Co-operatives: A form of sustainable development (1997)

This document has been made available in electronic format
by the International Co-operative Alliance (ICA)
Oct, 1997
(Source: Co-op Dialogue, Vol.7, No.2, May-Aug. 1997, pp.18-24)

Co-operatives:  A form of sustainable development?
Extracted from an International Development Studies
research paper by Consuela M. Tulus for the University
of Toronto, Canada

Co-operatives have a strong potential to become a form of  sustainable
human development by nature of their social and economic structures,
using the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) definition of
"sustainable human development."  This definition implies that sustainable
human development can only be achieved when both economic and social
goals are maintained and balanced. The very principles of co-operation
outline that co-operatives should be true not only to their economic goals,
but also to their social ideals. The question that remains is: how well do
co-operatives live up to their potential in practice? 

During the 1950s and 1960s, many governments, non-governmental
organisations (NGOs), and even the United Nations agencies saw
co-operatives as the solution for all types of social and economic
problems. Business people, politicians, NGO workers, and others in the
development field turned their attention to co-operatives, but not to
members.  Resources were poured into creating new co-operatives,
especially in developing countries (Craig 1993: 38). This top-down
approach to co-operatives often ends in failure, and has cast heavy clouds
over the meaning and role of co-operatives in many economies.

A co-operative is stronger socially or economically, depending upon the
context in which it operates. At least in the ideal sense, the co-operative
social and economic goals should not be incompatible; they should
complement each other. In practice, however, co-ops often emphasise one
goal over another.  It is difficult for co-operatives in the Philippines to
achieve a strong and viable economic structure; and hard for co-operatives,
particularly credit unions, in Canada to live up to their social goals. 

Globalization through modern free trade deals and an ever-decreasing role
for government in the economy is a "paradigm that involves the reduction
of the power of the communities" (Fairbairn et al. 1991: 10).  The role of
the government  is also important.  Co-op legislation within government
should clearly specify that development will be based on co-op principles,
and that a co-operative is distinct from both public and private

Two case studies, Cebu People's Multi-purpose Co-operative in Cebu,
in the Philippines, and Metro Credit Union in Toronto,  can be used
to illustrate how successful they are in putting theories into practice,
and in meeting their potential as a potent force in sustainable human

The Philippine Case Study:  Cebu People's Multi-purpose Co-op
Cebu People's Multi-purpose Co-operative, at that time known as the
"People's Credit Co-operative  Inc." or PCCI, was started solely as a
credit co-operative in 1972.  The services provided by PCCI in the beginning include savings, petty cash loan, emergency loan, regular loan,
and training. It has since expanded its services to include social services such as the Mortuary Aid Network and the Mutual Aid Program.  In
1993, PCCI changed its name to Cebu People's Multi-purpose Co-op.

Today, 80 per cent of CPMPC members come from the urban poor,
living mostly in the low-income areas of Cebu City. The Board of
Directors allows all sectors to be represented: youth, women, small
businessmen and entrepreneurs, employees, farmers, sidewalk vendors,
and professionals. Although there are no legal barriers for these groups
to run for a position in the Board, many are still underrepresented. Total
membership reached 2434 (regular members) at the end of 1995. Because
of its relatively large membership, CPMPC has organised members into
chapters. There are twenty existing chapters today, with a membership
ranging from 30 to 300.

"We envision a co-operative that is pro-people, viable, organisationally
strong, economically stable, service-oriented and responsive to the needs
of its members and community - a co-op that has relevant programs and
services as a vehicle to total human development, owned and managed by
dedicated, knowledgeable, dynamic and progressive co-operators, grounded
by holistic co-operation ideals, dignified with the values of self-reliance,
justice, freedom and democracy".

"To serve as a vehicle for total human development through evolving
alternative and relevant programs and services. To serve as an agent in
promoting holistic co-op values and ideals through continuous education
and a catalyst for social change".

-	To provide support services among co-operators geared towards
	establishing viable livelihood projects;

-	To develop effective programs on skills enhancement and capability
	building for members, leaders and staff;

-	To develop, launch and initiate group centred socio-economic projects
	in the community;

-	To ensure continuous education promoting co-operative values, gender
	equality and other concerns.
(unpublished manuscripts for CPMPC)

CPMPC and the Principles of Co-operation
The goals, mission and vision statements of CPMPC affirm CPMPC's
role in the community.  Has CPMPC lived up to its potential?

