Society

Life satisfaction in cooperatives

teamwork
scottbellows

Summary

  • The enormity of the global Covid-19 pandemic leaves billions of world citizens in decidedly altered family, health, financial, and community situations than before the crises.
  • The role of resiliency in how and whether households and communities bounce back from this extreme shock stands particularly pertinent as local and national governments consider how best to salvage, rebuild, and refocus economies.

The enormity of the global Covid-19 pandemic leaves billions of world citizens in decidedly altered family, health, financial, and community situations than before the crises. The role of resiliency in how and whether households and communities bounce back from this extreme shock stands particularly pertinent as local and national governments consider how best to salvage, rebuild, and refocus economies.

Kenyan cooperatives, longtime foundations of rural and urban economies, did not escape the clutches of the pandemic but member perspectives on their optimism and futures have a lot to inform policy makers as they debate how best to build back.

Engaged in an innovative multi-year study on Kenyan cooperatives, social capital, and resiliency outcomes, Global Communities’ Cooperatives Leadership, Engagement, Advocacy & Research (CLEAR) Programme tracks over 400 cooperative members in 18 cooperatives across nine counties. In partnership with the United States International University-Africa and funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the baseline took place before the emergence of coronavirus and then the first follow-up conducted during the pandemic provide a window into changing perspectives as Covid-19 and preventative measures became a reality in Kenya.

When considering external shocks to individuals, families, cooperatives, and communities, one’s level of optimism and expectations about the future underscores how they views themselves compared to the wider world and serves as a powerful catalyst for individual action-taking versus fatalistically giving up on forging a better future. As one might expect, cooperative member optimism pre-pandemic compared to during the pandemic did wane as members face more concerns about their future, particularly in getting enough food to eat and their own health.

These fears were tied specifically to the pandemic. Additionally, the upcoming 2022 Kenyan general election contributed to declining optimism and increasing fears about creeping insecurity from politically motivated crime and lawlessness. So, are Kenyans becoming less optimistic?

The answer is yes - but only for some. The critical factor is age. Changes in levels of optimism between 2019 and 2020 for cooperative members largely served as a function of one’s age in how they view their future life prospects in light of the pandemic. Despite the pandemic, optimism surged for cooperative members between the ages of 18 to 25 when considering expectations for better business profits, higher earnings, and happy family lives.

But optimism fell abruptly for those between 26 to 35. The least optimistic across most categories of any age group under 75 years, the 26 to 35 year old members sharply lowered their hopes in their future business, health, and food security between 2019 and 2020.

The reality of an actualised rather than hypothesised world and realisations that hopes and dreams from childhood and early adulthood are often difficult to make happen and seems to have a shocking negative affect.

Sadly, the low optimism levels with feelings of fatalism of this age group is linked to a steep decline in their activity and participation in their cooperatives. The 26-35 age range had the lowest participation of any age group and it also had the effect of reducing their networks and social capital with the likely knock-on effect of lowering their resiliency and economic outlook.

Then slowly by 36, optimism starts to increase, peaking and plateauing at 56 until dropping off drastically at 75 when optimism generally ceases in many cases.

Cooperative member participation and activity in their organisations dropped slightly in 2020 as compared to 2019. Perhaps surprisingly, men increased their levels of active participation during the pandemic, while unsurprisingly, women decreased participation considerably.

Contrary to public opinion in Kenya, the most active individuals in cooperatives are not the oldest members. In contrast to the frustrated 26 to 35 year- olds, Kenyans aged between 46 and 55 and then 18 to 25 are the most active while 36 to 45 year-olds are the most likely to hold management positions.

Interesting to policy makers and community leaders, the benefits and expectations of cooperative membership vary according to gender. An active male member statistically relates to higher business profits and earning more money. Meaning, the more active a man becomes in his cooperative, a statistically significant increase corresponds to his life expectations for generating profits from his business and earning money.

In comparison, active women cooperative members feel greater life expectations for their stability and safety. Despite these differences in expectations, both men and women who are more active as members are statistically more likely to have happier family lives and better health expectations.

In short, membership and active participation in a cooperative yield positive individual outcomes in how members resiliently face the coronavirus external shock.

There is much for cooperative boards to learn from these findings which include age ranges to consider increasing efforts to engage, create succession planning programmes that include the 26-35 age range in particular, and furthermore work with both genders so they can see the empowerment benefits and also the economic benefits equally.

Cooperators and policy makers can have powerful influences on community resiliency particularly in relation to recurrent and catastrophic shocks by paying particular attention to behavioural aspects of resiliency and how these play out across cooperative membership.

Dr Scott may be reached on [email protected] or on Twitter: @ScottProfessor