RURAL PROSPERITY AND COOPERATIVES: AN INVALUABLE PARTNERSHIP
July 30, 2020

COOPERATIVES IN THE ICA;

BRACING FOR GREATER CHANGES UNDER THE NEW NORMAL

DOWNLOAD THE PDF FILE HERE: October 10, 2020_Cooperative day with the ICA

The October 10 forum with the International Cooperative Alliance presented yet another timely session that will help determine where the Philippine cooperative movement is headed; and most especially in the light of the COVID-19 pandemic. With the five pillars of the ICA Blueprint – Participation, Sustainability, Capital, Identity, and Legal Framework—deeply embedded among members and stakeholders in the movement, the main concern is how to redefine and reinforce these pillars in these times of uncertainty.

It also saw the online participation of ICA President Ariel Guarco from Argentina and, from India, ICA Regional Director-Asia-Pacific, Balu Iyer.

The event had a live feed courtesy of RTVM, wherein Philippine Cooperative Centre CEO Edwin Bustillos, and PCC Board Member Zeny Novabos, who co-anchored, expressed their heartfelt thanks to PCOO Secretary Martin Andanar for his support.

Response against the war on greed

Cooperative Development Authority (CDA) Chairperson Orlando R. Ravanera, in his speech, stressed how fortunate it is that the cooperatives, despite the effects of this pandemic are still gathered, the first of its kind to be celebrated virtually. He said: “Cooperatives have shown their being resilient and have continued to work with sustainability where no one, even non-members will be left behind. I value all the cooperatives in the country that have continued to extend their assistance to communities. At the same time, cooperatives must reinforce that paradigm shift towards sustainability where the marginalized sectors are incorporated in the development process.”

The CDA Chair also warned about the perils of the profit motive, which triggered greed and materialism and the exploitation of nature, leaving the vast majority of people in quandary. He also emphasized that amidst all the socio-economic uncertainties, cooperatives serve as the potent response against that war on greed.

“Empowerment is also the call of the times wherein people are empowered; as they give way to social restructuring, which also takes form in cooperatives.  Cooperatives have been the peoples’ preferred development model by the united nations as cooperatives are seen as leaders in economic, social, and ecological sustainability. let us also embody the blueprint strategy that gives emphasis on:

  • Elevating participation and government within membership towards the new level;
  • Position cooperatives as builders of sustainability;
  • Enhance the cooperative message and secure the cooperative identity;
  • Ensure a supportive legal framework for cooperative growth; and
  • Secure reliable cooperative capital while guaranteeing member control.

“The entire movement must anchor on these strategies that emphasize the role of cooperatives in social, economic and environmental matters; plus the fact that the social and economic activities of cooperatives act as a more effective balance than one single model,” he pointed out.

Offering a new horizon that builds more bridges

 “Under this new plan, which we have entitled as a people-centered path  in consultation with members and with the different bodies that are part of ICA; is one that has been approved at the ICA General assembly in Kigali, Rwanda, last year that will be an excellent roadmap to work together with;  on  a framework within a global scale towards the 2030 Agenda proposed by the United Nations,” began ICA President Guarco, on this blueprint strategy.

The plan, as emphasized by ICA President Guarco, includes the push for cooperatives to become leaders in economic, social, and environmental sustainability; the model preferred by people and to be the business organization type with the fastest economic growth. This also presents the precise frame of mind, as well as an incentive for the movement to prove their mettle as well as regain their strength to overcome the uncertainties resulting from the unprecedented health, social and economic crises.

“In these uncertain times, cooperatives want to offer a new horizon, to show how to go towards that horizon. Our values and principles, our cooperative identity, our action in the territories; are advantages that allow us to position ourselves as enterprises capable of building a way out of the crisis with economic growth, with social inclusion, with innovative perspectives from the hand of women and young people with greater responsibility in production and consumption; and with a strong commitment to peace. As we take an introspective look at the need to strengthen our principles, particularly inter cooperation for the benefit of our associates and communities; let us build more bridges among the one billion members of the three million cooperatives globally,” ICA President Guarco stressed on a positive note.

The ICA Plan is now accessible on-line at the ICA website and this will also be a very useful aid on how its provisions can be applied to the Philippine cooperative environment.

