Rethinking the Role of County Government and Apex Organisations in Grassroots Cooperatives Development: Key Lessons from Social Network Analysis in Kenya

Dorthy Tindi Sitati

Collaboration Learning & Adaption (CLA) Officer

USAID CLEAR Program

The Ushirika Hub was paid for by USAID Cooperative Development Program in partnership with Root Change, Global Communities, NCBA CLUSA & WOCCU

 

Government interference on cooperatives affairs is one of the challenges facing the development of cooperatives across Africa. Cooperatives will only be sustainable and successful businesses if they are autonomous. That said, cooperatives require an enabling regulatory environment and strong cooperative development services including appropriate knowledge and skills, and sound leadership and governance. The Ushirika Hub, a social network launched in Kenya in 2019, demonstrates how the cooperatives ecosystem can be strengthened through collaborations within the cooperative sector and pinpoint innovations, new actors and opportunities within the system. Ushirika Hub opened my eyes to the challenges that grassroots cooperatives will continue to face if county cooperative departments and apex associations fail to step up their efforts to create an enabling atmosphere for business operations.

The network map shows the different gaps to cooperative development that include competition for resources and access to affordable services to improve businesses. Many cooperatives also operate on their own because there are limited platforms to network or find service providers whom they can share their feedback with, especially during disputes. These challenges have cost cooperatives their earnings, membership commitment and overall business performance.

Key actors propelling growth for cooperatives: County cooperative departments and apex organisations are interestingly the two key actors providing critical services for cooperatives in the counties. Despite the number of challenges that cooperatives encounter during their engagement with these two institutions, they are confident in their relationship and feel that they are able to get support on cooperatives information, registration, and advocacy. Most cooperatives also receive training and business support from apex organisations like Kenya Union of Saving and Credit Cooperatives (KUSCCO).

From the Social Network exercise, we also learned that there was over dependence on county cooperative departments and apex organisations, which has weakened their capacity to provide enough support necessary to develop cooperatives. Support from Cooperative Development and Non-Governmental Organisations has been limited though there is a call for a more local driven approach. Such an approach should promote strengthening of the institutional capacity of the county governments and apex organisations so that they can provide continued support especially in development and implementation of policies, connection of cooperatives to quality service providers and accessibility of services to smaller cooperatives. 

What can counties learn from Ushirika Hub?

Increasing efforts towards establishment of a functional legislation will permit cooperatives to be independent and to respond to competitive environments while accessing opportunities to grow themselves and their community. Enforcing regulation that prevents innovation in the sector reduces chances of genuine partnership between counties and cooperatives. County Cooperative Development Officers should consider the unique needs of their cooperatives to provide appropriate services.

How can cooperative apex bodies improve efficiency?

Regional offices of apex organisations  will create better connections with county cooperatives. Apexes should increase their capacity to interact with grassroots cooperatives which will advance development in the sector. They should also advocate for cooperative enabling legislation and interpret national government policy for grassroots cooperatives.