Do cooperatives still value the democratic member control principle?


As a financial year comes to an end, cooperatives need to review the year’s performance through the annual general meetings.

Cooperatives are democratic organizations that are controlled by members, who actively participate in setting policies and making decisions. Members are the source of all authority and the basic unit of democratic control.

Members need to understand that they are the foundation of the cooperative business, being the reason for its existence. Member support, through patronage and capital investment, is essential for the cooperative’s health.

They have powers that range from adopting and amending the bylaws, and electing, and if necessary, removing the Board of Directors. They expect officers, directors, and other agents to comply with the law under which the business was set up, as well as examine membership contracts and annual reports, among other powers.

They own their responsibilities, get informed about the cooperative, provide necessary capital and keep evaluating the performance of the cooperative.

The member exercises control through voting at annual general meetings, electing the cooperative leadership of their choice, and participating in making decisions on major cooperative issues.

The general assembly, which is the annual general meeting, is the highest policy-making organ and the only platform the powers are exercised in accordance with the Cooperative Act and the society by-laws.

Annual General Meetings (AGMs) are responsible of laying grounds on how the cooperative is run in the next one year. Unfortunately, most cooperators do not utilize this opportunity and end up regretting when things don’t go the way they wanted.

If members take seriously this opportunity and get to know their powers, our cooperatives would experience very positive growth and make the AGMs productive.

In most cases, democratic control is mistaken for cooperative politics and ruins the whole idea of having positive participation in running the cooperatives.

However, the spirit of democracy encourages members to give maximum support to the cooperative. The member feels free to come up with positive resolutions that are meant to add value and for the continued improvement of the overall cooperative goals.

Poor politics should be discouraged in the cooperative movement as they may deny them visionary leadership. Stability of our cooperative societies falls in the hands of cooperators who apply this principle of democratic member control. They can choose to utilize this privilege rightfully or exchange the right with a short-term benefit.

Consequently, members should ensure they participate in the operating policy reviews, which sometimes is left to the management and leadership of the cooperatives. They forget that these policies and regulations are the guiding principles that affect them directly.

Besides electing good leaders, there should be sober formulation of rules and regulations. This is because the leaders elected will have to abide with the set rules and regulations.

Even in situations where there are bad leaders, they must follow the existing operating regulations as any changes need the members’ approval.

Members of cooperatives should be encouraged to attend the general meetings and ensure they participate in the discussions. They should stand up for the ideas they feel would improve the performance of their cooperatives, as well as question any unclear procedures.

It is important to note that if the members do not correct an issue in the forums provided, it is likely it will be rolled over to next financial year.

Therefore, cooperatives should take it upon themselves to educate their members on their rights and responsibilities as well as their obligations to keep their membership active and alert. They should also create elaborate structures and avenues to allow members to give their views through open forums, as well as invite suggestions through clear communication channels to reach the members effectively.

And since much of the control authority is delegated to the Board of Directors, the most important action a member can take is to actively participate in the selection/election process.

Nevertheless, professionalism should be key in conducting general elections, letting principle number two of the cooperative movement remain significant.

By CCOP Dorcas Nyambura Ndegwa

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