Posted: Friday, July 1, 2022. 2:15 pm CST.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of Breaking Belize News.
Contributed by Gareth Murillo, Registrar of Co-operatives:
This Saturday, July 2, is being commemorated globally and locally as the International Day of Co-operatives.
Marked by co-operatives worldwide since 1923 and officially proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly on the centenary of the International Co-operative Alliance (ICA) in 1995, the International Day of Co-operatives is celebrated annually on the first Saturday of July.
This year’s celebration will be the 100th International Co-operative Day, the 28th International Day of Co-operatives recognized by the United Nations, and will mark a decade from the International Year of Co-operatives in 2012.
The aim of CoopsDay is to increase awareness of co-operatives and promote the movement’s ideas of international solidarity, economic efficiency, equality, and world peace. Since 1995, the ICA and the United Nations through the Committee for the Promotion and Advancement of Cooperatives (COPAC) have jointly set the theme for the celebration of CoopsDay.
This year’s #CoopsDay theme — “Cooperatives Build a Better World”— echoes the theme of the International Year. “Cooperatives are answering the wake-up call of UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who warned that the world is ‘on the edge of an abyss — and moving in the wrong direction’, and exclaimed that ‘to restore trust, and inspire hope, we need cooperation, we need dialogue, we need understanding’. For nearly two centuries, cooperatives have been pulling in this direction. This was amply highlighted at the 33rd World Cooperative Congress, held by the International Cooperative Alliance in December 2021, which focused a spotlight on how their shared identity is moving cooperatives to take action to address the world’s problems” declared Bruno Roelants, Director General of the ICA.
In Belize, the co-operative model and movement was introduced back in the late 1930s and early 1940s by Father Marion Ganey SJ, a Roman Catholic priest serving in Belize at the time.
Given the nature of the business model, i.e., shared assets and proportional distribution of profits, government saw the need for regulation, and the Department of Co-operatives was established in 1948. It didn’t become operational though until the mid-1950s. Today, Chapter 313, Laws of Belize (The Co-operative Societies Act) is the governing legislation. The first registered co-operative was St. Peter Claver Credit Union in 1943 followed by Holy
Redeemer Credit Union in 1944. The first industrial co-operative was Northern Fishermen Co-operative registered in 1960.
To commemorate CoopsDay 2022, after two years of low-key events due to COVID19 restrictions, the Department of Co-operatives and the Ministry of Agriculture, Food Security, and Enterprise have organized a ceremony, information day, and mini exposition to be held this Saturday at the Fort Cairns Market Plaza, Orange Walk Town. The ceremony commences at nine-thirty in the morning followed by the other activities. It is being held in conjunction with the Orange Walk Town Council which is hosting a Market Day. All events are open to the public for attendance.
As a part of promoting CoopsDay, we in the Department felt it necessary to contribute this article not only on the day but also on co-operatives in general.
But what exactly is a co-operative?
As defined by the International Co-operative Alliance (ICA), a co-operative is an autonomous association of persons united voluntarily to meet their common economic, social, and cultural needs and aspirations through a jointly owned and democratically controlled enterprise.
Another widely accepted co-operative definition is the one adopted by the USDA in 1987: A co-operative is a user-owned, user-controlled business that distributes benefits on the basis of use. This definition captures what are generally considered the three primary co-operative principles: user ownership, user control, and proportional distribution of benefits.
Co-operatives are people-centered enterprises owned and run by and for their members to realize their common ambitions. Profits generated are either reinvested in the enterprise or returned to the members.
They are based on the values of self-help, self-responsibility, democracy, equality, equity and solidarity. And they operate via seven universally agreed upon principles:
1. Open and Voluntary Membership
2. Democratic Member Control
3. Members’ Economic Participation
4. Autonomy and Independence
5. Education, Training, and Information
6. Cooperation Among Cooperatives
7. Concern for Community
They are owned by their members through shares purchased and other financial investments.
Supreme authority and decision-making lie in the general meeting of members where every member has the right to attend and vote on all issues. The principle of one member-one vote is applied. There is a management committee of seven persons elected by and from among the members. Their role is to execute and act on decisions approved at the general meeting of members. Where applicable, they are also responsible for staff supervision.
Registration of co-operatives falls under the jurisdiction of Chapter 313, Laws of Belize, The Co-operative Societies Act. Internally, co-operatives are guided by by-laws, internal policies, and other industry-specific legislation/regulations.
Co-operative formation and sustainability do face some challenges. These include:
• Need to invest time and money in supporting the democratic process, educating members about key issues, holding meetings, and responding to member concerns. This can be costly and time-consuming.
• As compared to other business models, may have difficulty accessing capital.
• They are only as good as their members make them be. When members stop investing time and energy, co-operatives reduce the benefits they provide to their members.
• Lack of managerial/administrative capacity resulting in poor management of assets, books, and communication breakdowns. These then contribute to issues with accountability, transparency, and member commitment and loyalty.
In its work programs, the Department of Co-operatives engages in the following:
• Urge groups to meet regularly. Frequent meetings are desirable, especially during the early learning stage. The need for regular attendance is demanded.
• Assist groups in setting realistic objectives. Group members must reach a consensus on what will be done, by whom, and by when.
• Help the group choose a name for itself and even assist with logo design. Identity (name/brand) is important. They help build a group’s identity and promote member solidarity.
• Discuss goals and expectations always reminding that the advantages of group action are realized through hard work, self-sacrifice, and a clear focus on realistic group objectives.
• Work with farmers and other producers to identify their problems and prioritize them and help assess their group self-help capacities, their strengths, and resources for solving those problems.
• Assess all the benefits and costs of the organization. Ask the individuals what will be gained from participation and what will it cost in terms of self-sacrifice. Do all the benefits outweigh all the costs?
• Highlight the importance of member contributions. Regular group dues, fees, and savings are essential for sustainability. Moreover, member contributions to group activities help build a sense of group ownership and solidarity.
• Focus on individual profitability. Group action must make economic sense to each. Individual incomes earned through the group should exceed expenses.
• And most importantly, promote groups that are voluntary and democratic. Members should decide through majority vote, or consensus, who joins the group, who will lead them, what rules to follow, and what activities they will undertake.
In a subsequent article, we will share the registration requirements and some facts and figures on co-operatives in Belize.
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