Staff of co-operatives from Indonesia, Thailand, and Philippines who were trained as Information Technology (IT) Specialists by the “Information Technology for Southeast Asian Co-operatives (it@coops) Project” gathered together for the “Regional Forum on it@coops: Empowering Co-operatives through Information Technology” held November 19-21, 2007, Antipolo City, Philippines. The Project is implemented from 2004-2007 in co-ops affiliated to national co-op federations in the three countries that are members of AWCF.
The Project is a partnership of AWCF and InWEnt (Capacity Building International, Germany), with support from the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development. Guests at the opening ceremonies of the conference included Ms Lecira Juarez, Chairperson of the Philippines’s Cooperative Development Authority (CDA); Mr. Niel Santillan, CDA Executive Director; Dr. Ute Huebner, Representative of InWEnt, Manila; Mr. Pit Heltmann, Deputy Head of Mission, German Embassy, Manila; and Mr. Mahudin, First Secretary, Economic Affairs, Indonesian Embassy, Manila. The Antipolo forum also sought to inspire more co-ops to use IT to improve competitiveness, to enhance operations and engagement in entrepreneurial work, and to set up IT-based business development centers (BDCs). The BDCs give services to co-op members who may be entrepreneurs, including co-op women members who may have difficulty accessing business services. The it@coops Project is geared extensively, though not exclusively, to women. More information about the Project is at: http://www.it-coops.net (UPDATE: now on the Internet Archive here.)
Asian co-ops compose two-thirds of the 223 worldwide member-organizations of the International Co-operative Alliance (ICA), the global body of co-ops, which covers more than 800 million individuals. Co-ops are a proven instrument for people’s empowerment and their achievement of a quality way of life, especially in Asia. With the ” it@coops Project” that is piloting the introduction of IT and the usage of more IT applications to co-ops especially in Southeast Asia, more doors are being opened to these organizations, to vastly improve and greatly diversify their operations, to deliver even more effective and wider services to the members, and to be effective vehicles for growth amid strong competition from purely business organizations. The Project is helping bring the rapid developments in IT closer to co-ops, as big business has been the main beneficiaries of IT in the past few decades. As organizations that work against poverty primarily through collaboration, co-ops can effectively apply IT as a tool to improve operations and the lives of their members, especially as they get the opportunity to become entrepreneurs or to expand their existing enterprises.
Empowering Co-operatives in Southeast Asia through Information Technology – Background on the it@coops project
The “it@coops Project” has three pillars or components: the training of co-op staff as IT specialists/trainers; the putting up of IT-supported BDCs in co-ops; and the setting up of national and transregional (Southeast Asia) virtual networks among co-ops. In the Philippines, the Project has enabled these co-ops to operate Internet cafes patronized by members and even other community residents: Paco-Soriano-Pandacan Development Co-op in Manila; Nueva Vizcaya Alay Kapwa Multipurpose Co-op (MPC) in Nueva Vizcaya; and Gubat St. Anthony Co-op in Bicol. These Internet cafes have allowed the co-op members to have access to the Internet and its different facilities, which they did not have before and could not use even for their business transactions. The following co-ops, meanwhile, have initiated BDCs: Lamac MPC and Cebu People’s Co-op, both in Cebu; and Labo Progressive MPC in Bicol. The BDCs of Lamac, Cebu People’s, and Labo focus mainly on developing and marketing members’ products. IT has helped them do research on product innovations and use web-based tools to market their members’ products. Using IT tools contributed to improving their image as co-op organizations, enhanced their credibility in transacting business with clients, and, consequently, expanded their access to bigger markets. Labo Co-op, particularly, has gained foreign clients to its pineapple-based products through its web-based promotional activities.
In Thailand, IT training centers were established at CULT, the Huaykhanang-Tungna Credit Union (CU), and the PattanachumchonBanputabag CU. Then, BDCs were set up by the Watyangkhaoyoi CU and the Huaykhanang-Tungna CU. Internet counters for their members were put up by the Watyankhaoyoi CU, Huaykhanang-Tungna CU, Suwannaphum CU, and PattanachumchonBanputabag CU. More CUs are planning to have their own Internet counters.
For the Project’s participants in Indonesia, new websites were developed by FORMASI Indonesia and the NGOs Bina Swadaya, PEKERTI, PPSW, LP3ES, Bina Desa, ASPPUK. Meanwhile, Bina Arta Swadaya, Koperasi Kredit Sehati, Koperasi Kredit Melati, PERSEPSI, LPPSE, and Koperasi Karya Insa are preparing their websites. FORMASI, ASPPUK, LP3ES, Bina Swadaya, and Bina Arta Swaday have migrated several of their computers to use FOSS. The IT training given to the co-op members has improved their knowledge and skills that help them do their work. For example, Koperasi Kredit Melati gave a Powerpoint training to the members, including teachers. The teachers are now using Powerpoint in their presentations in school. Women, including mothers, are now learning to use computers and the Internet. They are able to get more information using these tools. Likewise, they have become more aware of what their kids do when the children visit the Internet café. Organizations with BDCs are starting to gain popularity for their services. For example, the Bina Desa is now more known as the distributor of organic rice among its clients in Jakarta that include NGOs, a university, private companies, and government agencies.
Without the BDC of the co-ops, their members who are entrepreneurs would be at the mercy of middle traders out for profit, and members’ produce would still be confined to the local market, where financial gains are smaller. Providing member-producers with means to access the bigger markets builds their self-confidence, challenges their creativity, enhances their motivation to expand their business, and gives opportunities for them to have better financial rewards. This is very important for the members of these co-ops, as majority of them belong to the lower-income sectors.
All this growth being experienced by co-ops and co-op members in Indonesia, Thailand, and Philippines through the “it@coops Project” has proven to be an impetus for co-ops, and are bound to be sustained and to become even bigger as the Project’s processes are aimed at being a continuing program for co-operatives in the region.