Socio-economic importance of co-operatives: Bangladesh context
Dr. Forqan Uddin Ahmed, Writer, researchers & columnist
Co-operative is a kind of social enterprise, which is, defined as co-operative Alliances’ as 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. Though are very little specification and justification what is social enterprise is, it is recognized that social enterprise is intending for the social benefit rather than profitability in numerical values. Over the years, cooperative enterprises have successfully operated locally owned people businesses while also serving as catalysts for social organization and cohesion. With their concern for their members and communities, they represent a model of economic enterprise that places high regard for democratic and human values and respect for the environment. As the world today faces unstable financial systems, increased insecurity of food supply, growing inequality worldwide, rapid climate change and increased environmental degradation, it is increasingly compelling to consider the model of economic.
Economic development means progress in an economy, or the qualitative measure of this. Economic development usually refers to the adoption of new technologies, transition from agriculture-based to industry–based economy, and general improvement of living standards. Economic development can also be referred to as the quantitative and qualitative changes in the economy. These two issues are interdependent. Economic development can supplement for the improvement of social protection. On the other hand achieving social security’s economic development becomes sustained. A cooperative is a group-based and member-owned business and can be formed for economic and social development in any sector. The International Cooperative Alliance defines a cooperative as: “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.” Ownership and control by members, who usually have one vote per person, is a key aspect of cooperatives.
Cooperative is important in the world’s economic and social development. Based as on the principles of cooperation, cooperatives help create new ethics and values in business and economics. In 1895, ICA (International Cooperative Alliance) was formed and since 1927, it observes the first Saturday of July as International Cooperative Day. In 1994, the United Nations recognized and reaffirmed that cooperatives were vital in the world’s economic, social and cultural development. However, two years earlier on December 16, 1992 – the UN General Assembly proclaimed the first Saturday of July 1995 as the International Day of Cooperative, marking the centenary of ICA’s establishment.
Farmer organizations in the name of different cooperative societies are not new to Bangladesh, and such types of organizations have been involved in a few agricultural products (dairy cooperative products such as ‘Milk Vita’). In their report on Bangladesh, the Food and Agriculture Organization mentioned that some farmer organizations were formed in the agriculture sector with the direct support of government extension agencies and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and that the continuations of those organizations were not satisfactory. The farmer-driven and farmer-controlled cooperative organizations were not involved in the agro forestry sector in Bangladesh. On the contrary, a farmer cooperative is a legal practical entity by which groups of farmers peruse to enhance their economic outcome in a competitive society. It is already established that cooperative organizations have played significant roles in small-scale farming and agriculture development, as well as uplifting members’ livelihood, and there are plenty of examples of this throughout the world. Japan is one of the leading countries in the world that has developed its agricultural sector through farmers’ cooperative movements.
With the hope of being benefited from the principals of cooperative, the Department of Cooperatives (DoC) was established as an attached department under the Ministry of Local Government, Rural Development & Cooperatives. It was established as the principal government organization responsible for facilitating economic growth and poverty reduction effort to the government. But, it is unfortunate the department has failed to play its responsible role in generating employment opportunities and alleviating poverty in the country.
The Department of Cooperatives (DoC) and cooperative societies under the regularity body are now involved in irregularities. Especially, most of the cooperative societies established under the government patronization are now inactive although they have huge properties. There is an allegation that sections of people are misappropriating the properties, and the common cooperators are not being benefited from the societies. But if we had made the sector effectively functional and free from corruption it would have reduced dependency on foreign aid and contributed to a sustainable economy, creating huge employment opportunities and alleviating poverty in the country.
Many factors are affecting it. Today, the multinational companies, NGOs had negative impact on the existing cooperative societies. Moreover, this sector is given less attention from top echelon of its management. Besides, there were mismanagements, mistrusts, irregularities to control its mechanism. Above all, there is the leadership problem to handle it properly. We all know that the prime role of Bangladesh Ansar VDP is to ensure the socio-economic condition and public security. In order to augment the socio-economic condition of grass root level low and mid-level income groups. Govt. was very cordial to organize rural cooperatives by Ansar VDP volunteers. In the decade of 1980’s Ansar organization took a very challenging initiative to organize cooperative in their own way in co-ordination with cooperative Department. With this end, in view Bangladesh Ansar VDP could launch a massive program of local societies with their volunteers. At that time, as many as 10 thousand club and societies flourished in the country. The clubs and societies became the centre of rural development under the banner of cooperative ideas. Many projects were undertaken to fulfill the goal of marginal people living in the villages.
At present, many co-operative projects are not functioning. They are dead projects now. No accountability, responsibilities and transparency is hardly seen in this sector.
The interested group of the society has badly influenced to stop the project activities and deadlock situation has been created with a bad intention to hinder the progress. This sector needs to be focused and given priority. The government should take pragmatic steps to form a separate cooperative commission with a view to re-launching inactive cooperatives societies and reducing corruptions and mismanagements of organizations. Some experts in the sector say the cooperatives worldwide now face a new challenge due to aggressive role of corporate globalization. In this circumstance, there is no alternative to being united and joining the new movement for cooperative in a bid to build a poverty-free, discrimination- free and harmonious world through cooperative. All farmers and labors including small entrepreneurs will be united under the umbrella of cooperative to face the aggregation of corporate globalization. All the poor of the world and cooperative organizations should be brought under five-tier cooperative structure in a bid to face corporate globalization and increase cooperation among the organizations of different countries. Cooperative organizations will be built up in the all sectors of economy. Through the idea of Cooperative Philosophy, a responsible and harmonious world will be built up against the consuming culture of corporate capitalism. It is necessary to urge the respective government to perform all the development activities through the Public-Cooperative Partnership (PCP). It is also essential to call the respective government to enact cooperative-friendly laws including a provision that will help the cooperative societies increase cooperation with the cooperative societies of other countries. Make an appeal to the respective government to create a social fund for the development of cooperative sector.
Finally, it can be said employment generation and poverty alleviation need to be focused to build up a self-reliant Bangladesh through the cooperatives movement. So, building up an honest and skilled administration is necessary in every cooperative to achieve desired results. The government should take proper initiatives in a bid to increase public-cooperative partnership in different development activities and enacting laws to boost the country’s cooperative sector.