Education for life

Ongoing education of owners (and staff) of any business is important, but especially so in a co-operative. The unique democratic nature of a co-operative means that all the memberowners need to be informed, educated and involved to make the right decisions for their co-operative and community.

Members of a small non-employing co-operative will need to learn the skills required to manage the operations of the co-operative. Larger co-operatives often have so many members that they can rely on a core group to be knowledgeable and active in decision-making. All the members of small co-operatives need to be educated about the values and principles of co-operatives and how they translate into good business practices.

Those involved in the formation of the co-operative should not be the only ones with the relevant knowledge, as it is important that the co-operative culture and identity is maintained throughout the life of the co-operative and doesn’t end if the formation members leave. Members can forget the value of being part of a co-operative; continuous learning is essential for a co-operative to flourish.

The co-operative education of members should cover the obligations between members, between directors and members, between members and the co-operative, and between the co-operative and its community. Teach the members the value of being an active member, the value of the co-operative advantage, the value of doing business through the co-operative, how to co-operate, the value of reciprocity and interdependence, how to deal with egos, selfishness and the desire for power, how to be an effective director, and how to market the products, services and merits of co-operation to those outside the co-operative.

Provide a copy of this manual to new members and staff. Plan to have regular ongoing education, and make inquiries about courses, seminars, conferences or workshops available through a co-operative peak body, co-operative organisation, training facility or government. If appropriate education isn’t available, seek the services of a co-operative consultant or a training facility with an understanding of co-operatives to tailor a course for the co-operative or a group of local co-operatives.

Members should be educated to run their co-operative effectively. The general education of members and staff could include managing resources, conflict resolution, negotiation skills, creative solutions, marketing, planning, business processes, grant applications, finance, financial reporting, strategic decision-making, product and service development, and monitoring and evaluating performance.