In order to assess the effectiveness of CPMPC's services and programs,
and the members' perception, 198 members were interviewed.  The tables
below show the social and economic indicators that were presented to the
members in the questionnaire. For each indicator, the respondents were
asked to rank, on a scale of one to ten (one being the lowest benefit), the
extent to which their co-op membership had an influence these benefits. 

Economic Benefits

There were seventeen items presented to the members in the questionnaire
relating to economic benefits. The highest ranked indicator is access to
credit, which receives an average score of 6.7. Other closely ranked items
include additional sources of income (6.5) and improved business
operations (6.5). These scores suggest that the co-op has succeeded in
meeting the most pertinent need of the members, which is access to credit.  

On the other end of the scale, those indicators receiving low scores are:
increased capacity to send children to school (4.9); increase in the number
of appliances owned (3.9); sure buyer of produce (4.7); and more land
owned, which received the lowest score (3.0).  This is not surprising, since
these items are not the top priorities of the co-op in the first place.

When respondents were asked what was their main reason for joining the
co-op, the majority of them said it was to avail a loan from the co-op. To
the extent that the co-operative has been able to fulfil the number one
concern of the members, it can be deemed a success, with room for

Social Benefits
It is interesting to note that social benefits received a higher rating overall
than economic benefits. 

The highest rated item was feeling of pride in being a co-op member, and
feeling of loyalty to the group (7.3 and 7.2 respectively). Ability to work
with others in a group, ease in the company of others, and feeling of
belonging in a group all received a score of 6.9. The co-operative has
succeeded in fostering a sense of community amongst its members.  It has
become more than just a place to put their savings; it has become
integrated into the daily lives of the members.

Some of the other important items, however were not rated as highly by
the respondents. Realisation of leadership potential, and enhancement of
leadership qualities, for example, only received  6.5 and 6.4 respectively.

On the same note, ability to voice out one's opinions and sentiments on
co-op issues (important in the democratic process), less fear or timidity in
approaching co-op officers and staff, and improved self-confidence or self-
esteem also receive 6.5 on the scale. 

The co-op seems to have done better socially than economically overall. 
The effect of CPMPC on the social development of the members seem to
be linked more to the strengthening of relationships within the organisation
rather than the development of skills and capabilities. 

Expressions of pride and belonging, together with sentiments of loyalty
and ownership which members generally feel toward their co-op group, are
expected to contribute to the cohesiveness of the organisation. However,
the co-op has not done as well in developing members' leadership skills,
and should strengthen its training programs for the development of
leadership skills.

The CPMPC case study indicates the challenges facing  co-operatives in a
market-oriented system.  The majority of CPMPC members are the urban
poor. Because they lack collateral, many of them had difficulty acquiring
credit from private banks, and sometimes had to resort to pawnshops or
loan sharks, who charge exorbitant interest rates. For these members,
CPMPC has become an alternative to their pressing economic problems. 

CPMPC has also become an alternative in many other ways, as is evident
by its expanding social services. The strong social cohesion of CPMPC has
allowed it to become a medium for members to organise through chapters
and collaborate on various projects co-operatively.  

Sustainable human development entails both a strong social and economic
orientation. CPMPC is socially strong, but economically weak. In this
sense, CPMPC is not meeting its full potential as a sustainable form of
human development. Both external factors, like government intervention
and economic policy, and internal factors, especially those related to
membership, influence the development of a co-operative.

External Factors Influencing the Development of Co-operatives
in the Philippines
The Political and Economic Environment:

One of the biggest problems in the relationship between the government
and the co-operatives in Asia is the government's interventionist role in
the co-op movement. This is telling in the case of the Philippines, where
first the government, not members, established co-ops to meet economic and social objectives. In the 1990s, the government deregulated the
economy, ignoring NGOs and co-ops.  The state should help create a positive environment for co-ops, allowing them to achieve autonomy
and independence. 

Co-ops in the Philippines are sheltered from direct competition with
private businesses, so they are not pushed to strengthen their economic
structure. In Canada, banks are forcing credit unions to strengthen their
capital base in order to build up their competitive edge. If credit unions in
Canada do not remain competitive, they are pushed out of the market. In
the Philippines, there is little incentive to do this, so that co-ops become
socially strong, but often economically weak.

