A SKETCH OF COOPERATION
June 27, 1999
In the context of the ongoing economic crisis and the social problems such as the aging society and decreasing birth rate in Japan, cooperatives are seen to be the future's hope. On the one hand they are seen to be the torch bearers of welfare work, protection of environment and related concerns, while on the other they are hoped to rejuvenate the economic activities as well in the 21st century. During 1990 (as voiced during the time of ICA Tokyo Congress), many people believed that the 21st century would be an "era of Cooperation", or an "age of cooperatives". However, the later part of 90s saw many managerial and operational problems, especially with the consumer cooperatives. The Japanese examples of this trend is projected in the recent incidents in some of the cooperatives, of window dressing of accounts and the consequent business downturn and the management taking personal control of the cooperative and swallowing the organization's assets.
It has come as a surprise for the enterprises in general, that the operation of the cooperatives has been projected to be under the absolute control of one individual, who as a leader remained negligent about the members' interests and workers' rights. Any way, it is certain that such absolute authority with one leader cannot evolve from vacuum. There must have been vested interests from within, who supported such leadership. In short autocracy in a cooperative, must have been the net result of an organizational climate. It is obvious that cooperatives which have least respect for human rights and personality cannot be expected to represent the future "age of cooperation."
My theme is "Sketch of Cooperation in the 21st Century". But how will the 21st century of cooperation take shape? How can we collectively overcome the current managerial and operational problems of the cooperatives? I wish to take a fresh approach in this regard. Hence I make these proposals.
There have been advocates of a social system based on cooperation or social economy. This is indeed the premise towards which we, the cooperators, have to turn our attention to. If not checked consciously, there would most certainly be an upheaval in the 21st century in Japan, due to falling birth rate coupled with aging population. We need to take a hard and realistic look not only on the economic and social repercussions but of the educational, cultural and philosophical as well. I strongly feel the need to begin pondering and practicing the fresh approach by encouraging collaboration among all types of cooperatives
A pronounced issue of the current situation is the young people's interest in social welfare. Volunteer activities has grown considerably over the past several years. This symbolizes the concern for community. When we think of cooperatives in the 21st century, the first thing that comes to, our mind is the noticeable expansion of community-based cooperation. For instance, as I listened to the conversations at the Kyoto Student Volunteer Center or the Fukuoka Committee of One Hundred Persons, I can perceive that the key phrase is cooperation and not the cooperative. Our range and freedom of conception are greater when cooperation is the key word, because one feature of community-based cooperation is its wide acceptance as a social philosophy. Cooperation is thus more comprehensive and omnipotent than the cooperative. Community is the foundation for the person-to-person communication in the areas of social welfare, environment protection and educational development. Clearly, people today are aspiring for a society that values harmony and cooperation and not a society based on competition. As felt by many, a community is cultivated on the principle of cooperation, and not on competition. It may be said that this has engendered the expansion of "community based cooperation".
The cooperation approach should necessarily keep in mind its interconnections with Non Profit Organizations (NPOs). Last April the Nonprofit Organizations Law came into existence with expectations that it will serve as the vehicle for tasks such as citizen welfare, environment protection as well as volunteer activities. In the days to come a variety of nonprofit corporations, having a new conception, will be established under the NPO law to bring together private nonprofit corporations, of which cooperatives and the like are representative. It goes without saying that such corporations will have the spirit of cooperation as the spirit of management.
Several questions would arise as a result of the above. Will consumer cooperatives and other cooperatives continue to be regarded as nonprofit corporations? Will cooperatives continue responding to the questions and needs of the community? Whether they are the organizations functioning as vehicles advancing cooperation as a social philosophy? And , most importantly, Will answers to the above come from organizations formed under the NPO law? Well, we may be anticipating a grim situation ahead, or it may have already become so!
It is safe to say that the existence of the Consumer Livelihood Cooperative Societies Law, a law specifically cooperative, underlay the development of Japan's consumers' cooperative movement . Such a law, in the least, was definitely beneficial to the activities such as distribution of consumer goods. It is with such a backdrop that Japanese consumer cooperatives instilled the activities of Asia's consumers cooperatives with the message that they should strengthen their organizations by pursuing the policy of turning all users into members. But viewed from another perspective ( that of concern for community and the human resource development of youth) the late start of Japan's cooperative movement becomes apparent. The consumers cooperatives in particular, with the exception of the university cooperatives, provide hardly any opportunities for the youth.
It is the above situation that prompted the student/youth cooperatives of the Asian region to develop the slogan "organizations and movements without active support and involvement of the youth have no future." Efforts were made to inspire people of the region involved in cooperatives, to enhance youth and student participation in cooperatives. As a result , the youth seminars were held in November 1996 and April 1999.
In retrospect, perhaps Japan of all countries, requires an organization or a forum in which youth and student representing all types of cooperatives and NPOs could be horizontally linked. A case in point here is the "Coop Summit" an annual event in the Philippines. This summit attracts 3000 to 4000 participants including the youth from all types of cooperatives.
