Rwanda on Friday marked the International Day of Cooperatives with officials calling on citizens to join co-ops to improve their lives and spur a savings culture.
Figures indicate that the country boasts 789 co-ops, 130 unions, 14 federations, and 448 savings and credit cooperatives, also known as Saccos.
Community based cooperatives are critical for national development largely because they are crucial vehicles for mobilising resources and bringing to bear economies of scale.
Professionally run grassroots cooperatives help promote and accelerate equitable growth, while they also venture into areas that traditional financial institutions deem highly risky, and also provide jobs which are critical for national development.
For countries like Rwanda, the importance of cooperatives cannot be overemphasized as they serve as vehicles through which to mobilise economic and social capital to help citizens move out of poverty and achieve national development targets.
In Rwanda, cooperatives have played an important role in socio-economic development over the years, but many coops have also been dogged by mismanagement and embezzlement, which has left members counting losses and subsequently discouraging many from joining.
Nonetheless, such malpractices should not blind us to the fact that co-ops are very crucial in development efforts and have the potential to impact the lives of their members and the communities they serve in a way few other initiatives can.
The fact that cooperatives’ work is largely informed by local realities and priorities means that coops provide solutions to the daily challenges faced by the people at the grassroots.
Considering the significance of coops in development efforts it’s critical that government, both at the central and local levels, devises mechanisms to ensure that these groups are managed professionally, members are empowered to hold their leaders to account, and are provided with the required technical and advisory assistance to play their rightful role.
The private sector too, including financial institutions, should throw their weight behind cooperatives to ensure they live up to their potential as this would result into a win-win scenario.
Most importantly, citizens should embrace grassroots-based cooperatives and seek to grow and develop together as a community.