Internal Factors Influencing the Development of Co-ops Philippines
Factors relating to Membership, Management and Leadership:

In the Philippines, the co-op education program is usually quite strong,
with continuous seminars being conducted on a number of issues. Most
co-operatives are relatively small (vis-a-vis Canadian co-ops), so there is a
lot of room for participation in the co-op.

Because of the relatively small size of the co-ops, there are few
professional managers who are concerned with the bottom line.  And
because most of the members belong to the lower, and lower-middle
income groups,  it is hard for many co-ops to build up their equity or
capital base. Members must turn to the co-op as an alternative to health
care, to education for the children, to acquiring a loan to start a small
business because there is no social safety net.  These internal factors have
led co-operatives in the Philippines to allow social goals to prevail.

The Canadian Case Study: Metro Credit Union
Brief History of the Co-operative Movement in Canada and Ontario:

The co-operative movement in Canada started with the Desjardins
movement in Quebec in the early 1900s to combat usury problems. The
first people to become members of this co-op were blue-collar workers.
The first co-ops in Canada were unregistered, unincorporated and
unrecognised institutions which were often located in the houses of one of
the organisers.  Credit unions all over Canada enjoyed a special "niche" in
the market, until banks were able to release personal loans to the average
citizen in the mid-1960s. As credit unions were forced to compete with
banks, they became more economically efficient. On the other hand, credit
unions do not have the huge assets that banks have, so it becomes harder
provide and maintain certain types of services that members expect. This
dilemma is still pertinent to credit unions today.

Unlike the Philippine co-operative movement where the government
played a strong intervening role, the Canadian co-operative movement was
started by the local members of the community. The federal and provincial
governments do not use co-operatives as instruments to enhance their own
social or economic program like in the Philippines. Canadian co-operatives,
at least in their beginning stages, have a strong connection with the
community that they serve.

Metro Credit Union, Toronto:

Metro Credit Union (MCU) was created in 1949 as the University of
Toronto Employees Credit Union.  MCU started as a closed-bond
co-operative. Today, MCU is an open community-based co-op, and is
open to all residents and employees in the cities of Toronto, Etobicoke,
Scarborough, North York, East York and the city of York. As of December
31, 1996, MCU had assets totalling $224 million, with a membership of
28,900. This puts MCU among the ten largest in Ontario, and the forty
largest Canadian credit unions with a staff of 97 serve the members at nine

MCU and the Principles of Co-operation:

In 1996, Metro Credit Union hired Ethicscan to perform a social audit on
the co-op. This social audit was conducted to assess how well MCU is
meeting its own social and ethical standards, as well as social and
community expectations. Ethicscan noted in its report that although the
members who completed their questionnaires were chosen randomly, only
a very small percentage (13 per cent) of the original sample of 400
randomly chosen members responded.  

It is questionable whether the findings of the 52 respondents represent
the rest of the MCU members. Instead, some staff, Board member, and
member responses will be given reference in the following discussion.
However, one should be cautious in making inferences from the sample to
the population.  All members are free to leave as they were free to join the
co-operative. The majority of the members hold occupations in
universities or colleges, in the Boards of Education and hospitals. Since expanding its bond of association, MCU membership encompasses more
lower-middle to upper-middle income levels (Interview March 20, 1997).

MCU members elect a thirteen-member Board of Directors (BOD) who
serve a voluntary three-year term. The Board meets once a month to
review the minutes of the previous meeting and reports of standing
committee, as well as discuss new business and financial operations. The
standing committees are appointed by the Board. Attendance at the
Annual General Meetings (AGMs) is relatively high for a Toronto credit
union, but is it sufficient to have only 600 (out of nearly 30,000 members)
attend these meetings? Of  the interviewees, no one could remember a
member outside of the Board putting forward a resolution. They conclude
that the Board is generally successful in having its proposals approved
(Ethicscan 1996: 81). 

Furthermore, an estimated 100-200 members leave the AGM before
voting. This brings the percentage of members who do get to vote to less
than two per cent! Members also expressed concern that the BOD does
not communicate to members the type of skills needed for running for a
position in the Board (Ethicscan 1996: 84).

