Many people may not be aware, but one of the biggest hotel brands globally Best Western, is actually a co-operative of over 4,000 hotels in over 80 countries, making it the largest hotel chain in the world.
Closer home, in Rwanda, the Association de l’Esperance des Taxis Motor au Rwanda (Assetamorwa) is a co-operative of motorcycle taxi owners in Kigali, Rwanda’s capital city, which counts more than 2,500 members.
As county governments in Kenya settle into the next phase of their respective tenures, one of the biggest headaches that each administration will be dealing with productively is engaging young people.
At a time when young people are disproportionately affected by unemployment and the lack of decent work, co-operatives can create work opportunities and better working conditions.
They can help young people both to find work and to gain work experience, as well as offer opportunities for professional and vocational training.
Young people need to be interested in creating co-operatives as great vehicles to build sustainable enterprises by sharing with them successful examples and information and practical information on how to establish them.
I know that the co-operative development role was devolved to the county governments. Some of them have done a stellar job at preparing frameworks and policies for taking this responsibility forward. Schedule Two of the Constitution of Kenya gives counties latitude to come up with regulations and Act to regulate co-operatives within counties.
As a start, the existing micro and small enterprises, irrespective of their economic sectors, should be organised into co-operatives. Today, most people still imagine that co-operatives are only relevant to farmers. Yet the scope for operating as a co-operative spans across several sectors of the economy.
Usually, potential co-operators are unaware of the option to form a co-operative, or of the services and benefits that this form of organisation can offer them. Therefore, any promotion of the co-operative concept needs to convey the benefits not only to the converted (existing members), but also to the general public.
In other words, a positive image of co-operatives needs to be created and disseminated.
Forming and developing these cooperatives will engineer some of the biggest benefits that many of these businesses will be unable to achieve on their own. For instance scale.
It is critical that the mindset of these individuals is changed so that they begin to see the bigger picture of being able to achieve scale in terms of supply of goods and even delivering services. On the flip side, as a co-operative, they can also negotiate better prices for the inputs they use.
This is the only way they will grow their respective businesses and therefore create opportunities for training and employment for the rest of the community members.
In the case of Best Western Hotels, they all benefit from collective supplies and standards applied across the whole enterprise, from furnishings to information management systems and even hotel design.
For members of Assetamorwa, they are conscious of the need to help young Rwandans. The co-operative has therefore established a training school where students learn the business of being a motorcycle taxi driver, the Highway Code and basics in mechanics.
Kenya’s 47 counties need to embrace and promote the enterprise co-operatives concept.
Joseph Kamiri is General manager (marketing and distribution), CIC Insurance Group.