What is the role of partnerships with governments and how do these impact the cooperative identity?

Parallel session 1.5 looked at the role of partnerships with governments and the impact these might have on the cooperative identity.

Patxi Olabarria, President of CSCE – EKGK, explained how government representatives from the Basque Country worked together with cooperative leaders, universities and provincial authorities to expand and support the sector. The council is made up of three university representatives, three government officials, ten cooperative representatives and three provincial. It was set up in 1972 and it is the highest representative body for cooperatives in the Basque Country.

He believes it is “a singular and unique entity” which could be replicated in other countries.

“The council promotes and disseminates the values of cooperatives,” he said adding that it also works to foster the creation of cooperatives and arbitrate litigious matters arising between cooperatives or their members and acting as a mediator.

The Council is a body of a consultative nature and it is an adviser to the Basque authorities in all matters regarding cooperatives. It is financed by the Basque government.

Peter Hunt, CEOI of Mutuo in the UK described the work of his organisation, which was set up in 2001 to improve the business environment for cooperatives and mutuals.

Muto works in the UK and internationally. “It was clear that lots of what we did was relevant in other countries as well.” Mutuo was also involved in the adoption of new federal legislation in Australia to allow a new capital instrument for mutuals, an initiative on which it worked with the apex Business Council of Cooperatives and Mutuals (BCCM). The legislation enables them to get external capital into their business without risking the mutual structure of the business. The new legislation also defines what a mutual is.

“This approach could be adopted in every country around the world,” said Mr Hunt.

Marie-Josée Paquette, CEO, Conseil québécois de la coopération et de la mutualité (CQCM), Canada, talked about her organisation’s approach to partnerships, explaining that Quebec has a strong cooperative ecosystem.

Founded in 1940, CQCM is a democratic body that represents cooperatives and mutuals. The Quebec government’s Ministry of Economy has a special department, created 30 years ago.

The Quebec government financially supports the development of cooperatives through CQCM, which needs to ensure that the development meets society’s challenges and cooperatives’ needs. The partnership agreement is managed by the local cooperative ecosystem.

The CQCM Action Plan also engages with the government on a regular basis to discuss the Social Economy Action Plan.

“We need to co-construct policies with the government. It needs to be decentralised,” she said. “But we also need to reinforce the cooperative ecosystem already in place.”

In terms of challenges, she thinks the biggest one for the years to come will be to demonstrate how cooperatives and mutuals generate social impact more than traditional businesses.

Ivan Asiimwe, General Secretary of Uganda Cooperative Alliance (UCA), the umbrella organisation for all cooperatives in Uganda, provided an overview of the cooperative sectors in the country, which is home to 30,000 cooperative societies. Formed in 1961, UCA represents cooperatives and engages with the government to push for legislative and regulatory changes. It also provides training and information to cooperatives. Recent successes include cooperatives being provided war loss compensations and being granted a tax waiver, and a ten-year tax exemption on SACCOs.

Jae Ho Lee, from the National Agricultural Cooperative Federation (NACF), Republic of Korea shared his country’s experience in setting up agricultural cooperatives. NACF was established in 1961, at a time when the Korean economy was in crisis and the GDP per capita was just US$2.

The government established an agricultural cooperative policy; at the time farmers didn’t identify the need for co-ops so agricultural cooperatives were supported by the government until the system was established.

The government believed that if investor-owned enterprises had control of these businesses, farmers would be disadvantaged, so they supported NACF in creating cooperatives. The initiative aimed to help stabilise prices, particularly for staples like rice and achieve food self-sufficiency.

The government built factories and bought fertilisers and supplied them to farmers at a low cost, and also rolled out a range of policies to support appropriate supply and demand.

The government also implemented a local community development movement programme, an initiative NACF was a partner in. At the time, farmers depended on paying high interest for private finance (up to 60%). The government enabled cooperative financing, and NACF introduced mutual financing, enabling cooperatives to access funding.

“NACF and the government have been building strong partnerships over the years,” he said, adding that the relationship was based on trust.

Danilo Gutiérrez, Executive Director, INACOOP, Uruguay, described how his organisation was set up in 2010 to unite the country’s different cooperative sectors.

“INACOOP was established thanks to cooperation,” he said. The institute was created after parliament voted unanimously for the establishment of the apex. It has three representatives from the government and one from the federation and they provide funding for cooperatives.

The apex counts on the support of the national government but found it challenging to make itself noticed in the early days of setting up. As a new small institute, it initially lacked the legitimacy to be able to negotiate with ministries.

In Uruguay the laws and regulations have been revised by each ministry so once an umbrella body was set up it brought together co-ops from different sectors. Policies and legislation were also fragmented.

By working in partnership with the government of Uruguay the institute helped to grow the movement, explained Mr Gutiérrez.

In his concluding remarks, the chair of the session, Dr Youngkon Koh, President, Korea Institute for Cooperative Development (KICD) talked about the future of cooperatives.

“We have to think about the post neo-liberal era and how co-ops can build a foundation where we can pursue inclusive capitalism. With that the cooperative identity will be strengthened and we will be able to open up a new era,” he said.