What is a co-operative?

Answer/Definition: An autonomous association of persons who voluntarily come together to satisfy common needs through a jointly owned and democratically controlled enterprise. 

 History- The Rochdale Society of Equitable Pioneers Co-operative 

The Rochdale Society of Equitable Pioneers Co-operative was established in Rochdale, Lancashire, England in 1844 as a consumer co-operative. This was around the time of the industrial revolution when skilled labour was being sidelined and machinery for mass production introduced as the big technology of that eraThe economic situation was so bad that people called that era ‘the hungry forties’. Flannel weavers, shoemakers, joiners and other skilled labourers, due to dramatic decline for their skills, became unemployment casualties and slipped into poverty thereby creating hardship for their related families. 

 These twenty eight people came together and formed the first real successful co-operative society.  There were earlier attempts at co-operatives, however they failed. The members of the Rochdale Society of Equitable Pioneers pooled their meager resources to capitalize their          co-operative which started out by selling butter, sugar, oatmeal, flour and candles to members at affordable prices. Later the business added tea, tobacco etc. In ten years time the British Co-operative Movement had increased to near one thousand (1000) co-operative societiesHad each member remained as an individual, they would have been unable to get food and other goods at such low prices as were available from their co-operative. In other words, a co-operative provides benefits to members which they would not be able to get as individuals. The Rochdale Society of Equitable Pioneers Co-operative members learnt from the failures of previous attempts at co-operativesTheir      co-operative business was successful because it satisfied the members’ needs; hence the seeds of loyalty and commitment were planted and bore fruits. Self help or volunteerism is a major factor for developing any successful co-operative as it reduces operational cost. This clearly shows that team work is a requirement for a successful co-operative. The members must work together for the common good of the co-operative. 

Brief history on the department of Co-Operatives

The registration of co-operatives societies began in St. Kitts Nevis on 27th March 1969 by the first Registrar of Co-operatives, Mr. Ingle Blackett of Nevis who studied co-operatives in England. He registered the Seventh Day Adventist Youth Handicraft Co-operative Society Ltd of Butlers Village, Nevis back then. Registration of co-operatives was done by the Division of    Co-operatives within the Department of Agriculture in accordance with the Co-operative Societies Ordinance, Chapter 120 of September 1961. Incidentally at that time the Division of Co-operatives was located in Nevis. As expressed by Mr. Kenneth Martin who worked at the Department of Agriculture at that time, Nevis was more ready to embrace co-operatives because of its strong family farming background, while St. Kitts was still operating in the colonial sugar plantation system. Years later an office was opened in St. Kitts from which the Registrar of    Co-operatives works. 

In 1998 the Division of Co-operatives was upgraded to the Department of Co-operatives under the guidance of Registrar of Co-operatives, Bernice Rawlins, with offices located in both St. Kitts and Nevis. The office in Nevis at that time was supervised by Director, Pearlivan Wilkins. The office in St. Kitts had a staff of six while Nevis had a staff of five. Past Registrars of         Co-operatives include Ingle Blackett, Clement ‘Junie’ Liburd, Chris Vidler, Kenneth Martin, Dr. Keith Archibald, Douglas Wattley, Bernice Rawlins and Antonio Wilson. 

The first credit union to be registered was the Pioneers Credit Union Ltd of Basseterre, St. Kitts, which was registered on 10th June 1969. The longest surviving co-operative society is the Nevis Co-operative Credit Union Ltd, registered then as the Charlestown Co-operative Credit Union Ltd on 10th December 1969There are twenty five junior co-operatives and eleven adult co-operatives in St. Kitts. There are twelve junior co-operatives and seven adult co-operatives in Nevis. 

In a brief discussion with Mr. Spencer Howell who worked with Mr. Blackett back then, some of the challenges facing co-operatives were and still are leadership, insufficient knowledge on      co-operatives and under capitalization. A key strategy going forward will be the dissemination of co-operative information to the public via the electronic media. Programmes will be aired on ZIZ Radio in an effort to educate the public on co-operatives. We are hoping to expand our efforts to other media houses in the future. 

It must be appreciated that the Department of Co-operatives role is to regulate and provide technical assistance to co-operatives. On the other hand, members of co-operatives are responsible for the management of their co-operatives and must implement strategies for success. The Department of Co-operative stands ready to provide technical support to assist in strengthening of the various co-operatives. 

Co-operative is about people working together to help each other get common benefits.