While the Government keeps fighting emerging challenges surrounding cooperatives management in Rwanda, new digital solutions are being brought on board to boost accountability and transparency in cooperatives.
After a series of research about cooperatives last year, Frank Muhiza, 23, and Brice Muvunyi, 22, developed a digital system dubbed ‘Automated and Integrated Cooperative Operations System (AICOS), in response to all the challenges that cooperatives face in their management ecosystem.
Muvunyi and Muhiza are both Software Engineering students at Adventist University of Central Africa (AUCA) while the latter is also an active member of KLab, and Global Data Protection Officer.
They both spent one year and a half touring different cooperatives, especially in the agricultural sector, doing research on the essence of cooperative management, especially in the agriculture sector, to learn how they are managed, financed and policies governing them.
“Many cooperatives use traditional or paper-based data management and financial reporting in their everyday activities and this lead to delays in sharing information and required data with key stakeholders on time,” said Muhiza.
With the traditional system, some cooperative authorities find it easy to embezzle money or property because there is no concrete way to supervise them, leaving a big question mark to their accountability.
AICOS developers Brice Muvunyi (L) and Frank Muhiza, are co-founders of Extra, a tech startup specializing in bringing digital solutions from artifical 2. / Eddie Nsabimana
With AICOS, cooperatives will be able to work with transparency and boost trust among their members especially giving guarantee to the security of cooperative members’ harvests.
Muhiza believes digitizing operations of business cooperatives will help better planning, evaluation of their day-to-day activities and efficiently monitor their financial situation.
Cooperatives can use the system, specifically in membership management where they are able to record all details regarding its members, stock management, product movement and giving updates the cooperative’s situation and accounting activities to keep track of financial reports.
The same system can also be used by Unions, Federations as well as the Rwanda Cooperative Agency to access different data for planning and budgeting purposes.
So far, 50 cooperatives from Gatsibo, Bugesera, Karongi, Nyamasheke and Rusizi have their business operations already digitized under the new system and their management system is only showing positive results.
“Reference to where the system is already in place, a number of gaps were bridged from the cooperative data management to the time taken to do reports about the cooperative’s day-to-day status,” Muvunyi added.
Olive Nirere, the Production Manager of CORIMAK, a rice farming cooperative in Gtasibo District, told The New Times that she can do her reports and update the cooperative’s date in a shorter time since than when they started using the system six months ago.
“The system is really helping us do our job efficiently and it is helping us in collecting or updating the data of our cooperative. The system helps us update our records day after day with clear data,” she said, adding that it had also boosted transparency and accountability among cooperative members and authorities.
Muhiza said they developed the system putting a lot of attention on data security where only those who have an account are able to access the system to secure data management.
“Cooperatives spend a lot of time, money travelling and carrying their copies of management reports to different institutions, but now they can submit them immediately using the system. Only those who have permission are able to access the system using their account. This was intended to ensure protection on cooperatives’ records,” he said.
Though the system is targeting more cooperatives, developers still have a challenge of a small number of staff to train cooperatives to use the system and provide technical support on data collection and validation.
So far, only five developers are on course to provide training in different parts of the country.
“164 cooperatives have applied to use the system but we don’t have the means to employ staff to provide the training. It would a big boost for us if we could get support in financing training to ensure the system succeeds,” Muvunyi appealed.