However, when member-respondents were asked if they felt that the
Board was accountable to the members, a large percentage (83 per cent)
stated that they were satisfied with the Board's accountability to
members. For the staff, 78 per cent  of those interviewed said that they
felt they could get their ideas and suggestions heard by senior management 
(Ethicscan 1996: 86, 176). Therefore, despite the low turn-out in the
annual general meeting, Metro Credit Union  does attempt to promote
democratic member control by making the Board and management available
for staff or member consultations.

Metro Credit Union offers a wide range of economic services to the
members. These include loan services, deposit services, RRSP sales, RRIF
(Registered Retirement Income Funds) sales, Ethical Funds sales (funds
that meet high standards in financial performance and social
responsibility),  and the offers of credit cards and member cards to be used
at any Automated Teller Machine. Thus, on the surface, MCU looks just
like any other bank, offering full financial services that private  banks
would offer, the difference being its membership fee and paid dividend.

Members and staff respondents were asked whether they feel that they
have a say in the decision-making process of the co-op.  Although
members interviewed were quite satisfied with their access to information,
68 per cent of the staff interviewed said that they were not consulted
before decisions were made by the management team. Non-management
staff also said that they were never given the chance to see the budget or
expenditure results, and felt that they were being left out of the decision
making process (Ethicscan 1996: 107-8, 111).

MCU has entered into business relations with other organisations in the
past.  For example, MCU worked with the NDP provincial government
for establishment of community loan funds. However, MCU has
maintained its autonomy throughout, and accountable to the members, and
decision-making powers with the board. MCU publishes a quarterly
newsletter which is available to members. This newsletter serves as a way
for MCU to keep members from all nine branches updated regarding the
operations of the co-operative (Interview March 20, 1997).

One innovative project of MCU in the field of training is called "Car
Facts". This is a free advisory service for credit union members who are
thinking of buying a car. Videotapes, made by the Credit Union Central of
Saskatchewan, are also used by MCU to provide a step-by-step guidance
in several topics, such as first-time home buyers (unpublished manuscript
for MCU).

Education does not mean simply a distribution of information. Members
of co-operatives must be fully aware of their responsibilities and
obligations as members.  In the area of education about co-operative
principles, many felt that the co-op could do more. One external
stakeholder estimated that 95% of Ontario credit union members do not
know about the co-op principles. 67% of the Board members interviewed
felt that credit union education materials are not strong enough. Most of
them also felt that MCU can and should do more in the area of education,
such as encouraging more volunteers and staff to take part in the CUDA
(Credit Union Director Achievement) program. However, most members
who were interviewed were satisfied with the co-op's education on
financial matters (Ethicscan 1996: 182).

There is a strong co-operation between MCU and the Credit Union
Central of Ontario (CUCO) and has also entered into a relationship with
other co-ops in the area.  MCU is also co-operating with some other credit
unions in trying to set up a community loan fund for micro-enterprise

Metro Credit Union, one of the largest credit unions in Ontario, is unique
because while economically strong, it has also tried to maintain its social
dimension.  For example, the Gary Gillam Award for Social Responsibility
was recently established by MCU and CUCO.  MCU will contribute up
to $2,500 to be donated on behalf of the recipients to a charity,
organisation or project of his or her choice. Another way MCU has
demonstrated its concern for the community is the leadership role that it
has taken in establishing a self-sustaining community loan fund. This loan
fund is designated for individuals or organisations who would normally not
be able to acquire a loan. The credit risk in this case would be diversified
among all participants, so the risk for each individual investor is reduced.
MCU is finding it very hard to mobilise local groups because of the high
risk factor.

MCU has also maintained its commitment in the community by allocating
about two per cent of its pre-tax earning to charity and the community. At
the end of 1996, seven local organisations in Toronto received donations
from MCU (Members' Newsletter January 1997: 7).

According to the findings of the Ethicscan study, the Board and volunteer
interviewees rated MCU poorly in terms of support for community
economic development. Even though MCU does more than the average
credit union or caisses populaire, interviewees saw the potential to do a lot
more. These same people also thought that MCU is weak in its ability to
foster small business lending.  Likewise, Board and volunteer interviewees
felt disappointed over the rate at which MCU is dealing with
environmental responsibility. The staff respondents were even more blunt,
saying that there is no environmental responsibility in MCU. 

Despite the low ratings in some areas, MCU differentiates itself from most
other credit unions by its commitment to social responsibility and
community development. 

