Participants from 95 countries from around the world have gathered in Kigali for the international cooperative conference that is discussing how to advance socio-economic development through the cooperative movement.
Over 1,000 participants are attending the conference that is being held under the theme “Laying the Foundations of a Peaceful Future: Cooperatives for Sustainable Development.”
The conference, which runs between October 14 and 17, is a platform for countries to learn best practices from each other how they can make cooperatives the future of business promotion, and job creation.
It is organised by the International Co-operative Alliance (ICA), in partnership and with inputs of members worldwide and under the auspices of the Government of the Republic of Rwanda and the European Commission.
Organisers say that the conference will be used as a platform to project the contribution and potential of the cooperative movement for sustainable and ethical development across the world.
It aims at sharing experiences between African states and their counterparts from other continents for sustainable and inclusive development.
Information from ICA shows that there are about three million cooperatives in the world and that they employ 280 million people representing 10 percent of the world’s working population.
Hosting the conference alone is proof of progress registered by Rwanda’s cooperative movement, said Prof. Jean Bosco Harelimana, Director General of Rwanda Cooperative Agency (RCA).
Delegates from all over the world follow a presentation. All photos by Craish Bahizi.
RCA is the institution charged with promoting and regulating the cooperatives sector in Rwanda.
With 124 years since ICA was created, he said, it is only for the second time such a biennial global conference has been held in Africa, adding that he first on the continent was held in South Africa in 2013.
“Hosting this conference implies the good governance that Rwandans have, but also the visionary leadership, and accountability,” Harelimana said.
In case any person misuses the assets of a cooperative, or use influence peddling is reported and held accountable, he indicated.
“Rwanda Cooperative Agency ensures accountability through monitoring the management of cooperatives, and always look for innovations to enable them perform better,” he said.
Visitors tour inside a mini exhibition that was showcasing how cooperatives performance.
Figures from RCA indicate that there are about 9,706 cooperatives in Rwanda with a share capital of more than Rwf47.8 billion. All the cooperatives count over five million members (comprising over 2.77 million men, and over 2.25 million women).
RCA says that cooperatives have been crucial in improving the welfare of Rwandans, citing the role Savings and Credit Cooperatives (SACCOs) have played in boosting financial inclusion in the country.
He said that through these SACCOs, over Rwf350 billion have been disbursed in loans to previously unbanked Rwandans which helped thousands of Rwandans – who were formerly – unbanked get finance to run different profitable businesses.
Supporting growth, job creation
Harelimana said that RCA is reinforcing entrepreneurship aspect through cooperatives such that they can provide jobs to the youth in the continued effort to reduce unemployment among young people.
“Our aim is to rally more youth to join cooperatives such as those dealing with agriculture, livestock, transport, handcraft, transport, services and mining, among others so that the youth get employment in those areas,” he said.
Dr. Claudine Uwera, the Minister of State for Economic Planning said that cooperatives have a great role in development, adding that this important conference is a learning platform for progress and more impact.
“Cooperatives help citizens to contribute to the achievement of countries’ development. There are countries where cooperatives have advanced, and they come to share experience with those which are lagging behind or still have challenges facing them so that they learn from them,” she said.
ICA President, Ariel Guarco said that there is no other way to achieve development.
The path of solidarity, of cooperation, of responsibility, of participation; the path of democracy and commitment to our people, our cultures and our environment, he said.
"There is no future without cooperation. There is no sustainable development if we do not choose business models that put people's dignity first."
Nicola Bellomo, the EU Ambassador to Rwanda said that different stakeholders convened in Kigali in line with a shared belief in the importance of the cooperative movement as a driver of development.
Because of the overall structure of cooperatives, Bellomo said, this model has proved to be a reliable people-centred mechanism which has enabled people around the world to take control of their livelihoods and improve their wellbeing.
“Supporting the growth of cooperatives is a worldwide effort with a guaranteed return on investment. This is because cooperatives empower people and local communities to take charge of their own development, putting people first, putting people before profit,” he observed.
"EU and its Member States remains at the forefront in proactively engaging and supporting cooperatives in Africa - Rwanda is a great example of this partnership,” he remarked.
Why cooperative movement matters
According to ICA, cooperatives differ from other enterprises in that they pursue economic and social goals indissociably from one another, and in that they are primarily inspired by citizens' concerns and realities on the ground, in their own communities.
In addition to their acute understanding of the problems people face, they are characterised by democratic and participatory governance, through which they implement their action based on the values of self-help, self-reliance, democracy, equality, equity and solidarity. These cooperative values and principles are the heart of the identity and management of cooperatives.
By placing each person above any other value, the cooperative movement can break up the narrow frames of alienating industrialisation and provide agency to the anonymous person.
The rapid deterioration of the planet - due to deforestation, soil erosion, climate change, demography, food chain imbalances, social inequalities, water supply, energy, urbanization, biodiversity, etc. – are grave challenges and have increased the awareness of citizens and institutions, ICA says.
Dr Vandana Shiva, an Indian Scientist and environmentalist, who is also a Board member of the International Forum on Globalisation (IGF), said that “the cooperative movement is actually following the laws of nature, the laws of justice, it is following the laws of humanity,” referring to inequalities that are brought about by inequalities in the world.
“With seven billion people on this planet, with [a few] billionaires on the other side, this is a sad story for the future. Yours is the real story for the future, cooperatives are the future,” she said as she addressed hundreds of participants in the conference.
By signing a framework partnership agreement with the International Cooperative Alliance (March 2016), ICA stated that the European Commission has, for its part, recognided that cooperative enterprises and the cooperative movement can strengthen and revitalise the global partnership for sustainable development.