Fellow Barbadians, on Saturday July 4, 2020, the world celebrates International Cooperatives Day. This is an occasion that is celebrated each year on the first Saturday of July under the auspices of the United Nations. Its history dates back to 1923 when it was first celebrated by the International Co-operative Movement and the International Co-operative Alliance (ICA).
This year, we celebrate the occasion under the theme “Co-operatives for Climate Action” and I take this opportunity to extend my best wishes to the Co-operative Movement in Barbados and to Co-operatives across the globe.
As we celebrate, the international cooperative movement draws the world’s attention to its successes and to its principles of international solidarity, economic efficiency, equality, and democracy for all. The celebrations strive to reinforce and solidify partnerships among members, between members and other businesses and between members and Government.
Although this year, the Ministry of Small Business, Entrepreneurship and Commerce is not able to host its usual annual festive celebrations due to the onset of the COVID 19 pandemic, the Ministry still acknowledges its significance and pledges continued support for the cooperatives movement worldwide.
The cooperatives movement in Barbados dates back to the 1940s when some members of the Roman Catholic Church formed a cooperative saving society. Since then the cooperatives movement in Barbados has grown to include 32 credit unions, 29 non-financial cooperatives and 39 friendly societies.
There were seven non-financial cooperatives formed since 2018, and these are in areas of business that span various economic sub-sectors. These include transport, construction, agriculture and renewable energy. Of the seven cooperatives formed since 2018, four were formed in 2019 and three were formed within the first half of 2020.
These include the United Transporters Cooperative Society Limited, the Barbados Sustainable Energy Cooperative, the Barbados Contractors and Artisans Society Limited, the PSV Cooperatives Society Limited and the People’s Agricultural and Business Cooperative Society Limited.
It is acknowledged that in Barbados, non-financial co-operatives’ have not reached the scale of operations as their financial counterparts. Research has shown that financial co-operatives in Barbados have accumulated assets of about 2.4 billion dollars with employment levels in excess of 500 persons and a membership base that exceeds 200,000.
On the other hand, non-financial co-operatives, have assets of about $10.5M and employ some 125 persons. This is with a membership base of approximately 1300. Despite the contrast between these two categories of cooperatives, however, the non-financial cooperatives have assisted many Barbadians in gaining wealth.
It is found that there are many benefits to be gained when businesses network. Thus, in an effort to encourage business networking and collaboration among micro and small businesses, the Ministry is embarking on a program to encourage the formation of community business clusters across Barbados where businesses in a particular field would be able to interconnect and network as customers and suppliers to each other and in some cases, share common assets.
The aim is to address the common needs of businesses that are of similar nature, increase productivity, create economies of scale and promote the sustainability of small businesses in Barbados. It is anticipated that with the formation of such clusters, businesses concentrated in similar fields of economic activities in Barbados may be positioned as precursors to the formation of cooperatives. The Ministry is in the process of drafting a National Strategy for clustering in this regards.
It is believed that the inter-connected linkages that may ensue will mitigate many of the inherent challenges currently experienced by stand-alone small businesses which often result in business failure. These refer to challenges that small businesses face in relation to marketing of products, the sourcing of inputs, access to technologies and equipment and access to finance.
It is believed that this model will serve to foster the growth of entrepreneurship and innovation within and among communities in Barbados. It should also serve to enhance the community spirit, create social value and act as a cross-cutting mechanism that would lead to the widening of the entrepreneurial ecosystem.
In recent times, the Ministry has recognized an increase in the interest of actors in various categories of economic activity, wanting to form non-financial cooperatives. This could only have resulted from the ongoing educational and marketing efforts of the Cooperative Department of the Ministry of Small Business, Entrepreneurship and Commerce since 2018.
This is based on the Ministry’s thrust to encourage micro and small businesses to take advantage of the many economic benefits that can be realized from being members of a cooperative society.
Among others, these refers to benefits such as the ability of a co-op member to purchase inputs at bulk prices, to receive annual dividends from surplus gains, to realize lower unit costs of production at his or her business; to have access to continued education through knowledge sharing with other members, to have the ability to lobby Government and suppliers as a collective rather than a stand-alone, to have easier access to markets and to become a beneficiary of the spreading of wealth.
In late 2019, the Government saw it necessary to establish a fund of $ 2.5 M in loan financing under a Transportation Augmentation Program which was administered by FundAccess to assist retrenched workers from the Transport Board who came together and formed the United Transporters Cooperatives Society Limited.
The purpose was to allow these retrenched workers, as members of a cooperative, to access finance to purchase buses and to use these buses to offer transportation services to the Transport Board to augment its fleet. In forming the cooperative, the retrenched workers, as members of a cooperative, were more able to effectively lobby Government to their benefit, than if each worker lobbied as a stand-alone.
This year, the ICA has invited co-operatives across the globe to continue to push for actions that will address climate change. Climate change severely impacts people’s livelihoods around the world, especially the most disadvantaged groups such as small-scale farmers and youth. Special mention must therefore be made of Barbados’ first renewable energy co-operative (Co-op Energy) which will give members ownership and decision making powers in the renewable energy sector in Barbados, going forward.
Its registration comes at a time when the Government of Barbados has adopted a National Energy Policy that supports the establishment of a fossil-free, sustainable energy configuration, intended to have Barbados become a carbon neutral island by the year 2030. The national energy policy along with the formation of this cooperative, thus represents Barbados’ unwavering commitment to this years’ theme, “cooperatives for climate change” as posited by the ICA.
Our commitment to the fight against climate change is a commitment to the preservation of our natural resources. As Barbadians, we need to protect our coral reefs from bleaching and further degradation and our beaches from increases in sea level. In this way, we protect the mainstay of our economy which is tourism and the richness of our natural environment.
In these challenging times when the world faces a global pandemic, members of the co-operative movement here in Barbados, financial and non-financial, are urged to hold dear to the ethical values of honesty, openness, social responsibility and caring for others in the tradition of the founding fathers of the cooperatives movement.
I commend the great work that the combined sixty-one co-operatives are doing to build out the economy of Barbados and to allow Barbadians to attain a better standard of living. To this end, I wish the entire Co-operative Movement in Barbados and across the world a successful International Co-operative Day.
Minister of Small Business, Entrepreneurship and Commerce, Dwight Sutherland