Co-ops and Computers work together (1998)
(Source: Co-op Dialogue, Vol. 8, No. 3, Oct.-Dec., 1998, pp. 9)
(Peter Clarke argues that the use of computers helps fulfill our Co-operative Principles
Dr. Peter Clarke is a Co-operative writer from U.K. and he regularly contributes to the Co-operative News through his weekly column 'And finally'. He has kindly agree to contribute to your magazine on a regular basis, on new thoughts on co-operatives and co-operation. We thank him for his offer. The readers are requested to send their feedback on such issues. -Editor)
During the spring of 1998 an Exhibition called "Handmade in India" was held at the London Gallery of the Crafts Council of the UK. It enthused about Indian crafts with the following words, "Timeless traditions, unchanging forms, anonymous artisans and enduring skills" There was a web site associated with the exhibition: [www.craftscouncil.org.uk/1_1.htm]
It included a wonderful photograph of a Bomkai Orissa Cotton Sari made by the Bomkai Weavers Co-op.
This set me thinking about the use of computers in Co-ops in places like India. I needed no convincing that Co-ops can produce top quality work. After all the Co-operative Principles offer a unique blend of practical guidance about how best to meet the market's challenge and how best to help co-operators improve themselves and their economic status.
But how do these ideas work in the digital age? Computers are increasing globalisation, making world wide communication easier, increasing the size of the global market and thus intensifying competition.
The business community is embracing the opportunities provided by computers. To succeed in this market place Co-ops must grasp those opportunities too.
More capital will be needed for Co-ops and training for those operating the computers. Their use is limited by two factors. Firstly the extent of rural electrification and secondly the facility of the users with the English language as most business applications use English script. Programmes do exist in some countries for the use of local languages on computers.
If the difficulties can be overcome huge benefits can accrue. The POINT's programme of Singapore National Co-operative Federation shows the way, as does the Federation's initiative to provide computer services to credit co-ops.
Co-ops have little to fear from computers and much to gain. Indeed because computers encourage co-operative working and liberate human potential, they help us fulfill our Co-operative Principles. There is no better environment in which computers can yield their benefits than one where co-operative working is routine!
Computers can deal with administrative chores of running a business, releasing time for the more important tasks of marketing and production. They increase employment by improving the productivity of enterprises. The use of computers can, however, go beyond the purely routine tasks. If used properly they can open up many new business opportunities.
We live in a data rich world. The relatively low cost of computer hardware and software means that most businesses can afford a computer system sufficiently sophisticated to capture and use business data to the full. Data is a resource which can be exploited for competitive advantage like all the other factors of production.
Because of the internet, the world wide web, there is a seemingly insatiable demand for information.
There are also growing opportunities for electronic commerce. Co-ops are well placed to take advantage of these opportunities. The internet allows the values and virtues of Co-ops to be exploited to the full as a powerful marketing tool.
But computerisation is not just about succeeding in an increasingly competitive market place.
It is also about helping the members of Co-operatives to lead more fulfilled lives. Academic studies prove that given the right circumstances, and training, the introduction of new technology can transform and liberate workers.
Isn't that what all co-operators seek: empowerment to run their own enterprises and economic security?