Written by: Mark Matabi, Co-operatives Specialist / Country Lead, EMIRGE Kenya
A product and its’ features reflect the maker’s spirit, to make it function in different locations. Japanese cars manufactured for Europe may not have the exact features as those made for the African market, even with the same intent of functionality. This is the same with co-operatives.
My journey into the co-operative movement, as a promoter and advocate, has been characterised by the passion and purpose of learning and information sharing. While growing in the co-operative profession, one of the issues I have been consistently fascinated by, is what really forms a co-operative business model, and how various types of co-operatives form in different societies. The question I always endeavour to answer is, “What is the co-operative image and identity in different geographical areas?” Initially, my thinking was like those of medieval cosmologists who held that the earth was flat. I remember some years back, on my very first international assignment as a co-operatives development advisor to one of the Southern Africa countries, I carried a box full of co-operative materials from Kenya, ‘as reference to teach them about real co-operatives’. Surprisingly, I never used it, but was able to support the development and strengthening of organisational and business structures and systems for 187 agriculture and marketing co-operatives in less than three years. I later learned what my unconscious secret was, effectively outlined in Ernesto Sirolli's TED talk, “Want to help someone? Shut up and listen!” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=chXsLtHqfdM)
This is key to being a co-operative specialist! Simply put, promoters of co-operatives should endeavour to internalise the environment in which they are promoting the co-operative business model, for rural socio-economic empowerment and development.