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Ms. Anasmita Ghosh, a second year Master’s student at the Institute of Rural Management Anand, India writes about her 6-week Summer Internship at ICA-AP

 

 

Amul, Manthan, dairy, agriculture, farmers…these are some of the commonplace terms that come to an average Indian’s mind when asked about co-operatives. However, the reach of co-operatives is much greater than that! In today’s rapidly changing world, the co-operative model needs to be urgently propagated because solutions for contemporary problems, such as unemployment, poverty, exploitation of local production systems, etc. can be partially provided through the successful implementation of co-operatives. The International Co-operative Alliance (ICA) is dedicated towards the promotion of the co-operative sector, and through my work as an intern at the Asia-Pacific regional office of ICA, my perspectives on what co-operatives are and how they contribute towards development have changed significantly.

 

As a second-year student of Rural Management at IRMA, I had some knowledge of what co-operatives are, but again it was mostly limited to perceptions of dairy and agriculture co-operatives in India. Through my work at ICA-AP, I have learnt that co-operatives are not just social welfare organizations limited to producers at the grassroots level but are viable economic institutions that prioritize the needs of their members and community in a sustainable manner. Some of the key learnings that I have received during my stint at ICA-AP have changed the way I perceive and think about co-operatives:

 

The co-operative model can be applied to virtually any sector. During my first week at ICA-AP, I was surprised to learn about the different committees of ICA and the vast range of sectors that they are aligned with, such as youth, university, research, women, agriculture, bank, forestry etc. Members may range from farmer producers and factory workers to consumers and even students. Nobody is excluded from co-operatives.

 

There are multiple stakeholders that are involved in the development of the co-operative sector. It is not just in the interest of the co-operative organizations and their worker members, but many others like welfare organizations, policy advocacy groups, academicians, government bodies, private entities etc. are also invested in the growth and creation of co-operatives. International bodies such as EU and ILO work with co-operatives to promote them and to create an enabling environment at regional, national and international levels. Government bodies contribute in terms of institutional strengthening, legal and policy framework, while private organizations can contribute in terms of human resources development and financial strengthening. 

 

Every country has their own unique co-operative ecosystem. Globalization and influx of technology has led to the standardization of international corporate structures, but co-operatives are businesses that serve the needs of the people who use it and thus are more attuned towards the requirements of the local population. Co-operatives are local institutions that address local needs by using local talent and infrastructure.

 

The impact of co-operatives is not just restricted to the local level, they are also important contributors towards development at higher levels. Many international bodies (ILO, EU, UN) have realised the contribution of co-operatives as towards the achievement of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and are actively working to promote this model in both developed and developing nations. They are especially useful in contributing towards the achievement of SDG 8, which promotes employment creation, sustainable livelihoods and decent work for all. Similarly, co-operatives contribute to the reduction of poverty through access to basic livelihood opportunities and greater compliance with development policies at all levels.

 

Co-operatives can help alleviate rural problems in a number of ways. The first prominent way in which it does so is through direct ownership of assets. Many small farmers are forced to rent or loan land and equipment in order to produce a meagre amount of output. However, in a co-operative, farmers can pool their marginal resources together in order to gain direct ownership over their assets. Co-operatives can provide a sustained source of income to many rural communities while minimizing the effects of negative externalities, such as limited marketing opportunities, lack of involvement of women, and financial losses. Co-operatives promote access to greater markets and less vulnerability due to fixed rates. They enable groups of women to find decent work especially in post-harvesting seasons and reduce losses through greater financial accountability.