. A force majeure note was recorded in the Register in the Risk Center to address farmers credit debt. Loan principal and interest amounts set to expire in April and May will be postponed for 2 months without interest. Read the full story here. Pankobirlik, The Sugar-Beet Producers’ Cooperative Union purchased a large amount of sugar-beet at a time when economic activities were decreasing due to the pandemic, and also supplied ethanol to the market to support the manufacture of PPE. Bursa Ecza Koop (Pharmacy Cooperative of Bursa) took steps to distribute free PPEs to members and frontline workers who are working on fighting the pandemic. summarized its work during this pandemic. Read full coverage here.
Cooperar from Argentina sent out a message to cooperators and the community as a whole to reaffirm that the cooperative model is the answer to the health emergency. The message can be read here. The cooperative shared vital information and news regarding the pandemic and concerning Argentinian cooperatives through their website and social media using #SigamosCooperando. This information covered items related to utilities, telecommunications and other cooperatives are doing in Argentina. Leaders and management of the organisation also released video messages to raise awareness about the need to stay home and to express gratitude to the cooperative members who must work under these conditions, to guarantee the basic goods and services for the life of all the inhabitants of the country.
Cooperative Movement in Iran
A multitude of collective cooperative efforts in Iran are underway to increase production of materials and items needed for personal protection equipment. This includes masks, disinfectants, detergents, clothing and even raw materials. The cooperative networks of the Iranian Chamber of Cooperatives, Union of Knowledge-Based Cooperatives of Tehran Province, The Iranian Cooperative Union of Petrochemical, cooperatives in Hormozgan province, Ishraq Dibaj Damghan Cooperative Company and various women-owned cooperatives like the Behzist Gonbad Production Cooperative all continue to work closely with their local municipalities and the national government to increase production and ensure widespread distribution.
Centrosoyuz of Russia
The Centrosoyuz of Russia is delivering basic goods and medicine to elderly and disabled people in most regions of Russia and essential goods to people living in remote and rural areas in self-isolation by means of ‘avtolavka’ (COOP food trucks). Regional cooperative unions worked in close cooperation with regional emergency response centers to assist in preventing the spreading of virus and contribute to stable food supply and monitoring of prices and distance learning for students of educational organisations of consumer cooperatives. A “simply working” (#простоработаем) campaign was launched to demonstrate that cooperatives are continuing to work and no panic should occur (e.g. simply producing food; simply delivering basic goods and medicine; simply teaching students online, etc.). Some cooperative enterprises started producing masks for the local population.
AJEEC NISPED of Israel opened the doors to the first COVID-19 Situation Room in the Negev Bedouin community to centralize efforts to prevent the spread of the virus. The Situation Room is a partnership between all the civil society and cooperative organizations in the Negev and all local municipalities. This effort is coordinated closely with the different government ministries and the Home Front Command. In addition,AJEEC NISPED provided 50,000 masks in the unrecognized villages, launched a special social media campaign for Ramadan, helped prevent crowded gatherings around banks and supermarkets and distributed 6,000 educational kits for children. The following needs have emerged per the Situation Room’s report: 20,000 food packages are needed for families and 1,400 sanitization products for the unrecognized villages.
Cooperative Business New Zealand
Cooperative Business New Zealand reported that even with significant government support schemes being rapidly activated around wage subsidies, bank loans, etc., the country was already seeing a significant rise in unemployment, now now anticipated to rise to between 10-30% over the coming year/s). Food supply is not an issue, as New Zealand is able to source locally and the cooperative community (generates 19% of New Zealand's GDP) provides a significant proportion of the food supplies (both as a producer, but also as one of the two major super market food chains). The country’s borders will be closed for an extended period of time.
Cooperative Business New Zealand actively lobbied on behalf of their members to ensure they are identified as essential services and receive assistance to access PPE's. The organization also acts as a conduit to the government on key issues/opportunities to be part of the economy rebuild.
Agricultural Cooperatives Union of Palestine
Palestine’s Economic and Social Development Centre (ESDC) provided sterilisation materials for 26 cooperatives, to be used in production and other places with daily operations and customer interactions. To enhance food security, ESDC participated in a national campaign to create home gardens by delivering 100,000 seedlings to 1000 cooperative members. A survey was conducted of families/ farmers/ workers affected by the lockdown which resulted in lost incomes. As a result, a voucher project was implemented to provide relief to the most vulnerable families, and consumer cooperativess provided food baskets to the poor and offered basic food supplies at lowest prices.
The Agricultural Cooperatives Union of Palestine (PACU) bought produce from farmers’ and women’s cooperatives affected by COVID-19 restrictions and provided food baskets for families in need. PACU is also lobbying for the diversion of funds from halted export and import activities to conducting trial shipments of PACU products to potential buyers in the UAE and Saudi Arabia.
Cooperative Movement in Nepal
As of April 19, 2020, the total financial contribution of the cooperative movement in Nepal to various funds created at the federal, provincial, and local levels, is NPR 20,172,076. The helping hands are increasing day by day.
The National Cooperative Federation of Nepal (NCF) appealed cooperatives at all levels to provide digital services to their members where possible to maintain social distance guidelines. The NCF created a Corona Prevention Fund to support the Corona Control Cooperative Center and the Coronavirus Infection, Prevention, Control and Treatment Fund established by the Federal Government.
