Co-ops & Human Sustainable Development: Asia/Pacific

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 This document has been made available in electronic format
      by the International Co-operative Alliance ICA
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     CO-OPERATIVES AND SUSTAINABLE HUMAN DEVELOPMENT
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                 REGIONAL PERSPECTIVE
                 ASIA AND THE PACIFIC 

A look at the global spread of co-operatives will reveal a huge
and rich spectrum. Co-operatives exist in a variety of sectors,
e.g., agriculture, irrigation, food processing, handicraft,
weaving, metal work, printing, health, educational trusts, banks,
water supply, recreation, arts and crafts, tourism and consumer
co-operatives. 

Co-operatives have been able to provide a variety of social
services to their members besides providing opportunities of
employment and additional income-generation.  Some of the social
aspects of co-operatives have been the following:

     - Employment generation
     - Formal and non-formal education
     - Vocational training
     - Medical and health care services
     - Environment protection activities
     - Drinking water supply
     - House construction
     - Fine arts and sports
     - Legal aid and consultancy services
     - Consumer education - consumer protection
     - Rural welfare programmes
     - Rural communities

Co-operative institutions in the Asia Pacific Region (covered by
the International Co-operative Alliance Regional Office for Asia
and the Pacific) have provided services to their members in
poverty alleviation, social integration and employment
generation.  For example social services rendered by sugar
co-operatives and milk co-operatives in India, agricultural and
consumer co-operatives in Japan (in the sector of encouraging
women to participate in co-operative activities through their own
Han groups and associations , health programmes etc.),
handicrafts, industrial co-operatives in China and women
associations in India, Sri Lanka and Indonesia.

The level of co-operative development in the region presents an
interesting study; while there are rich, well-knit, enlightened
and well-managed co-operative institutions in countries like
Japan, there have been instances where co-operatives are still
struggling to find their own level e.g., in Bangladesh and
Pakistan.  In countries like India, where co-operatives have been
on the scene for over 100 years, they have lost contact with
their members, owing to excessive government protection and
interference. The level of member participation is weak and the
management of co-operatives has slipped out of members' control
because of the close control exerted on the management and
financing of these co-operatives by the Government.

There are several reasons for the lack of member participation:

     - Strong legislative influence by the government
     - Excessive participation in capital by governments
     - Management control by governments
     - Top heavy planning
     - Lack of general education among members
     - Inadequate educational and training opportunities
     - Overpopulation
     - Inherent lower level of economic development

A majority of these drawbacks can be removed by appropriate
planning and with the co-operation of enlightened co-operatives
and government organisations. A special effort has to be made to
educate the members - not only in the techniques of running a
co-operative institution, but also in appreciating the importance
of literacy, and to training board members and employees of
co-operatives so that they are able to take decisions and
implement them to the entire satisfaction of members - the owners
of co-operatives. Greater educational and training opportunities
also empower the members to manage their institutions properly
and to insulate them from external influences.

It has often been found that those co-operatives providing funds
and opportunities for the education and training of their
members, board members and employees have shown greater
independence of action and  better economic results. Such
institutions consider the education of members as a sound
investment. 

Human resource development can contribute significantly to the
eradication of  poverty. Governments which have invested in human
resource development e.g., health, education and the provision
of basic amenities, have been able to enhance the living
standards of their people.  Poverty in the Asia Pacific Region
has been caught in a vicious circle of population and economic
development. Which of these issues should be addressed first is
an ongoing dilemma for planners.  Governments have inadequate
resources. External financial and other assistance is limited and 
often linked with the priorities of the donor agencies which are
often in conflict with Governmental priorities. 

Non-government agencies dealing with programmes related to the
alleviation of poverty also have limitations resources and often
tend to target only a small segment of the population and, as a
result, their efforts are frustrated over a period of time. NGOs
which like co-operatives have a direct link with the community 
can have a positive effect, provided that their members or the
local people have the possibility and ability to take decisions
on the issues having an impact on their daily lives.

Co-operatives, as institutions of the people, can thus be
effectively used by the state to improve the economic conditions
of the people. They can be used to undertake programmes which
target a large number of people including a combination of women,
men, children, young and old as well as of farmers, consumers and
industrial workers.

Co-operatives can be involved in the following sectors:

-    Health, education programmes (relating to childcare, AIDS,
balanced food, general health checks, nutrition). Good health
means good level of education, more active life for the
industrial worker, a better work environment for women and raised
consciousness on safety and security. Co-operatives can also
provide services for the care of the aged.

-    Education and training (essential skills of literacy and
numeracy , as well as practical problem-solving not only for the
co-operative members, but also for the staff of other agencies
and institutions. Investment in education contributes to economic
development by increasing labour productivity, higher
agricultural production and the provision of better consumer
goods). The education of women is a particularly strategic
investment in human resources, carrying very high social returns.
Educated mothers have lower infant and child mortality rates and
are aware of birth control methods. They  educate their children
better and marry later.

-    Employment generation (through the diversification of
activities and choosing products with  higher economic returns
to the producers e.g., value-addition through agro-processing,
etc.) Such programmes also help reverse the trend from the
village to the town. In countries like China and India, with
highly agricultural oriented economies, a large number of people
- including youth and women - are involved in agriculture-related
activities.

-    Co-operatives could become the  focal points for the
dissemination of information to the community. By networking 
with parallel institutions, centralised institutions and members
and providing a better access to market information,
co-operatives can provide greater business opportunities to their
members.

Co-operative institutions are a vital component of civil society
with strong ties to local communities They form a particularly
important vehicle for the development of the marginalised
sections of the society. However, they suffer from a chronic lack
of both financial and human resources. Their effectiveness can
be substantially enhanced through personnel training, the
exchange of experiences with counterparts in other countries, and
access to regional and international information sources in their
fields of interest.

                                          August 1995