This approach strives to build cooperatives’ capacity over time to deliver impactful services, but it assumes that cooperatives will need strong partners along the way. Partners may include buyers, NGOs, banks, government agencies, and other cooperatives. For new or struggling cooperatives, partnerships for the design, monitoring, and refinement of the service programme will be critical. For well-established cooperatives, partnerships may be less critical for providing core services, but still necessary to overcome gaps in service delivery. Where partners are needed to provide complementary services, it is important to choose these partners well – in addition to technical skills, they require good listening skills, critical observation and thinking, and sound understanding of cooperatives and rural livelihoods. Where skilled partners are unavailable, exchanges with like-minded and similarly structured cooperatives may help. This cooperation promotes new forms of collaboration, such as cooperative–cooperative business schools, which may also work for newly formed cooperatives if sister cooperatives are more advanced and willing to share experiences and skills.
Strengths and weaknesses
The approach addresses an important gap in discussions on cooperative development: the implementation of an impactful and sustainable advisory service programme. Its strength lies in providing practical guidance for addressing the complex issues around cooperative service provision and its call for learning and innovation on how cooperatives and their partners respond to members’ needs. However, success in implementation may not come quickly or easily. The approach favours those cooperatives with assertive leaders able to inspire change, a minimum amount of resources, and access to capacity development partners committed to empowering cooperatives (and making themselves redundant over time).
This approach rests on a diverse group of farmers with access to a package of services that responds to their needs at a given point, and evolves over time as their needs become more sophisticated. Cooperatives play a major role in providing these services, and the better cooperatives are at doing so, the more viable they will be. Table 1 discusses possible service and delivery arrangements for three generic types of members.