External Factors Influencing the Development of Co-operatives in Canada
The Political and Economic Environment:

Co-ops have the same characteristics of capitalist organisations while
viewing themselves as non-capitalist. They never replace capitalism;
instead, they are seen as an alternative to privately-owned businesses. 

Credit unions became the first reliable, user-friendly organisations to
provide affordable loans to the average Canadian citizen (Interviews,
March 20, 1997 and March 30, 1997). They found their "niche" in the
market of consumer loans. The government, in a way, has put credit
unions into direct competition with banks, by changing the bank
legislation. In the 1980s, private banks started to "invade" what was
previously credit unions territory. Credit unions were also affected when
industries started downsizing (Guinney 1994: 4-6). 

They were forced to adapt to these changes. As many co-ops started to
"mimic" the methods of the private businesses in order to survive the
competition, they undermined the foundation that sets co-ops apart from
private corporations (International Joint Project 1995: 16).  The economic
environment in Canada is forcing co-operatives, especially credit unions, to
become more competitive, to strengthen their economic structures and
provide various economic activities that private banks provide, as they
struggle to maintain the loyalty of their members.

The government has also facilitated the credit unions' entry into the
market in other ways. With the rising interest rate in Canada, credit unions
found it very hard to establish equity and reserves using  a fixed term
interest rate (Co-op Futures Direction Project 1982: 75). Many credit
unions were forced out of the market because of high losses. The Ontario
government responded by creating the Ontario Share and Deposit
Insurance (OSDIC) in the 1970s. Credit unions paid an insurance premium
to this government-owned subsidiary, which guaranteed the loans of
members up to a certain amount (Interview, March 20, 1997).

To solve the problem of lack of equity, Gary Gillam, former CEO of
MCU, was a key leader in putting together a working committee to change
the Credit Union Act in 1991. Under the old Act, credit unions were only
allowed to issue one type of shares to members, called membership shares. 
Bill 134 enables credit unions and caisses populaires to issue shares for
investment purposes to members and non-members. The Bill would also
insure credit union and caisses populaire deposits up to a maximum of
$60,000, under OSDIC (which was later changed to the Deposit Insurance
Corporation of Ontario, or DICO). The Bill was meant to "build on the
credit unions' strength as locally-based financial institutions, while at the
same time, assisting them to compete with some of the larger financial
institutions operating in their communities". 

In their relationship with government in Canada, credit unions have been
able to maintain their autonomy from the beginning. Unlike the case in the
Philippines, the government has put few restrictions on credit unions and
in fact helped them compete with banks.

Internal Factors Influencing the Development of Co-operatives in Canada
Factors relating to membership and  management:

The biggest internal challenge to co-operatives in Canada is the dwindling
member participation and loyalty.  As members become more integrated
into the economic system, they feel less need to participate in
co-operatives (Fulton 1990: 71). With the growth of the credit unions,
many co-ops and credit unions have had to hire professionals to manage
the operations of the co-ops. Usually, these professionals come from the
private sector, and do not possess an adequate understanding or
appreciation for the distinctiveness of co-operative organisations, and lack
ideological commitment. As a result, fewer resources were dedicated for
the promotion of membership participation. 

The Future Directions Project concluded that the utilitarian goals were
paramount in Canadian co-ops, and there was a lack of difference between
co-ops and the capitalist institutions. Member loyalty wasn't based on an
ideological commitment, but on personal benefits. As soon as a capitalist
enterprise offers a better deal, members would switch (Melnyk 1985:
116). The bigger credit unions have, as a result, ventured into selling
mutual funds (Interview, March 30, 1997). The Future Directions Project
also concluded that co-ops in Canada had an "operating style in which
membership (did) not fundamentally matter" (Melnyk 1985: 69). 

The first real challenge for co-ops and credit unions in Canada, then, is to
find new activities and new ways of actively promoting member
participation in the co-op.  The present Director of ICA-ROAP, and
former CCA Asia Region Director, says that in Canada, "members are
not given education, but rather information". Credit unions must find
legitimacy in membership. 

The sheer size of credit unions in Canada is making it more difficult for
members to participate in co-op activities. Secondly, the employment
of professional management and the adoption of up-to-date business
practices may have widened the gap between the members and the
management. McGillivray and Ish (1992: 74) believe that it is this gap,
above everything else (risk-taking, experimentation) in business
undertaking, that is the major challenge for co-ops and credit unions
in the future.

