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The heritage of cooperatives in St Vincent and the Grenadines


Fri Mar 20, 2015

by Maxwell Haywood

As we celebrate National Heroes Month in St Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG), and as we celebrate and reflect on our national heritage, it is significant to highlight the heritage of cooperatives, especially their outstanding contribution to the development of SVG. This contribution represents a precious heritage of cooperative growth and development in SVG. It is a legacy that must be protected and developed.{{more}}

The powerful heritage

In 2014, a series of events were held in SVG that highlighted the actual contributions of cooperatives and their potential to make even greater contributions to the development process in SVG. In 2014, and in the first few months of 2015, five well-known cooperatives in SVG celebrated their anniversaries. The General Employees Cooperative Credit Union (GECCU) celebrated its 50th anniversary. The Barrouallie Cooperative Credit Union (BCCU) celebrated its 55th anniversary. In addition, the Kingstown Cooperative Credit Union (KCCU) observed its 56th anniversary. Bun Pan celebrated 60 years; and the St Vincent Co-operative Bank Limited marked its 70th anniversary. These achievements reflect the Vincentian cooperative spirit.

These many years of existence tell a tremendous story. According to the Searchlight newspaper of Friday Oct. 10, 2014, the St Vincent and the Grenadines Cooperative League reported that about 66,000 Vincentians have become members of credit unions and cooperatives and there are 18 credit unions, nine cooperatives, 57 junior cooperatives and a micro finance cooperative, as well as the apex body, the St Vincent and the Grenadines Cooperative League. Together, the cooperatives have about EC$325 million in savings and assets worth more than EC$336 million, and annual gross revenue of over EC$30 million.

These achievements are part of our heritage that should be held high and celebrated during the month of March. This valuable cooperative heritage demonstrates that Vincentians have recognized the importance of the values and principles of cooperatives and their uniqueness as a social enterprise model. Embodied in this Vincentian cooperative heritage is the spirit of the universal human urge and need for social unity, justice, compassion, participation, and enterprise. It reflects the power of the social economy in which the cooperative model is a vital component, guided by the internationally defined cooperative values such as: self-help, self-responsibility, democracy, equality, equity and solidarity; and cooperative principles such as: voluntary and open membership; democratic member control; member economic participation; autonomy and independence; education, training and information; co-operation among cooperatives; and concern for community.

Sustaining cooperative heritage

There are efforts in SVG to ensure that the cooperative enterprise model is understood and practised at an early age. The schools are part of this drive to promote the legacy of the cooperative model. The cooperative programme for schools is an act that strengthens the sustainable development of cooperatives and wider social and economic progress. This is a commendable effort, especially if the nation is to sustain this vital social wealth-creation model. For instance, the cooperative savings programme in the schools has mobilized over EC$17.7 million, and has taught students the value of enterprise and wealth creation. Also, the National School Cooperatives Awards ceremony is an event that helps to elevate the cooperative model. In addition, cooperatives in SVG have some form of outreach to young people. This outreach must be continued and embraced by the society.

In order to strengthen their position in the society as drivers of social development, cooperatives have begun to make more use of

new information and communication technologies. For instance, recently, Kingstown Cooperative Credit Union launched its website and GECCU launched its on-line service called GECCU Link-24 Services.

Strategic issues

While cooperatives in SVG have proven their worth, they face several questions and challenges. For instance, are cooperatives doing enough to protect the cooperative identity? Are cooperatives investing in educating their members and non-members about the uniqueness of cooperatives, as reflected in the cooperative values and principles? And are these values and principles genuinely internalized by members and practised throughout the operations of cooperatives? Is the decision-making process in cooperatives operating according to the cooperative values and principles?

These critical questions and challenges of cooperatives will become more urgent as the private and public sectors become more exhausted under the weight of the accumulating pressures from the global economy and domestic social demands. As a social business model, and because of their distinct characteristics and identity, cooperatives provide another sustainable and proven way to achieve social and economic development objectives. There is a powerful heritage of cooperatives in SVG that should be more actively deployed to build a society that is more inclusive, productive, democratic, and environmentally friendly and sustainable.