A national strategy to boost the neglected cooperative sector

(MENAFN- Jordan Times) There are countless reasons why the cooperative sector is so vital and as many questions raised over why it is so neglected.

For starters, the world of "co-ops" consolidates volunteerism, democracy, productivity, synergy, creativity, self-reliance and economic diversity: the core values our country needs to prosper, shed the traces of rentier economy; free itself from overdependence on the public sector as an employer and empower people, especially women.

Unfortunately, the sector is in tatters as such great potential remains untapped. According to figures provided by the Jordan Cooperative Corporation (JCC) for the purposes of this article, there are 1,591 cooperatives registered with the agency, two thirds of which are actually active, with the overall membership base comprising 142,000 citizens. Of these, only 14 per cent are women. The value of total assets is JD327 million, while the available cash at hand stands only at JD42 million. The figures, JCC officials acknowledge, are modest, and can be multiplied if the sector receives the attention and support it deserves from decision makers.

The JCC's budget is JD2 million, 95 per cent of which is spent on salaries and operational expenses, while a mere 3 per cent, or JD60,000, is earmarked for "capital spending". The agency, which plays the dual role of monitoring and developing the sector, finds it financially challenging even to organise awareness-oriented workshops in targeted areas, and is short of qualified manpower to realise the envisioned change in the way it operates.

Despite these shortcomings, there are success stories to be told, but the heroes of the cooperative world are still unsung, as co-ops, unlike NGOs, do not have the tools, and perhaps the interest, to communicate with the public through the media. Perhaps the public opinion itself is not interested in a story about a group of small-scale sheep keepers who join ranks through a cooperative to collectively market their milk produce and eventually make it feasible for all.

Additional funding should not necessarily come directly from the Treasury. The Planning and International Cooperation Ministry can help secure donor funding to finance programmes designed by the JCC awaiting execution. NGOs can also make themselves useful through spreading awareness, contributing feasibility studies for proposed enterprises and detecting the potential of each area in the Kingdom to guide its residents to where the money is.

In fact, the JCC is ambitious to have its own financing window to support cooperatives and use the profits to enhance a culture of collective economic action at the grassroots level.

Most importantly, Jordan needs a national strategy to advance the cooperative sector that engages all stakeholders. After all, this sector is no less significant or vital than the other sectors that have seen nationwide plans and allocation of sufficient resources.

Do you remember the brokerage houses scam of 2008? A total of 117,000 citizens from all walks of life, even from the poorest governorates, filed lawsuits against greedy and phoney businessmen after losing hundreds of millions in the rush for quick cash. Imagine that these millions were invested in well-planned productive projects carried out by well-advised, well-scrutinised cooperatives; would not the development landscape be different by now?

The writer is the deputy chief editor of The Jordan Times


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