The source of cooperative value is not something to be found within the structures of a cooperative organization. As enunciated in the proposals of both Mr. Marcos (1988) and Mr. Bake (1992) the source lies in the people's lives, interpersonal relationships, relationship with the society and of course relationship with the world at large. As long as cooperatives remain true to these sources, people recognize the value of the cooperative.
This, to my mind, is the basic approach. This essential value of the cooperative is neither peculiar to the cooperative nor does cooperatives hold monopoly over it. I would say that a cooperative's value is acknowledged only when it becomes an organization or group capable of realizing and practicing the essence of this value.
Cooperatives are the assets of their members, where as, cooperation as a value is an asset owned up and shared by the people world over.
At the time of 1992 Tokyo Congress of the ICA (International Cooperative Alliance) the country's consumers' cooperative movement had already begun facing many difficulties. There were a few instances of the cooperatives being folded up that came to the fore. There were due to an ongoing window dressing of their finances, falsely advertised products or the leaders taking personal control of their cooperative and obtaining illicit benefits. With the above examples, the December's National Assembly of the University Cooperatives raised the issues of truthfulness and ethics as values in cooperatives.
Owing to the nature of their business, consumers, cooperatives are built on three core elements: (1) vision, (2) technical capacity for transformation, and (3) the trust of stakeholders. Even if any one of these elements becomes ill-defined or missing, the business will suffer.
The solution to these issues is to make truthfulness and ethics a prominent feature of cooperative management. It is also necessary to acknowledge that these issues are related to the cultural aspects of business and society. They entail other aspects too, such as human rights. It is true
that finding a solution is not simple, none the less we must take up the challenge.
As noted earlier, I would like to draw my own sketch of cooperation in 21st century Japan. Specifically, I propose the following three core examples and welcome suggestions from all concerned.
1. "Community based cooperation" to bring about a 21st century of cooperation.
2. A "Cooperative Youth Forum" to instill the youth to be active in cooperatives
3. The existence of diverse cooperatives - the assurance of diversity and dynamic leadership.
Cooperation is a community concept. As a value it exists in the community and hence all organizations with community concern, such as cooperatives, NPOs and other Voluntary organizations should initiate a networking process. The existing consumers cooperatives, university cooperatives, agricultural cooperatives etc., should become the members of such networking organizations. These networking organizations possess special skills and support the new cooperation movement. They will, with the help of local Governments establish organizations dedicated to cooperation. My vision for 21st century is to see such community based cooperation throughout Japan.
Towards this end, community based activities should become a daily concern, as indicated in the cooperative principles of the ICA Statement on the Cooperative Identity. Such activities keep the general public, especially the young people and opinion leaders, informed about the nature and benefits of cooperation. (ICA 5th Principle: Education, Training and Information)
The current situation is that every one in the community - in individual homes, offices and workplaces and regardless of nationality - knows the "Definition, Values and Principles." Under these circumstances, cooperation is sure to evolve with greater potentiality and in wider possibilities.
The idea of a Cooperative Youth Forum represents my second vision for the next century. More specifically, it envisions the formation of a nationwide networking organization to promote exchange of information and build a sense of fraternity among the youth who work for and undertake the activities throughout Japan's entire cooperative sector, including NPOs. Here I refer the term youth to comprise of all those in the later half of their teens as well as those in their twenties and thirties.
In any case, whether a cooperative or any form of organization, can continue the activities begun by earlier generations. In the process of continuity an order can be renewed in a novel manner to reflect the different values of the new generation. This is how the old and the new get integrated to further strengthen a movement.
"Organizations and movements without youth support have no future"' - these are words that we would be wise to bear in mind. Organizations with youth support are those in which the youth will participate and those which can always provide an avenue in which youth can play an active role. With a firm belief that "young people are a nation's treasure", we should help youth realize their need for participation.
The final vision is the existence of diverse cooperatives. This is the foundation that guarantees the diversity of cooperatives, and the underpinning by which the cooperatives cherish the task of cooperation. At a glance one can easily see that ensuring the diversity of cooperatives requires laws in consonance with that objective, though we need not work under the assumption that we will have them. Often the advancements and practices of the movements precede and the legislation follows, some times much later.
Well , then, what means will guarantee the diversity the diversity of cooperatives? Conversely, what are the criteria that distinguish cooperatives from other organizations? It could well be the ICA Statement on Cooperative Identity (Definition, Values and Principles) which were discussed around the world for some ten years and adopted in 1995. Therefore, making the ICA Statement on the Cooperative Identity into a shared asset of the members of the cooperative -- and actively and widely giving it currency among the citizens and resident foreign nationals - are necessary for the good of not only cooperatives and their members, but future society and the community as well.
It will be none other than the cooperatives that take the lead in cooperation that can achieve further advances in a society well infused with this cooperative diversity and identity.