Cooperative Association As An Enabler

Through the ages mankind at different times had been compelled into voluntary associations to either address felt needs and, in some cases, combat common challenges. poverty, low wages, inaccessibility to funds and capital etc. Cooperative Association proved to be panacea in the past.

For instance, the first recorded cooperative and pre-cursor of modern cooperatives, the Fenwick Weavers’ Society which signed its operating covenant on March 14, 1761 in Scotland, was formed out of necessity during harsh economic times. There were various needs at the time. The standard of living was low, economically, buyers were not getting fair-price; the future was bleak. Fenwick sought to combat quality and standardization issues by fostering high standards in the weaving craft through members’ associated effort. Sometime afterward, their expanded activities included collective purchasing of bulk food items and selling the contents at a discount.

There was also the need to keep the fledgling group afloat, so, members were required to pay two shillings and six pence membership fee., which went to support the cooperative

By November1769, solution to another subsistence needs had taken shape. cooperative purchased bulk food items.  These, members can take up on credit within a four-week allowable period.

Another need arose in 1839. As industrialization tok its toll, economic outlook for the individual weaving trade became bleak. Through Cooperative support, an emigration society helped members relocation to countries like: Canada, New Zealand, South Africa and the United States

Fenwick was a free-entry, free-exit cooperative association borne to address, proactively, members’ needs. The cooperative fitted Alexander Dumas’ popular musketeer slogan: All for One; One for all.

The 28 weaver-artisans of Rochdale, England made history in 1844 as the first modern cooperative business; the Rochdale Equitable Pioneers Society. They successfully navigated the prevailing needs of the time which included: poor working conditions, low wages, high prices of food and high prices of household goods and they could not afford the high prices of food and household goods. Solution exploration led to pooling limited resources and collaboration among members. Post-implementation, they could access basic goods at a lower price. 

Pioneers decided it was time shoppers were treated with honesty, openness, and respect, that they should be able to share in the profits that their custom contributed to and that they should have a democratic right to have a say in the business. 

Members of Rochdale cooperatives changed service narratives, positively by introducing the concept of Dividend payment (share in the profits) to their buyers (shoppers) whom they treated with honesty, openness, and respect. Expectedly, the product chain increased within a shortwhile and the service period and duration equally increased.  Thus, the cooperative typically meets various needs linked to subsistence and survival. Essentially, cooperative society is adaptable to many situations that aims at improving the individual and collective circumstance.

Interestingly, the Nigerian, nay, African landscape is in a dire ‘rescue-me-mode’ (RMM). Needs abound, still, in the various sectors of the economy; Health, education, Insurance, Industry and utilities, Wholesale and retail trade, Agriculture, food industries and micro finance etc.  The various sectors would fare better with a dose of strength-imbuing stimulants. The Cooperative can provide this.

To address these limitations, there is a need to another level delineation of the cooperative sector into Intermediate and Advance or elevated cooperative.

Intermediate Cooperative concerns self with the aggregation of like-mind-members in a free-entry: free exit mode. Central to Intermediate Cooperative is the focus on addressing all basic subsistence needs. Advance or elevated cooperative on the other hand aggregates associations to address Infrastructural needs.

Countries Like Ethiopia, Kenya, Morocco, even Rwanda and a host of others in Africa have used Co-operative societies to improve their national, communal and individual lot. But there are still grounds to cover. 

While both Intermediate and Elevated needs abound in present day Nigeria, if properly channeled cooperative would prove to be the enhancer aggregating, segmenting and igniting the productive capacities of the Nigerian populace along interest and specialties lines.  Having said that, management of the aggregated mass in their various cluster would be made easy when a degree of automation is linked to member management. This will make for easy cooperative management ultimately; particularly if automation starts alongside each cooperative formation. This pointer underscores the importance of automated record.

There are many benefits inherent in cooperative practice, which prove to be enabler for economic activities. Cooperative are self-help and mutual help association; members contribute their efforts to promote their common welfare.

Compared to money-market loan and third-party lenders, Co-operatives loans are booked at cheaper interest rates and have benefited members. Cooperative loans are approved for developmental purposes, mostly. Apart from the fact of low interest rate, default rates are lower and far-in-between in cooperatives. 

Cooperatives have capacity to eliminating dependence on middlemen, thereby reducing the cost of goods societies via direct dealing with the producers and with the ultimate consumers. Valuable profits are thus saved and adds up to the pool of available dividend fund at the end of the financial year.  

Cooperative societies encourage the habit of savings and thrift among their members. 

The act of making reference to a two hundred and fifty-eight years old cooperative event in Fenwick (March 14, 1761) is worthy of note. It underscores the importance of documentation and record keeping. The account of activities of its corelate; Rochdale Weavers Society, which came into mainstream of activity 83 years later in 1844 is alive courtesy of records; else, it may have become untraceable. At Fenwick, Members paid two shillings and six pence to join the cooperative association.

By Nov. 1769 product development had advanced to cooperative bulk food purchase which in turn distributed to members, who were allowed four weeks of credit before paying for the purchase. Product development improved further to granting loans to members at fixed rates from the cooperative funds.

The foregoing sets the tone for relevance of documentation and record keeping in modern cooperative practice.

Whereas, much has been done in the area of record keeping in the three other regional offices of International Cooperative Alliance: Europe office, Americas office & Asia-Pacific office, as shown in the array of available cooperative information for stakeholders, the same cannot be said of cooperative record and data in Africa office and the affiliate members.  This have negative implication for planning, projections and development of the cooperative sector.

Truth be told, in 21st century, automation of cooperative record would take Nigeria and Africa to the next level of cooperative development.  It is instructive that no Nigerian cooperative nor African cooperative feature in the top 300.  It is a reflection of the information and data gap that must be bridged through deliberate action. Record automation with complementary value-adds will make this happen.  Then planning for development based on projections will be possible, then progress can be measured, then, majority of members would cooperate to succeed.

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