Consultation on Cooperative Identity with members in Malaysia and Singapore

Twenty-six years have passed since the ICA Statement on the Cooperative Identity (SCI) was adopted during the centenary year of the ICA in 1995. Soon after the SCI’s formulation, cooperators in the Asia and Pacific region convened in Jaipur, India in 1997 to deliberate on the SCI and its implementation in practice. It was recognised by them as a not so “rigid framework” and subject to flexible interpretation by cooperators in the region.

The ICA-AP Regional Office organised a series of online consultations with members in 2021 to reflect on the SCI in their day- to-day operations and engagement with stakeholders. The consultations held with members from India, Iran, Jordan, Malaysia, Nepal, Philippines, Palestine, Singapore, and from the Africa region including Egypt, Kenya, Lebanon and Tunisia in partnership with the ICA Africa Regional Office reflected on how the SCI guides day-to-day operations (practical challenges and strategies to overcome them), sets cooperatives (membership and value-based) apart from other business enterprises, fosters member interest and responsibilities, enhances the effective ‘cooperativeness’ of their organisations, and helps relationships with government and stakeholders. The SCI continues to be seen as foundational and integral to the sustenance and growth of the cooperative movement.

In July 2021, the Government of India constituted an independent Ministry of Cooperation (MoC) to provide a separate administrative, legal and policy framework to strengthen the cooperative movement. At the same time, the Supreme Court of India struck down provisions in the 97th Constitutional Amendment Act that impinged on the role of states and declared that cooperative societies as a subject matter belong “wholly and exclusively to the State legislatures to legislate upon.” Central to both the decisions is the issue of the ‘autonomy and independence’ of cooperatives.

In September, ICA-AP in collaboration with IRMA, the ICA Domus Trust (IDT), and APMAS organized a multistakeholder consultation on “Autonomy and Independence of Cooperatives in India” in September 2021. Cooperators, practitioners, academicians, and experts in the sector examined the legal and constitutional implications of these decisions and explored how future initiatives on cooperatives can embed the autonomy of the cooperative sector and make it vibrant. The consultation reflected on what ails the cooperative sector today and came out with the Anand Declaration, set of policy recommendations for enabling ‘ease of doing business’ to inform and engage the new MoC.

In December, the 33rd World Cooperative Congress in Seoul, with the theme, Deepening the Cooperative Identity, celebrated and deepened the understanding of the SCI. The Congress came both at a time of celebration and crisis. While we celebrated the 125th anniversary of the ICA and the 25th anniversary of the SCI, we also battled challenges on several fronts, in the form of global health pandemic, climate change, widening inequalities, migration, refugee crisis, intra and inter-state conflicts, competition with other businesses and among cooperatives themselves, ageing demography, population explosion, rising unemployment and discontent among youth, increasing violence against the marginalised, girls and women, and diminishing tolerance towards others. As diverse as these challenges, is the status of the SCI and cooperative movement’s visibility in the Asia and Pacific region.