The need for entities to look inwardly

Regional Director, Balu Iyer admitted how the pandemic has turned the world upside down; yet, it also presented a challenge on how the movement, at both global and local levels, can work together.

“A lot of us have a lot of work to do. Many have also been affected in terms of mental aspect due to the agony of having to stay at home due to restrictions and social distancing. Yet, I am also greatly aware as I salute the spirit of solidarity through which the Philippines shines as manifested in the deeds of compassion of your cooperatives,” he enthused.

Iyer also made a very thorough presentation that echoed how the movement was among those greatly affected by the pandemic, presenting their impact on individual cooperative, ICA regional, and ICA global members; these include loss of revenue, disruptions in activities (manufacturing, services), and travel restrictions that have taken their toll on physical regional meetings and training programs. Yet he also took note of the strength and opportunities that cooperatives have shown during this pandemic: their role and relevance in local communities, as they provide aid, assistance and perform humanitarian tasks at the grassroots level; their adaptation of technology such as teleconferencing to make up for travel restrictions; the role of cooperatives in the informal economy; and social cooperation among cooperatives themselves.

On another angle, the ICA Regional Director made an appeal that cooperatives must also take a look at themselves inwardly, which emphasizes whether or not cooperative principles are applied; the threat from liberalized banking regulations that allow more access, as well as more entrants; all resulting in greater financial services to the ‘unbanked’ population; the need for regulators and policy-makers to distinguish genuine cooperatives vis-à-vis fly by night entities; the widening gap between members and board/management; the reevaluation of the so-called copying by some entities on what the competition is doing; which, in turn, may hamper the existence of genuine cooperatives; and the need to enhance public awareness and their perception of cooperatives. He also called on more participation by women and the youth in the movement.

“Promoting the cooperative identity expands and extends upon the identity pillar of the blueprint, whereas, the growth of the cooperative movement is dependent on our continuing ability to address the issues identified in the legal framework and capital pillars of the blueprint. At the same time, cooperation among cooperatives extends and expands upon the participation pillar of the blueprint by placing additional focus on the need, on a global scale, for better coordination and participation between and among cooperatives and apex organizations. And, let us reinforce the movement’s contribution to global sustainable development which will expand the pillar by recommitting the strong role of cooperatives in the UN’s 2030 Sustainable Development Goals.

“As we promote the ICA Statement on the Cooperative Identity—Advocating Legislation, Spreading Awareness, Expanding Education and Strengthening Platforms—these, in turn, will Deepen Economic Role, via the strengthening of value-chain and online trade networks and the promotion of coop products and services; Kick-Start EntrepreneurshipReinforce Sustainable Development, while cooperatives, will strengthen their roles in SDGs as they partner with national agencies; and Increase Engagement, as cooperatives enter into partnerships with institutes in terms of training, research, and cooperation WHILE at the same time, creating funds for emergencies.

“Indeed, the strength of cooperatives translates to greater opportunities for cooperation, among cooperatives,’ graciously summed up Dir. Iyer.

Strengthening membership participation

Philippine Cooperative Center Chairperson Dr. Garibaldi Leonardo, in reaction to Balu Iyer’s presentation on the Participation pillar, strongly emphasized the need ‘to integrate, to unite and to transform,’ which is in accordance with ICA principles. He stressed the need to strengthen co-ownership, which is distinct from other forms of enterprise; and strengthen member participation, especially during general assemblies and the election of officers.

In response to Dir. Iyer’s observation about stronger women participation, Dr. Leonardo added that in the Philippines, “the membership in many cooperatives is predominantly women. But, there is that pressing need to engage more youth in terms of membership, participation, and leadership, as the coop membership in the Philippines is a rapidly aging one.”

