Credit unions must support business culture
St. Lucia's Minister for Co-operatives Damian Greaves says that the co-operative movement's growing relationship with the state has weakened its ability to raise funds and has hindered the growth of a regional business culture.
He said that although the concept of globalisation and trade liberalisation were not new, they carried significant challenges for Caribbean economies and the existence of co-operatives.
Addressing his colleagues from the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) who began a three-day conference on the island in May amid concerns for the implications of globalisation on the movement.
However, Greaves noted that as individuals' most Caribbean farmers, artisans and youth did not have the economic strength to compete effectively and co-operatives remain one of the only alternatives that allowed the unemployed to find a niche in a constantly changing environment.
"In the Caribbean our credit union movement is the epitome of what can be achieved when people join together so as to transform their weaknesses into strengths," he said.
Greaves noted that with assets of over US$1 billion credit union co-operatives showed what can be achieved when capital starved individuals pool their resources together in a highly competitive environment.
Despite this success, the minister noted that in some states co-operatives were still being viewed as another arm of the state and this weakened the independent and autonomous character of co-operative identity and entrepreneurship.
"This also resulted in co-operatives under emphasising their business orientation and becoming heavily dependent on government for resources", he said.
Greaves cautioned that co-operatives must initiate pragmatic adaptations if they are to maintain their place as an effective vehicle for the socio-economic development of their members and the community.
"In responding to change, co-operative societies may have to diversify their services and this may even cause the emergence of new types of cooperatives," he noted.
The Minister said that the increase in unemployment coupled with limited absorption of established businesses and state sector enterprises, make private initiative, small business and self-employment a vital alternative for the creation of jobs.
"The co-operative form of business is ideally suited for that purpose," Greaves said.
The conference of Ministers of Co-operative and representatives from the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and Caribbean Confederation of Credit Unions (CCCU) will consider new ways of revitalizing the co-operative sector, which played a major role in small business development in the 1970s.
Co-operatives are expected to play a key role in providing wider public participation in financial markets, savings mobilisation, job creation and income generation for Caribbean families.
In his address to the conference General Secretary of the Caribbean Congress of Labour George De Peana called the credit union movement in the Caribbean a sleeping giant that had to be awaken.
"This meeting should seek to find out what are the impediments and obstacles in the path of the development of the rest of the co-operative movement, and what is needed to correct this situation," he said.
De Peana said there was a dire need to get other sectors of the movement such as housing, farming and consumer co-operatives up to the same standard achieved by the credit union co-operatives.