Conclusion and Future Implications
The UNDP definition of sustainable human development implies that both
economic growth and social justice are necessary pre-conditions to meeting
the needs of people today, without jeopardising the generations. Co-operatives must successfully balance the two.  

However, as we have seen from the Philippines and Canadian case studies,
co-ops often emphasise one goal more than the other. In Canada, the
economic goal tends to predominate, whereas in the Philippines, the social
goal is dominant. Many internal and external factors play a part in
hindering a co-operative's ability to achieve its full potential as both a
social and economic enterprise.  

In Canada, this means creating an awareness among the professional
managers so that they will understand and appreciate the distinctiveness of
the co-operative as a social and economic institution. It also means finding
ways of maintaining the loyalty of the members in the face of severe
competition from private sector.

In the Philippines, the biggest challenge comes from the government's lack
of understanding and care in the co-op movement. This has led to
interventionist or otherwise wrongful government policies and incentives
that do not promote, but rather undermine, the coop movement in the

The private co-operative federations must present a united voice to the
government to lobby and educate the officials about the coop ideology and

These are the issues that will continue to dominate the co-operative
movement worldwide.  Their success depends on achieving a balance
between social and economic goals.  As pointed out by Fairbairn (et. al.
1991: 120), "there is no strict limit on what human creativity,
commitment, and co-operation may achieve".

Table 1. Members' Perception of Economic Benefits
	Mean	S.D. *	Chi-	Signif.	  d.f.**
			square	level
Access to credit	6.713	1.769	66.28	0	8
Additional sources
of income	6.487	1.973	73.39	0	9
Improved business
operations	6.483	2.223	57.78	0	9
Increase in income	6.303	1.749	105.69	0	9
Access to cheaper 
source of credit	6.298	1.648	131.19	0	9
Less dependence
on government	6.204	1.770	107.31	0	9
Larger savings	6.196	1.569	100.94	0	8
Increase in working
capital	6.132	2.234	46.95	0	9
Increased capacity
for self-help	6.069	1.842	110.86	0	9
Expansion of
business operations	6.040	2.455	46.02	0	9
Better business skills	6.028	2.306	59.897	0	9
Better repayment
capability	5.889	2.004	85.028	0	9
Better business
knowledge	5.844	2.250	69.99	0	9
Increased capacity to
send children to school	4.904	2.482	31.59	0	9
Sure buyer of produce	4.677	2.398	141.66	0	9
Increase in number
of appliances owned	3.896	2.289	58.92	0	9
More land owned	3.00	2.406	167.696	0	9

* S.D. = standard deviation
** d.f. = degree of freedom

Table 2. Members' Perception of Social Benefits 
		 Mean	SD*	Chi-	Signi.	d.f**
				Sq.	Lvl.
Feeling of pride in
being a co-op member		7.32	2.211		92.40	0	9
Feeling of loyalty
to the group		7.2	2.085		73.80	0	8
Ability to work with 
others in a group		6.948	1.529		117.29	0	8
Ease in the company 
of others		6.910	1.771		106.10	0	9
Feeling of belong-
ing  in a group		6.863	1.810		118.70	0	9
Interest in co-op
issues		6.809	1.473		95.05	0	7
Feeling of ownership
of co-op enterprise		6.759	1.95	5	67.59	0	8
Sense of satisfaction
in participating in
co-op affairs		6.579	1.88	1	76.17	0	9
Awareness of co-op 
issues and affairs		6.555	1.77	7	66.63	0	8
Ability to analyse
problems and form 
effective solutions		6.533	1.549		102.96	0	8
Able to voice out one's
on co-op issues		6.528	1.810		60.45	0	8
Realisation of 
leadership potential		6.486	1.601		97.19	0	8
Improved self-confi-
dence /self esteem		6.473	1.576		113.36	0	8
Less fear or timidity 
when approaching
co-op officers/staff		6.450	1.840		54.98	0	8
Enhancement of 
leadership qualities		6.381	1.619		81.31	0	8
Feeling of control
over one's life/destiny 		6.088	1.085	 	65.35	0	8

   * S.D. = standard deviation
 ** d.f. = degree of freedom