By Fred Sitati
Cooperatives, by their very definition, are formed to serve the socio-economic and cultural needs of their members.
However, the majority of cooperatives in Africa are agro-based and financial in nature while aspects of social services are given a wide berth.
In view of the challenges facing humanity globally courtesy of covid-19 pandemic, it is now absolutely necessary for new types of cooperatives to be formed to specifically focus on the social wellbeing of their members.
What immediately comes to mind is the need to promote Health and Worker cooperatives to pay special attention to healthcare of the cooperators as well as protection of the planet by forming cooperatives comprising mainly the youths
Alongside this, service cooperatives to promote the uptake of technology are something that can no longer be taken for granted…
It is in public domain that the existing public and private healthcare facilities have been overstretched to the extent that some Corona patients have no access to medical care hence facing the danger of easily succumbing to the disease that is causing untold sufferings to many households across the world.
It is for this reason that cooperatives need to pay urgent attention to matters health (and progressively education) since the cooperative movement has the wherewithal to complement governments in improving the lives of the people..
Such change of focus will change the mindset of cooperatives some of which only perceive cooperatives are instruments of generating surpluses for their members !
In fact, the financial cooperatives are in the habit of competing amongst themselves in declaration of dividends and payment of interest to their members which is also used as a tool for perpetuating their stay in office since current laws don’t cap the terms of office of office bearers..
While elections are held democratically and regularly in line with the cooperative principles, we note that some boards/committee have some deficiencies in competencies to run their cooperatives in the most professional manner.
This needs to be remedied by introducing Independent Directors in the cooperative movement to offer the much-needed professional input to make cooperatives competitive and attractive and, above all, inspire confidence of members and third parties.
While this may be resisted and even fought viciously by the leaders, they need to be reminded that what is in the best interest of the ordinary members overrides any other vested interests from any quarter
Indeed such a move would be proactive rather than reactive since it has been difficult to rein in persons who mismanaged cooperatives’ despite there being stringent laws and oversight organs mandated to keep tabs on their societies’ day-to-day operations.
Given the ever-growing healthcare needs of the people, cooperatives need to see this as an opportunity for them to run away with by forming health cooperatives to promote health education besides Medicare.
Additionally, there is an urgent need to mobilise the youths in particular to form Worker cooperatives to address environmental Conservation efforts necessary to mitigate Climate change that threatens the planet .
One other potential area for the cooperative movement is to promote formation of Service cooperatives to exclusively provide ICT services to cooperatives and other possible users, here at home and beyond.
There are thousands of jobless IT savvy youths who could benefit from such Initiatives at a time when most business transactions and communication are now driven by technology.
Other potential area is Education .
Cooperatives schools are operating seamlessly in certain parts of our region, especially in the eSwatini Kingdom, something all African countries need to emulate as part of the post-C19 recovery strategies.
In conclusion, it is incumbent upon countries in Africa in particular to give serious attention to the new frontiers discussed above as we look forward to “Deepening Our Cooperative Identity “ during the forthcoming World Cooperative Congress in Seoul, South Korea in December 2021 to be hosted by the International Cooperative Alliance
Other direct benefits to accrue from the expansion of cooperative activities are job creation opportunities that would go along way in creating harmony, peace and stability in our society as a whole …