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Along Came Cooperatives: What Is a Cooperative, and Why Should You Care?

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Jane, Carol, Lena, and Kevo have been friends since their college days. Today, some are employees while others are employers.

Jane: My friend Carol is very uncooperative! These days she likes doing things alone, often walks alone, and does her stuff alone. I don’t understand her.

Lena: She is usually very cooperative with me! We do many things together. And together, we accomplish more and better! We create synergy through unity of purpose.

Kevo: Speaking of synergy, do you remember the 1+1=3 mystery in college, taught to us by our Cooperatives lecturer? He said the extra 1 is from synergy! That teacher was something else, or as we love to put it; he was another one!

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Cooperation or working together happens in all cultures and all communities. People know that they accomplish more and better by working together. The common denominator with study groups in school, chamas, investment groups, associations, Cooperatives and companies, is the unity of purpose to accomplish something important to individuals and the concerned group of people.

Informal forms of cooperation help people but they have low traceability and accountability when things go wrong. Formal types of cooperation such as Cooperatives and companies have legal systems for traceability and accountability in case things go wrong.

We learnt about the various types of business enterprises in school, remember? We learnt about partnerships, sole proprietorships, corporations, cooperatives, franchises, etc.

Let’s focus on Cooperatives.

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Teacher: What’s a Cooperative?

Lena: A Cooperative is a SACCO!

Teacher: All SACCOs are Cooperatives, but all Cooperatives are not SACCOs!

A SACCO is a savings and credit Cooperative. There are many types of Cooperatives. A SACCO belongs to the category of financial Cooperatives that include banks and insurance. We also have Cooperatives for housing, agricultural production, consumer, workers’, environmental, service, etc.

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. Co-operatives are social enterprises (ICA, 1995). ICA is the acronym for International Cooperative Alliance. It is the main promoter of Cooperatives around the world and the custodian of Cooperative values and principles.

Cooperatives are private sector self-help business enterprises that are owned, controlled, and managed for the benefit of their members and the society at large. Solidarity, self-help, and mutual help are key values of Cooperatives. Cooperatives are about help me, I help you, we help each other, we prosper together. In Kiswahili, Ushirika inamaanisha nisaidie, nikusaidie, tusaidiane, tuinuane.

Cooperatives started in Europe mainly in mid-1700s during the industrial revolution. People were facing unemployment, exploitation, scarcity, and unethical business practices. The affected people came together in solidarity to establish business enterprises that they owned and controlled. They also produced goods and services that they needed. They accessed the goods and services on terms that they themselves set.

Think of a group of young college graduates who left college a few years ago with skills in various fields. Some have been employed but are not happy, others are still tarmacking, yet another group is building start-up companies but is overwhelmed with requirements for working capital, payment of salaries, and survival in general. Such a group of young people could be facing the same challenges that were faced by many people during the industrial revolution in Europe.

But what is the most likely response from them?

Frustration? Depression? Coming together? Solidarity? Self-help? Mutual self-help? Giving up? We may not know. But, the Cooperative way could be the best because together, we achieve more and better.

Our next article will be on Cooperative values and principles, and how they can be applied by young people to help each other and help themselves in general!

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Along Came Cooperatives is a series of topical articles (monthly) on Cooperatives, by Kirianki M’Imanyara, educating on what Cooperatives are and how we can leverage their power to attain our common social, economic, and cultural needs and aspirations.

Also Read: What Makes a SACCO Different: The Benefits of Joining a SACCO


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