Why Involve Youth in Co-ops and How? (1998)
(Source: Co-op Dialogue, Vol. 8, No. 3, Oct.-Dec., 1998, pp. 1-3)
Co-operation is a concept which has been around for most of history. People learned long ago that by working together they can accomplish more than the sum of each individual's efforts. Early cultures hunted, lived and worshipped together in groups.
Co-operatives provide goods and services which would otherwise be unattainable. Co-ops help people provide for themselves. Co-ops exist not just for the benefit of the members but to serve, strengthen and sustain local communities. They are community organizations.
Any organization that wants to continue to exist and grow must involve youth. Co-operatives are no different. Involving the youth will be beneficial for the development not only of the co-ops but also of the individual youth and the whole community.
In co-ops, the youth can learn and practice the very beautiful co-op values of self-help, honesty, social responsibility, democracy, equity and equality. Many, many skills can be learned and practiced in co-ops - management skills, entrepeneurship and especially leadership skills. Co-operatives are an ideal instrument for Youth Development.
Actively involving the youth will benefit the co-ops a great deal because they can offer co-ops their abundant energy, idealism, time, dynamism, talents, and even finances. Because the youth learn the values of self-help, honesty, social responsibility, democracy, equity and equality in co-ops, these same co-op values will also be brought to their own communities. The youth may even organize a new co-op or strengthen a co-op already existing in his/her community based on their experiences in a co-op.
Co-operatives are an ideal instrument for Community Development. There are two co-ops where the youth can be actively involved - campus co-ops and community co-ops.
Present Situation in Campus Co-ops
At present, most of the campus co-ops consider students only as consumers and markets for their different co-op services. Some co-ops include students as members but only a few of these co-ops involve them as regular members. What may be the reasons behind this non-inclusion and limited student involvement?
Co-ops think only students 18 years old and above can become regular members.
Co-ops say the students come and go. When they graduate from the school, they might withdraw their capital investment in the co-op. This withdrawal will cause instability to the cash flow of the group.
The adult co-operators fear that they will receive a smaller share in terms of rebates and dividends is students are included as co-op members.
The adult co-operators believe the youth as untrustworthy and unruly.
The adult co-operators believe that as soon as students become regular co-op members, the latter will occupy a majority number of seats in the Board, seats that they are presently occupying.
Students do not know what the co-op is and the benefits that will result if they are actively involved in co-ops.
The students may know what a co-op is and the benefits of being involved but they are not interested in co-ops because of other priorities - school, job, commitment to other organizations or some other reason/s.
The following are counter-arguments to the above mentioned reasons on why there is non-inclusion and limited student involvement in campus co-ops.
There is no legal impediment for the co-op to lower the age for regular membership of students to say, 15.
When one batch of students graduate, a new batch will replace them. Therefore, no cash instability will occur because the new co-op members will replace the student co-op members who have graduated.
The adult co-operators may receive smaller rebates and dividends but the individual youth, the co-op and the community will benefit more than what they may lose monetarily.
The students can give the co-op their available finances (as shares), time, effort, idealism, energy, and new ideas. These will be extremely beneficial to the co-op. The students can learn the values of self-help, honesty, and social responsibility in the co-op. The students can then practice the co-op values in the co-op as regular members, co-op committee members and members of the Board of Directors (BOD). The students also practice these values in their own communities. Campus co-ops can then produce skilled, honest and trustworthy citizens of the community.
As in any age group, there are students who are untrustworthy and unruly. But as seen in the successful youth activities like World Youth Day celebrations, Girls and Boys Scouts and other youth groups that give much to the community, the youth have great potential and have much to offer. The youth of today are the leaders of tomorrow.
The co-op may specify in their bylaws that a limited number of seats in the BOD should be occupied by students.
Each campus co-op must practice the 5th Co-op Principle - Education, Training and Information.
First, they must ensure that the present co-op members know and practice the New Co-operative Identity.
Next, they can conduct seminars or other gatherings for the other members of their campus community about the nature and benefits of co-operation.
For example, the campus co-op can coordinate with the homeroom teachers so students may learn in the classrooms about co-ops.
To convince non-co-op members to become co-op members and inactive co-op members to become active ones, co-ops should make their services/businesses attractive and most importantly, efficient, effective and expansive entities.
Present Situation on Community Co-operatives
The same reasons and counter-arguments hold for community co-ops. However, our limited knowledge and experience hinder us from presenting a comprehensive picture of youth participation and involvement in community co-ops.
The diversity and businesses that these co-ops engage in require more study on how to foster greater youth involvement.
Limited resources must first be chanelled to campus co-ops for them to create mechanisms to increase active involvement of youth. Prioritizing campus co-ops are easier to organize.
Actively involving and training the youth now will ensure the success and continuity of our co-ops and the development of the youth and the community.
In co-operatives, Future Leaders are leading Now!.
Co-ordinate with youth-related agencies and organizations, including the CDA (Co-op Development Authority), National Youth Commission, DECS and CHED, for them to vigorously promote active youth participation in all co-ops.
Change the CDA model by-laws to include youth as regular members. The qualifications for regular membership, specifically the phrase, "of legal age, with the capacity to contract" should be deleted.
Urge DECS to implement and provide adequate support in the actualization of the memorandum regarding canteens to be run by co-ops.
Inform and make the campus co-ops aware of (these facts and) the immense benefits and possibilities of active student involvement in co-ops.
Inform and make community co-ops aware of (these facts and) the immense benefits and possibilities of active youth involvement in co-ops.
Support and initiate provincial, regional, national and international co-op youth gatherings.
Make a supplement to RA 6938 about campus co-ops in addition to the existing information regarding laboratory co-ops. The new model will feature youth integration in the campus co-ops.
* Ms. Saidee A. Singson is Youth Co-ordinator of Metro Manila Federation of Consumer Co-operatives and Chairperson of the University of Philippines Students Multi-purpose Co-operative.