By Yershen Pillay, CEO, Chemical Industries Training Authority (CHIETA)
Cooperatives play a fundamental role in job creation, economic transformation and the creation of sustainable livelihoods. In fact, data from the International Cooperative Alliance (ICA) suggests that cooperatives provide jobs or work opportunities for approximately 280 million people across the globe. Cooperatives’ all-important role will again be highlighted as we celebrate International Cooperatives Day on 3 July 2021.
This is extremely important given the current context of COVID-19 as many organisations prioritise retrenchment in an effort to stay afloat. The data also suggests that 12% of humanity is part of the three million cooperatives worldwide representing a significant contributor to sustainable economic growth (ICA, 2020). In fact, according to the World Cooperative Monitor Report (2020), the top 300 cooperatives in the world contribute to a total turnover of 2.1 billion US dollars.
The cooperative model is based on democratic decision making and the concept of working together towards a common goal. According to the ICA (2020), “a cooperative is an autonomous association of persons united voluntarily to meet their common economic, social, and cultural needs and aspirations through a jointly-owned and democratically-controlled enterprise”.
To own in a cooperative is to own in common; to work in a cooperative is to work in common. Cooperatives provide a human face to development. As such, they contribute to addressing many of society’s most pressing issues by putting into practice the principles of voluntary and open membership, democratic decision making, member economic participation, cooperative autonomy, education and training, cooperation, and concern for community.
Cooperatives role in education
The pandemic has the potential to spur cooperative production. The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted schooling across the world leading to a need for innovative leadership in order to solve the myriad of problems. One such problem is the lost learning and disconnect between learners and teachers from the lockdowns associated with COVID-19. The disruptions brought about by the pandemic have deepened the digital divide as those without access to technology in rural communities have experienced greater losses in learning in comparison to those with higher levels of access to the requisite technologies.
The digital divide in education, training and skills development will have to be bridged and the cooperatives model provides a means for doing so. As schools around the world periodically close during COVID-19, e-learning has taken centre stage with teachers in some parts of the world forming platform cooperatives.
One such teacher owned platform cooperative is MyCoolClass, established by teachers around the world. MyCoolClass provides online tutoring and teaching, owned and operated by the teachers. The core group of teachers are based in Poland, the USA, Indonesia and South Africa, and provides services that no other online learning platform offers.
Approximately 1 600 teachers from more than 60 countries around the world have registered to join the cooperative. In an industry first, students will be allowed two teachers per course including courses being taught in different languages.
Platform cooperatives such as MyCoolClass illustrate the gargantuan potential of worker cooperatives during the context of COVID-19.
Working with the community
In the South African context, rural communities in Ulundi, KZN are being organised into chemical manufacturing cooperatives using the rich reserves of aloe plant extracts in the area. The abundance of the Aloe plant provides a unique feedstock for the cooperative production of luxury soaps, cosmetics, and skincare products.
In collaboration with the local communities and the agricultural campus of Mtashana TVET College, the Chemical Industries Education and Training Authority (CHIETA), initiated a project to train and skill 20 cooperatives in the production of fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG).
It is envisaged that each of these cooperatives will create a minimum of five jobs leading to at least 100 new jobs created for the rural community. The project was initially implemented in the Ugu district in KwaZulu-Natal e and proved to be a great success.
Learning from the examples provided, more activism is required to assist workers in establishing cooperatives to take advantage of the massive earnings and job creating potential provided by worker cooperatives.
However, many cooperatives lack the management skills and technical support to grow and become sustainable. Democratic management often leads to conflict, and a lack of conflict management skills leads to the destruction of relationships and the eventual non-viability of many cooperatives. The essential financial and strategic management skills are often lacking in most cooperatives and addressing these pivotal skills gaps are key factors for success.
To address the skills gaps in cooperatives development, CHIETA plans to support 200 chemical manufacturing cooperatives with innovative skills solutions to grow and become sustainable by 2025.
We further call on industry to increase their investments into cooperatives development and to support more cooperatives in their purchasing and procurement activities. By doing so, this will not only enhance supply chain flexibility and long-term sustainability but further make a substantial contribution to socio-economic transformation.