Additionally, Nepal Federation of Savings and Credit Cooperative Union Ltd. (NEFSCUN), Central Dairy Cooperative Association Ltd. (CDCAN), Nepal Multipurpose Central Cooperative Union Ltd. (NEMCCU), National Cooperative Bank Ltd. (NCBL), including other central and district level cooperative unions offered service delivery and support to their members.
Nepal Agricultural Central Cooperative Federation (NACCFL) collected and sold members' fresh vegetables in Kathmandu during the lockdown period at the lowest cost possible. A fresh vegetable delivery service was also established in Jankpurdham by the Janakpur Province Land Management Agriculture, and Sailandra Sah, the Cooperative Minister. Province 1 cooperatives are also providing logistic support to provide food and clothes to the poor people.
Cooperatives are also providing ambulance services to COVID-19 infected patients and free PPEs to security personals in different provinces.
A large number of financial cooperatives are reducing their interest rates to help members manage their finances during the pandemic. However, the services they offer are vulnerable. Withdrawal rates are high, and a significant number of small financial cooperatives are at risk because of the financial disparity. Financial cooperatives that do not offer online service platforms or ATMs, are providing door-to-door services to members who need quick access to funds, and also offering more flexible terms for loans. There are 450,000 farmer members dairy cooperatives in Nepal, who are members of 1,760 Dairy Producer Primary Cooperatives who collect raw milk from their members to be processed at processing plants, which are currently closed. To temporary resolve this, the primary cooperatives are selling milk to their unions and private dairy companies. Tea and other produce cooperatives are facing harvesting challenges due to worker shortages and will have to face a financial deficit. Some are still managing to sell their products in local markets while following social distancing rules.
National Cooperative Union of India
The National Cooperative Union of India released a statement on the role of cooperatives and the apex union in responding to the COVID-19 related challenges. The first initiative of Indian cooperators from across the countryis to support the Prime Minister’s clarion call to observe a self-imposed ‘Janata (public) curfew’ on Sunday 22nd March and restrict their movement to very essential activities. Many cooperatives across the country extended their help to the needy people by offering food, money and other means of support including essentials groceries like food grains, rice, lentils in order to support the Government to fight against the corona virus. Big and small cooperatives are doing their share to fight the pandemic, with several consumer cooperatives playing an important role in providing the essential items to the public at their doorstep in rural and urban areas at a reasonable price.
Cooperatives across the country are spreading awareness about the pandemic through the distribution of pamphlets, providing food to needy people in rural areas through community kitchens, and also distributing masks, hand sanitizers and other protective gear to hospital staff and health workers who are facing shortages. As a protective measure, some cooperative banks and factories have installed a “disinfection tunnel” to protect employees and customers.
To lower the risk of a milk shortage, plants outside Gujarat state were purchased to process the surplus milk procured from dairy cooperative farmers to ensure security of livelihood of these farmers as well as continuous supply of milk and other dairy products. During the pandemic lockdown period, some cooperative banks are offering door to door cash service through mobile ATM vans to their members.
The National Agricultural Cooperative Marketing Federation of India (NAFED) has been entrusted by the Government of India to provide 100 million households I kg of pulses each for three months throughout the country. Thousands of fertilizer cooperative workers have been working tirelessly to ensure farmers don’t face shortages. IFFCO and KRIBHCO have been delivering fertilizer to farmers at their doorstep.
The National Level cooperatives including IFFCO, KRIBHCO, Nafed and several cooperative organisations including Cooperative Banks have contributed generously to the Prime Minister’s Citizen Assistance and Relief in Emergency Situations Fund (PM CARES Fund) - a national fund dedicated to providing relief in emergency situations, like the COVID-19 pandemic. Many cooperative employees have also voluntarily contributed one day’s salary to the fund. Cooperative organisations have contributed about 45 Crores Indian Rupees (USD$6 million) to the fund.
Cooperatives at the Kerala State have also actively participated and extended support to State government’s initiative in combating the pandemic. The World Health Organization (WHO) recently recognized the Kerala States’ handling the outbreak as a ‘success story’ and such model may be adopted to fight against the COVID-19.
Government support to cooperatives
The Department of Agriculture Cooperation and Farmers Welfare is using CROP software to issue farmers with Registration Certificates required to use pesticides and other crop protection chemicals. The Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers’ Welfare recently launched the “Kisan Rath” (Farmers’ Chariot) App to help farmers and traders identify the best way to transport farm produce.
The Government is also providing concessional crop loans to farmers through banks with low interest rates. The Small Industries Development Bank of India (SIDBI) has decided to offer 150 billion rupees for various business entities presently facing financial difficulties and will provide loans to the micro, small and medium enterprises including cooperative societies through banks, non-banking finance companies and microfinance institutions. In a major decision, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI)– the country’s central bank - has asked all banks including cooperative banks and Urban Co-operative Banks to hold the payment of dividends for the year 2019-20 until further instructions so that the banks conserve capital to retain their capacity to support the economy and absorb losses. The Cooperative Banks have given three-month moratorium to borrowers who have taken loans from the bank.