Rwanda last week on the 6th July 2019 joined the rest of the world in celebrating the International Day of Cooperatives. The theme of the Cooperative’s day was “Cooperatives for Decent Work” that shouted out the message that cooperatives are people-centred enterprises characterized by democratic control that prioritize human development and social justice within the workplace. During the national celebrations that took place in Gatsibo District in the Eastern province, the five best performing cooperatives from all the provinces were recognized and awarded trophies. Members of COPRORIZ Ntende celebrate after being awarded as the best cooperative The day’s event was attended by the Governor Eastern province, the DG RCA, representative of police Gatsibo District, representative of the army, local district members, the president of cooperatives in Rwanda, members from RAB, representatives from Land O’ lakes, representatives from SBFIC, USAID RALGA and many other stakeholders. The event kicked off at 10: Pm on the grounds along the shores of the marshland that waters the farmer’s rice pads in Rugarama sector, where thousands of members from different cooperatives around the country had gathered to celebrate with Government officials and stakeholders the International Day of Cooperatives. Members of a motorcycle cooperative riding during the parade This International Day of Cooperatives is an annual celebration of the cooperative movement that takes place on the first Saturday of July since 1923. Since 1995, the United Nations and the International Cooperative Alliance have been setting the theme for the celebration of the Coops Day through the Committee for the Promotion and Advancement of Cooperatives (COPAC), a multi-stakeholder partnership of global public and private institutions that champions and supports people-centred and self-sustaining cooperative enterprises as leaders in sustainable development. The aim of this year’s celebration was to increase awareness of cooperatives. The event underscored the contributions of various cooperatives and how they have managed change the lives of their members and managing to resolve the major problems within the cooperatives. The DG of RAC, the Governor Eastern Province and the Mayor Gatsibo, the Regional Army Commander and police in Gatsibo take a group photo with the winners Before the main event, delegates from different NGO’s and government institutions first visited the COPRORIZ Ntende Cooperative where they were shown different development infrastructures that the Cooperative had put in place. Among the unique developments of COPRORIZ Ntende the cooperative that brings together 3,761 members of which 1,260 are women were the Rwf300 million hotel that they inaugurated in January last year and the chicken farm that is targeting to distribute over 30, 000 hens to its members every year. One of the trucks of the transport cooperative that operates in Kigali (COCTRAMAVK) that was among the five awarded After the tour of the cooperative, the delegates were entertained by dancers from various cooperatives before the five best performing cooperatives were rewarded where COPRORIZ Ntende cooperative emerged as this year’s winner at the national level. While addressing the delegates, Prof. Jean-Bosco Harelimana the RCA Director General of the public institution in charge of promoting and regulating the cooperative organisations sector in Rwanda, said that cooperatives are having a big impact on the country’s economy. “Today we are here to celebrate the International Day for Cooperative for the 15th time in Rwanda and the 97th time world over. Establishing Cooperatives has proved that it is a way of creating jobs and many are engaged in various economic activities including agriculture, livestock, commerce, service, transport, handcraft, transformation (processing), mining, fishing, and housing. They also include Savings and Credit Cooperatives (SACCOS)” said Harelimana. He went on to say that cooperatives are used to enhance expertise and knowledge because cooperatives are run by and for local people, they develop, and pass on, the business expertise. “Profits generated stay local, and are invested in the cooperative, the local area or distributed to the local owners or members. So cooperatives are an effective tool for self-help and play a big role in empowering members in the society” said Harelimana. He added that in Rwanda, cooperatives have increased in number and have reached a level that is so valued by both the members and government compared to the 129 cooperatives that had less than 200,000 members in 1994. As a result, there is significant and gradual increase of Rwandans embracing cooperatives and there is practical evidence that they stood more to benefit within than out of cooperatives. “Today there are 9,706 cooperatives in Rwanda with a share capital of more than Rwf47 billion. All the cooperatives count over five million twenty eight thousand members (comprising over 2.69 million men, and over 2.14 million women) Currently, we have about Rwf70 billion savings in SACCOs, and Rwf15 billion saved by ordinary cooperatives and the loans that have been given to Rwandans through SACCOs total to over Rwf296 billion” he added. The best performing cooperatives that were awarded were COPRORIZ Ntende, AGASEKE Kiziguro, Abakunda Kawa, AKABI and COCTRAMAVK cooperative. While handing over the trophies to representatives of the five best performing cooperatives the Director General said that they considered many factors to select the winners that included financial management, work plan and good governance activities. In his speech Mufulukye Fred the Guest of Honor and Governor of the Eastern Province urged members and those who have not yet joined cooperatives to unite and work together to fight poverty and contribute to the country`s economic growth. “Today we celebrate the International Day of Cooperatives and we take the opportunity to call upon all Rwandans to unite and work together in cooperatives and to embrace national programmes because it has been proven that in cooperatives, members work harder and profit a lot thus being able to provide for themselves and their families” said Mufulukye. He added that cooperatives can do a lot more and that they should not limit themselves to particular activities. “Today before coming here, we visited a rice cooperative COPRORIZ Ntende that has shown that venturing into other economic activities pays off. The members of this cooperative today are a testimony of the fact that more income can be got when you work as a team and if you diversify your activities” added the Governor In an interview with Elysée Rugwizangoga, the president of COPRORIZ Ntende, a cooperative of rice farmers in the Eastern Province’s Gatsibo District that worn as the best performing trophy, told journalists that working as a team has changed the lives of its members. “We started small in 2003 with very few members before we transformed into a cooperative in 2008. Today each member’s contribution has increased tremendously and by 2018, individual contributions stood at Rwf116,000 in value. We have achieved a lot as a cooperative. We own seven cars which help us carry out farming activities including transporting our produce to the market. We also own two buildings and a multipurpose hall, with the total properties worth Rwf1 billion” said Rugwizangoga He added that as a group, they have a voice that is respected by others in various businesses as well as financial institutions, something that has helped them to get access to finance. This year’s International Day of Cooperatives focused on the need for all those who are involved in the cooperative movement to promote decency at work and justice within the workplace.