Despite such setback, the PCC Chair reiterated how, during the pandemic, the Philippine cooperative movement can be an epitome of the principle of Cooperation Among Cooperatives. In partnership with their brethren entities, as well as with government agencies, he cited proudly how cooperatives have been working together to provide different modes of assistance for their needy fellow cooperatives and communities in their respective areas of operation, in addition to financial relief for members. He also expounded on a presentation made by Cabinet Secretary Carlo Nograles on the future of cooperatives where:

  • cooperatives must realize the need for change and accept accordingly not only within, but among organizations;
  • a collective leadership must be receptive to, and supportive of, change;
  • cooperatives may lead the way in providing linkages with regard to value-chain initiatives;
  • cooperatives must align their activities to serve the needs in the light of the new normal; and
  • the whole of government and whole of society approach must be pursued

In his bid to advocate a higher level of cooperation among cooperatives, Dr. Leonardo presented the programmatic organization envisioned by PCC. He cited that under this set-up, the business agenda for the five federation-led clusters can work hand in hand with the advocacy, research, and training agenda being pushed by the union-led academe-supported cluster (that can eventually evolve to two clusters to include political advocacy).The political advocacy, in particular, can be closely coordinated with the Senate and the House Committees on Cooperatives. The primaries will be enjoined to become members of the unions and federations, in their respective area of operation and business pursuits. At the same time, the partnership between the CDA and the cooperative sector, under the baton of PCC, will be further strengthened.

“What we have is an agile, innovative program-based organization; it addresses both our business recovery and advocacy agenda particularly in the context of the present crisis that, will be greatly facilitated by such programmatic organization. Indeed, with its proven track record and respect within the movement, PCC presents itself as the evolving national alliance which is in tandem with the strategic goals of ICA,” Dr. Leonardo graciously summed up.

Making the transition from simple crop production

“PCC has, under its membership, 26 strong national organizations, eight regional organizations and 21 billionaire cooperatives,” began Kabisig Savings and Agri-Dev Cooperative CEO Loreto Ramiro, in his presentation on Sustainability.

“There may be models in the Agri sector that can serve as a common goal to become globally competitive; but it is in this light that there is a need to strengthen cooperatives and  business enterprise development entities, especially in terms of online trade,” he stressed, as he cited the success stories of First Peoples’ Sustainable Development Cooperative (FPSDC) and Nueva Segovia Consortium of Cooperatives (NSCC) with its diverse agri-development projects.

“What is missing is the kick-start in agri-small and medium enterprises, where PCC follows through on the ‘big brother, small brother concept towards sustainable development. While at the same time, stronger links with the financial cluster are developed,” he stressed.

Kabisig CEO Ramiro called for both PCC and ICA to work together to develop such resources, improve these resources, and duplicate these in other areas. He furthered the pressing need for increased engagement in research, education, and partnership with other stakeholders where PCC is strong. As PCC fosters partnerships, he also suggested a book co-authored by PCC that could serve as a reference guide for these MSMEs.

He summed up : “I hope the leadership of coops in the Philippines shall visit models in other countries that are more developed so as to observe how these can be applied locally—wherein PCC and ICA-AP can work together to help promote. It is also time to sincerely develop a more effective value-chain strategy which will work wonders for agriculture. We need to emerge from simple crop production to emulate what is done in successful cooperatives in Thailand and South Korea.”

Not a corporation, not an NGO, not a government entity

 Drawing his inspiration from the adage of Mark Twain that the most significant days in one’s  life are ‘the day you were born and the day that you discovered you were born’ made the perfect frame of mind for esteemed coop stalwart Fr. Anton CT Pascual, Chairperson of 1 Cooperative Insurance Service of the Philippines (1CISP) to discuss the Identity Pillar—wherein he emphasized the need to be aware of, to embody, and to reflect on what cooperatives are;

Cooperatives belong to what you may best define as an ideology-based social enterprise. It bases its operations on being profitable, in order to serve its members (via net surplus), on being environment-friendly—thanks to holistic practices which they incorporate that are equally sustainable, and with a social impact for the poor, reaching out to the bottom of the pyramid in terms of social stratification, where, in addition to the marginalized, it also draws in the middle-class,” Fr. Anton expounded. “Moreover, coop leadership is based on the one-man, one vote, group leadership, and ownership of at most 10 percent for any one member.”

The big differences between cooperatives and corporations, added Fr. Anton is that cooperatives are a social enterprise. Unlike corporations which are strictly business-oriented. cooperatives are not like NGOs, as cooperatives do not rely on donations/dole-outs. moreover, they do not belong to the government which is legislation-oriented.

“Self-help and self-responsibility, without any help from the government, is what makes cooperatives a breed apart from the abovementioned entities,” proudly stated F. Anton. “At the same time, as the movement flexes its muscles to enhance its presence, let us also consider how PCC, under its direction, will call for the unification of the coop sectors, with business integration to be handled by federations and representation, advocacy and training under unions.”

