All over the world, poverty and income inequality are rising. They are major developmental challenges facing us today. However, there are ways of dealing with these challenges. The cooperative model is foremost among them. It contains aspects of sustainable development at its core and is based on ethical values and principles.
A cooperative (or cooperative society as widely known) is a voluntary association of people with a common interest, who pool their resources together in order to meet their needs and aspirations through a cooperative enterprise that is jointly owned and democratically controlled.
The history of organized cooperatives dates back to 1844 with the founding of Rochdale Society of Equitable Pioneers in England. It was founded by a group of 28 weavers and artisans who set up to open their store, selling food items they could not otherwise afford. Since then cooperatives have grown and become popular around the world.
In Nigeria, the history of organized cooperative societies goes back to the 1930s with the enactment of the cooperative society ordinance in 1935. Subsequently, cooperative societies have spread to almost every aspect of the society. This include among government workers, traders, artisans and even manual labourers.
‘the important role cooperatives play’
The International Day of Cooperatives is an annual celebration of the cooperative movement happening every first Saturday of July. This is to acknowledge the important role cooperatives play; As economic actors through the creation of jobs and means of livelihoods. As people-centred enterprises with social goals by contributing to social equity and justice. And as democratic institutions controlled by members, playing a leading role in promoting democratic principles, within societies and local communities.
The theme for the 2018 world cooperative day is “sustainable societies through cooperation”.
Over time, cooperatives have shown how important they are to the sustainable development models that prioritize social equity. The cooperative formula is not only durable but contemporary, resilient and relevant.
Cooperatives have helped in creating and sustaining employment. In addition, they improve the living and working conditions of people worldwide. This is possible by making essential infrastructure and services available even in areas neglected by state and investor-driven enterprises.
Another important benefit of cooperatives is the saving culture they help develop among members. Nobody can escape poverty without a saving habit. As a result, they ensure timely contribution by every member, while making it difficult to default. In most organizations, they deduct such contributions from the income of members. Therefore, irrespective of their needs, they make saving an obligation.
Also, cooperatives provide members with access to credit facilities such as loans. For low-income earners, this serves as an important means in meeting high-cost needs which regular income may not cover. One can access the loan on time and there is no need for collateral, a member’s contribution is enough. Also, interest rates are low, with fellow members being able to stand as guarantors.
In most countries, socio-economic and political changes have placed pressure on governments to limit their involvement in economic and social affairs. This is the core idea of structural adjustment programs. One that encourages a shift from public to private sector dominance of all sectors. In a situation like this, cooperative societies provide a model that is used by employees to venture into business enterprises. Serving as a means of generating and protecting jobs in the face of economic challenges and a shift to technology-oriented means of production.
The importance of cooperative societies as a useful mechanism in the realization of sustainable societies cannot be overemphasized. Specifically, through the achievement of goals 1, 2, 5, 8 and 10 of the SDGs.