EDITORIAL: Cooperative movement needs greater attention
Last Saturday, a number of Barbadians celebrated International Cooperatives Day with activities at Pelican Village, The City, and there was the usual rhetoric associated with such occasions. Many Barbadians are cooperators, but few appreciate this fact.
The focus in Barbados has been heavily on one aspect of cooperatives – the credit unions which have been the poster boy(s) of the movement. Agriculture and transport and an insurance company have been the success stories for the general cooperative system.
Unfortunately, we may have missed a golden opportunity to give the cooperative movement the necessary thrust in 2012 when that year was designated International Year Of Cooperatives by the United Nations. Whilst much was made of the observance in places such as Canada, Israel and Jamaica, the occasion went almost unnoticed here.
This was regrettable since the cooperative movement has been growing across the world even during the economic recession and financial meltdown. It is the backbone of many economies and supports a wide range of small and medium-sized enterprises.
The blame for the failure to take off of the cooperative movement in Barbados must be placed at the feet of Government, which has largely failed to sensitise citizens of the tremendous benefits it can bring, especially during these austere economic times.
The cooperative way of doing business has been held up internationally as the ideal alternative to incorporation. Yes, it is a business and it must make profits. However, the cooperative model does not place members’ interests secondary to maximising of returns.
This seems a logical way to get former workers at agencies such as the National Conservation Commission and the Transport Board, among others, to work in organised groups to compete for and fulfil contracts. The members own the cooperative.
Unfortunately, the 2012 observance came and went without any fanfare. There was no real gain for cooperators or tangible benefits for the advancement of the movement.
The umbrella body, the Barbados Cooperative and Credit Union League Limited, was no better than Government as its raison d’être is credit unions. This is perhaps best recognised by the absence of any full-fledged non-credit unionists from its board of directors. The emphasis is placed on credit unions.
With the regulation of the credit unions having been removed from the Cooperatives Department to the recently established and much higher profile Financial Services Commission, the non-financial cooperatives will need tremendous help to ensure not only their success, but the growth of the sector.
The Cooperatives Department will have to be in the spotlight throughout the year and not just for the one day’s celebration annually. It must be aggressive in taking its message of the benefits of cooperatives across this country. The desired results will not be achieved if it continues to function like the typical Government department. We should seek external help. This is crucial in the drive to building entrepreneurship.