ICT Can Boost Cooperative Movement In LDCs
11 June 2012
In designating 2012 as the UN International Year of Cooperatives, the international community recognizes the cooperative business model, which prioritizes human needs over profit margins. Today over 1 billion people worldwide are members of cooperatives, meaning they (rather than shareholders) own and govern the enterprises to which they belong. Ranging from small-scale to multi-million dollar businesses, cooperatives provide 100 million jobs.
The model has been around for centuries, but it is now being revolutionized thanks to the development of information and communications technologies (ICT). A panel discussion on Wednesday, organized by the UN’s Division for Social Policy and Development and the Department of Economic and Social Affairs, outlined some of the ways in which ICTs are impacting cooperatives around the world. The benefits are especially tangible in least developed countries (LDCs), where even small improvements in ICT infrastructure can level the playing field so that local cooperatives can compete globally.
For example, the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) has implemented programs in India, Kenya, and Rwanda, among other countries, where agricultural cooperatives account for a considerable amount of the food supply. They range from facilitating registration for new cooperatives and establishing community learning centers, to addressing economic and social problems, and providing farmers mobile phone-based money transfer services.
Lila Hanitra Ratsifandrihamanan, Director of the FAO Liaison Office, notes that “agricultural cooperatives are vital to improving food security, but they cannot live up to their full potential unless members are connected and administrative and accounting methods are efficient”. To that end, the FAO works to bridge the digital divide in rural communities, helping small shareholders pool their assets and competencies to raise capital.
Mobile telephony, now nearly ubiquitous according to Gary Fowlie, Head of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) Liaison Office to the UN, has proved instrumental in these efforts. The next major push will come from the internet.
Carolyn Hoover, the CEO of dotCoop, the sponsor of the .coop domain name, explains how the company works with cooperatives to build an online presence for increasing their market share potential. This includes providing a .coop domain name free for the first year and working with registrars to encourage low-cost programs for web packages that employ local website developers. A great deal of effort also goes toward educating small cooperatives about the benefits of being on the internet. They also distribute funds through their annual Global Awards for Cooperative Excellence.
The primary obstacle to dotCoop’s initiatives is inaccessibility of broadband internet in many rural areas. However, efforts to improve this are underway through the UN Information and Communication Technologies Task Force, which aims to “lend a truly global dimension to the multitude of efforts to bridge the global digital divide, foster digital opportunity, and thus firmly put ICT at the service of development for all.”
“At the upcoming Rio+20 Summit we are trying to get the international community to recognize that ICTs are a fundamental catalyst for sustainable development” said Fowlie. He notes that the internet was already recognized as a vital form of infrastructure on par with water and roads at the Fourth UN Conference on the Least Developed Countries in Istanbul last year. The hope is that such recognition will galvanize movements to improve internet accessibility in LDCs and boost small-scale cooperatives.
SOURCE: MediaGlobal News
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