A return to voluntary payment and self-responsibility in financials

NATCCO CEO Engr. Sylvia ‘Ibing’ Paraguya also shared the premise of ICA-AP and ICA being an alliance formed by cooperatives, and not by governments of the different countries which, in a broader sense can guide our own movement towards creating a more effective national alliance. She also called for more discussions on best practices in the integrated networks. Regarding business integration, she cited NACUFOK as well as cooperatives and federations in Japan and South Korea and the dairy cooperative AMOL in India as shining examples where network integration can ensure sustainability.

In terms of capital, Engr. Paraguya discussed how cooperatives can further build net capital, particularly new ones—elaborating how these enterprises and federations should be built and funded,

Let us also look at capital that meets human needs and not human greed, “she warned, “To prevent erosion of what cooperatives can be in the light of more members pushing for very high dividends. Let us look at capital as a means to stabilize, not destabilize, and let there be more restraint and control in the way capital is being handled and allocated.”

The NATCCO CEO also recommended the need to return to the concept of voluntary payment in the light of the financial woes brought about by the pandemic. “In voluntary payment, this means to pay when you can pay instead of relying on the moratorium on payments. Coops also have to look at how to bring back their own enterprises to ensure financial sustainability while keeping their members busy, and the need for regulatory relief.

“It is also high time to look at how cooperatives must be funded long-term to maintain their business capability and sustainability while, at the same time, helping absorb losses that were incurred,” she firmly stressed, vis-à-vis reports of members calling for higher dividends that could prove to be a headache in maintaining the operational viability of a coop entity.

Also, along with this premise, coop members may ponder as well as be prompted to sacrifice a bit by not asking for more in the meantime, but to think of how they can do their part in helping sustain the long-term viability of the cooperative they belong to, by asking for less.

Talk, dialogue, and partner

 In terms of the Legal aspect, as much as the CDA zealously guards the coop identity based on the seven cooperative principles, Ray R. Elevazo, CDA Executive Director, also stressed the need to pursue legal regulation in terms of ownership and public protection through the guarding of membership and cooperative interest—especially in the light of those unscrupulous beings who want to destroy cooperatives.

“As the regulatory agency, we do not want the public to be victimized by groups that claim to be cooperatives, but in reality, are not cooperatives” he pointed out,

On the plus side, Executive Director Elevazo added how CDA is doing its best towards an enhanced regulatory framework that will ease doing business by, and with cooperatives—for which he cited the CDA-initiated e-Coop IRS. Then there is the close coordination between CDA and government agencies in crafting policies that will pursue reforms beneficial to cooperatives while reinforcing their reputation re public accountability.

With coop participation in the legal process, all that is needed is to talk, dialogue with mutual respect and partner with the coop sector,” he summed up.

In as much as those who participated online were agreeable with the provisions of Coops 2030 and embraced how this will reinforce the movement’s invaluable role in socio-economic transformation post-Covid-19, an issue was raised especially on the role of the youth upon which Professor Romulo Martin pondered how to deploy graduates of cooperative courses. PCC’s Dr. Leonardo noted that now is the precise time to involve the youth much more, especially in value chain, research and education.

For Fr. Anton, involving the youth will also mean leadership succession and management-succession towards making the country much more coop-oriented, especially among the youth. He also suggested if PCC can have an employment desk to cater to those who want to have a career in cooperatives.

In concluding the PCC-ICA session, coop stalwart Zeny Novabos cited it as ‘a priority for PCC and ICA and the cooperative sector to get together and work together, with so much to do, while FPSDC CEO Christie Rowena ‘Tetay’ Plantilla cheerfully called it truly “empowering and engaging, such that even as the movement faces so many challenges, let us be guided by the ICA blueprint which is proactive and positive.

“If we work together on these five pillars, the cooperative community can move forward in its pursuit of a second cooperative decade, from 2020 to 2030 for which ICA has the lead role to play. It can be meaningful if we, as cooperatives indeed cooperate, engage, and work together,” she graciously summed up.

DOWNLOAD THE PDF FILE HERE: October 10, 2020_Cooperative day with the ICA

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