African Renaissance Festival 15-16 August 2019



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Six Lessons from Kenya's Remarkable Cooperatives

About 63 percent of Kenyans earn their livelihood from cooperative enterprise, accounting for 45 percent of the GDP. Kenya has its own problems with inequality, yet it also holds lessons for those interested
in strengthening cooperative economies elsewhere.

1. Co-ops must also organise themselves

Kenya's cooperatives don't rely on the government alone to regulate the sector. They participate in a network of organisations within which they address shared priorities, both through self-regulation and
by lobbying the government. Some organisations are regional, while others are specific to the various types of cooperative enterprises. Together, they are all part of an apex organisation, the Cooperative Alliance of Kenya.

2. Co-ops come in many forms

Historically, the Kenyan cooperative movement has centered on agricultural co-ops and Saccos. Cooperative insurance companies exist as well, and the Co-operative Bank of Kenya has a tower in the Nairobi skyline. But according to the leaders of the sector, the future lies in fostering even more diversity.
"We envision having more worker cooperatives, so that artisans, consultants, and professionals can have their own cooperative businesses. Consumer cooperatives and housing cooperatives are growing as
well," said Kirianki M'Imanyara, coordinator of the Institute for Co-operative Development.

3. Democracy is a skill we need to learn and practice

Kenya is a place where experience in democratic enterprise is unusually widespread. It's common to meet people who have spent years pooling resources with others and making decisions collaboratively.
Still, Kenyans don't believe that democracy, or business knowhow, will come about naturally. In 1952, the government established a college to train managers of cooperatives. Students learn both how to make a business successful, and how to honour the democratic principles of the cooperative movement.

4. You still need to think like a business

"We're trying to make them understand that it's not just a social thing. "It's a business. There is a need for entrepreneurship in anything that they are doing." Through new regulations and education, the movement's leaders are trying to ensure that cooperatives secure the future of their principles by becoming more competitive in their businesses.

5. Don't just adapt to capitalism, change the game

Cooperatives need not play by the market's rules, however. "Cooperative values and principles are centered around what human beings really need." Unfortunately, Kenya's agricultural cooperatives
often act counter to these principles focusing on cash crops rather than food crops. Co-ops have neglected to meet a basic need for people and take advantage of an economic opportunity; like to see cooperatives take a leading role in producing high-quality local food.

6. Cooperate locally, network globally

While encouraging cooperatives to be more competitive, the government also emphasizes collaboration. For instance, if a cooperative in a certain industry already exists in a certain region, she encourages people not to start a new one there, but to find ways of working through the existing organisation. "If you think you want to have a dairy, and there already is one, you join them," she said. "If you have an idea they don't have, bring it to a meeting."


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