Ever since the Ministry of Cooperation was established on July 6, 2021, commentators were wondering why a Union Ministry, when it is a State subject? The Union Minister mentioned many a times that it is in our economic interest that cooperatives be strengthened, as they alone can empower and equitably distribute profits to the economically backward. ‘Sahakar Se Samriddhi’ is the crux.

He further clarified on April 12, 2022, at the National Conference on Cooperation Policy, that the Union Government does not intend to interfere in the functioning of State cooperatives. In fact, he was nudging the intelligentsia, ‘how do we create, sustain and nurture a robust cooperative movement to be enshrined in the policy under formulation.’

Cooperatives have been contributing substantially to our economy — accounting for about 30 per cent of sugar, 20 per cent of milk, 30 per cent of fertilisers and 15 per cent of agricultural credit. While there are sterling examples of cooperatives which match the best corporates in transparency and performance, much can be improved as most of the sector just exists. The reason, we are missing the primacy of the act of cooperation to the end, of being a cooperative enterprise. Hence the new impetus to invigorate the sector.

Some ideas

Like the ‘Pygmalion effect’, which works as a self-fulfilling prophesy, we often misuse a quote from the circa 1954, ‘Cooperation has failed but Cooperation must succeed’. A simple question to ask is, did we invest enough in cooperation? Without investment can we declare failure? No, is the obvious answer. Here are ten ideas which require consideration, attention and investment, in people, processes and systems.

First, the word cooperation actually touches the aspect of ‘Humanness’ in people, ‘Life’ in them! It is subtle. When life takes over things happen! Official circulars alone cannot get this going and require investments in people. We can see life taking over effortlessly, in the flock formation of migratory birds, where birds take the apex position by turns, easing their long journeys!

Second, when cooperatives work towards enhancing lives, livelihoods will happen, with a bit of nudge and guidance, as they are a natural corollary.

Third, investments have to begin with the identification of champions who espouse this idea and cause. Champions require orientation to enhance their skills so that they translate the essence of cooperation into a real life activity through people at the grassroots. Training programmes must match what their place(s) require and not generic trainings. Does the sector tap expertise from the best cooperatives and commercial enterprises? Only people who walked the path should be chosen as trainers for such programmes.

Fourth, learnings from the performing cooperatives have to be documented as best practices for strategy formulation. A few learnings from such cooperatives are: their services are viable, they are ever socially relevant, they have been innovating as per the changing environment and branding their services, they connect to the existing government programmes and, most importantly, champions are their leaders.

Fifth, champions for invigorating and leading the movement and the staff required to man the cooperative enterprises are both important. While champions create congenial conditions and rise to lead the movement, it is the staff who will run the enterprises. Hence a robust system to identify, groom champions, oversee cooperative elections and also recruitment and grooming of staff for the enterprises are sine qua non.

Sixth, we require dynamic data bases to assess what each of the entity, sub-sectors in the cooperation sector need, as the requirements vary vastly.

Seventh, computerisation is a must for ensuring transparency and this will also enable them fight the competition.

Eighth, should all cooperatives grow big in size and operations? The axiom ‘small is beautiful’ must be adapted. Meeting members’ needs profitably should only be the measuring metric.

Ninth, a fund, to promote cooperative movement at the grassroots, drive programmes across the country through line departments and ministries, with quantitative and qualitative norms, to commit the fund and measure its outcomes is needed.

Tenth, a democratic and representative body like GST Council may be best suited to lead the cooperative movement.

The writer is Deputy Managing Director, NABARD. Views are personal