Cooperatives: Defining the movement

COOPERATIVE UNITED: (From left) Domestic Trade, Cooperatives and Consumerism Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob, together with his deputies Datuk Tan Lian Hoe dan Datuk Rohani Abdul Karim showcase COOP 1M-branded products after launching the ‘Cooperative Directory’ book in Kuala Lumpur. Seen on far right is SKM’s executive chairman Datuk Md Yusof Samsudin. — Bernama photo

The early years

Originally planned in 1948 but only established in November 1956, MKM – then known as the ‘Cooperative College of Malaya’ – could only accommmodate 36 in-campus participants at the time. During its first year, the institute offered only three programmes namely the cooperative officer’s course, cooperative supervisor’s course and rural cooperative leadership course.

In 1958, a number of new courses were introduced that catered for both Bumiputera and non-Bumiputera cooperatives, as well as the consumer societies. Most notably, the institute also conducted programmes specially-tailored for women – signifying its role towards the socio-economic betterment of the post-war community then.

Fifty-five years later, the movement has grown to become a recognised institution dedicated towards endorsing the development of cooperatives in the country – offering not only accreditated certificate-level programmes but also undergraduate degree programmes.

In East Malaysia, MKM established its first branch in Kota Kinabalu in 1997, before setting up one in Kuching in 1998. Currently, it has seven branches nationwide.

East Malaysian story

“In Sarawak, we already have our existing Certificate in Cooperative Management Programme for our in-campus participants. For 2012, we are going to undertake the effort to have this course being conducted via online through our long-distance learning (PJJ) programme,” said MKM Sarawak’s Noor Zeeta. “As such, geographical and location factors will not be the obstacles for future participants to enrol for MKM programmes.”

Apart from the certificate courses, MKM Sarawak’s diploma programmes have also included its Diploma in Cooperative Management and Diploma in Professional Auditing for Cooperatives, both certified by the Malaysian Qualifications Agency and Public Service Department, making both recognised by any institute of higher learning in the country.

On degree programmes, the college tied up with Universiti Utara Malaysia (UUM) to conduct its Bachelor in Business Administration, with a major in Cooperative Management.

“However, our masters’ programme is still in the blueprint,” disclosed Noor Zeeta. “It is our aim to produce able and employable graduates for the industry.”

For this year, MKM would be eyeing an intake of 3,020 participants for both in- and out-campus programmes in its Sarawak branch, and 2,655 participants in its Sabah college.

“While these numbers seem ambitious, MKM’s aim has always been on producing quality graduates – not just quantity,” added Noor Zeeta.

Viable venture On the subject of graduates, Noor Zeeta believed that setting up a cooperative could be the most viable career option for unemployed youngsters, especially university graduates.

“It’s very obvious – graduates are the winners. A cooperative doesn’t need a monumental capital, making it a good platform for these youngsters to work together and venture into a business line that is less risky.

“Moreover, it can be in any industry under the sky; those from the IT field can provide IT-related services, those with business background can set up a mini-coop store providing retail items as well as services like laundry-cleaning, photostating and design services. All they need to do is register with SKM under the Cooperative Act 1993, which can be done either at the counter, by phone or even via online.

“From where I see it; where there’s a will, there’s a way. It’s just a matter of whether one wants to do it, or not,” she underlined.

Overcoming obstacles

While only contributing about one per cent of the country’s GDP, the cooperative’s very characteristic as a socio-economic-oriented enterprise makes it one of the most viable businesses one can venture into.

Out of the country’s over 8,100 cooperatives, about 729 are from Sarawak, constituting a membership of 350,000 individuals with shares worth RM150 million and accumulated assets worth RM351 million. In Sabah, around 728 state-registered cooperatives have generated RM222 million in revenues, or about 2.3 per cent of total revenues reaped by cooperatives nationwide.

Moreover, the cooperative sector has been identified by the government to be developed as one of the major earners in the country, with an aim towards increasing its contribution to five per cent to the GDP by next year, and 10 per cent by 2020.

Nonetheless, it would take more than a set of comprehensive courses along with government’s endorsements and targets to make the sector more vibrant, said Noor Zeeta.

“You have the most favourable setting: stable economy, national growth agenda, government support, and good policies; but it will not work without planning – most crucially, succession planning,” she pointed out.

Noting that most of the co-operators comprised mainly from the older generation while seeing a lack of interest amongst the youngsters, Noor Zeeta underscore the need to change the circumstance towards achieving the target for 2020.

“The succession plan is a two-way effort: getting ready to hand over the cooperative to capable successors and at the same time, encouraging more youngsters to be involved in cooperatives.

“Both have to be flexible. New bloods have to take over the older ones. Both sides have to flexible enough to undertake changes and challenges. W e want the cooperative board members to also consist of these young talents; rather than just being cooperative members. Thus, the senior members have this responsibility on their shoulders to groom these youngsters.”

Another challenge would be the great need for change in attitude and mentality which according to Noor Zeeta, would require a major paradigm shift.

“Great people talk about ideas and making them work. Small people, on the other hand, talk about other people,” she said. “Cooperatives, just as any other businesses, can become successful.

“In saying this, society should dispel the ‘subsidy mindset’. Of course, assistance and support are abound, but one has to work and earn for it; rather than relying on it. We have to move with the times.”

The competitive factor

Stating that in the era of ‘google-lisation’ where everything could be reached at the touch of the fingertips, Noor Zeeta stressed that business players had to be competitive  – even more so for co-operators.

“Nothing should be left for granted. While it is not profit-oriented, a cooperative needs turnovers to be able to distribute the benefits to members; hence, the need of a competent and capable management team. The name ‘cooperative’ itself doesn’t warrant it to become a ‘one-man show’.”

Taking examples of cooperatives in countries such as India and Canada, Noor Zeeta noticed that many of the board members encouraged and train their children to manage cooperatives.

“These cooperative board members even sponsor scholarships for their children, in the hope that they may take over the management when the timing is right. Just as a full-fledged business operation, a cooperative must have professionals running it,” she said.

What’s next?

Reinforcing the need for the younger population to fully understand cooperatives and its function as a business operation, Noor Zeeta believed that the whole generation should  see the industry from a  ‘helicopter’s view’.

She strongly believed that rather than waiting for jobs to come knocking at the doors, youngsters and graduates should take a look at setting up cooperatives, which could work both as a career and a continuous learning process.

“Business is still the best opportunity. Even in Islam, it is said that nine-tenth of ‘rezeki’ (sustenance) derives from businesses,”  she highlighted.

“With the business world being  a playground, anyone in it is a player. As such, you have to play the game competitively. But unlike any game, there’s plenty of room for winners, especially for co-operators.

“So long as you’re 18 years old and above Malaysian,” she quipped.

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