Adapting Cooperative Business to “The New Normal” in Kenya

1,5 years down the line from the first reported COVID-19 infection in Kenya, the Country’s economy is still exposed to uncertainty and an ever-changing environment. While large scale corporate enterprises are regulated to provide health and safety gear to their employees, cooperative members and staff are often lacking behind in conducting business in a pandemic safe way. Most Kenyan cooperatives operate in rural areas where health coverage is deficient and access to sound public health information limited.

The level of digitization among cooperatives is negligible too, which is why the greater share of cooperatives haven’t had Annual General Meetings in 2 consecutive business years. Those who are unable to conduct their meetings in a digital space simply fear the risks for their members well-being that come with large gatherings during a pandemic.

In addition, a membership in the local cooperative is often the only way for small farmers to generate regular income through trading. Although the global demand for agricultural raw materials such as corn has increased during the pandemic, the Kenyan farmer her/himself is faced with the risk of food insecurity. This can be largely credited to interrupted supply chains caused by curfews and lockdowns. The Government of Kenya has not been able to implement public programmes to stabilize cooperative enterprises during this crises or support farmers with direct mechanisms which as well adds to the fragility of the Co-operative landscape in the Country.

DGRV´s Support to Adapt to the “New Normal”

Against this background, DGRV Kenya supports project partners on their way to adapt to “The new normal”. Our Kenyan development project does have a strong focus on capacity development for cooperative members and leaders. Learning new skills and practicing them is particularly challenging in times when physical interactions are not possible and digital coverage is low. We therefore support our associated cooperatives to create health concepts which enables an adapted co-operative management taking limited digital capacities into account.

For example, together with the cooperative administration we defined measures and guidelines to conduct Annual General Meetings with physical participation again. In doing so we were able to support our project partners to remain compliant organizations besides the existing challenges.

Even though the continuation of safe, physical meetings and workshops is important especially in times of the COVID-19 crisis, a digitalization boom should not be underestimated. E-learning is also playing an increasingly important role in Kenya.

Could E- learning be a Sustainable Way Forward?

Within the first 6 months of 2021, DGRV Kenya together with GIZ and its local project partners, enabled 280 co-operatives to use our DGRV online tool “Cooperative Basics”. The E learning software is the first one of its kind accessible for Kenyan cooperators and was launched just before the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Could E- learning be a resilient way of continuous co-operative learning?

On the positive side we experienced that

  • Digital cooperative learning attracts new co-operative members, e. g. cooperative leaders often volunteer to onward the digital learning experience to young non- members;
  • The certification at the end of the E learning course is often the first evidence of cooperative education for long standing cooperative members and
  • Appreciation for stress-free learning in the users own time.

The sustainability of E- learning in the cooperative space in Kenya may be limited through the following factors:

  • Guidance on both, the subject matter as well as on ICT handling throughout the E- learning experience is required;
  • Only 40% of the DGRV E- learning users are less than 35 years old, hence a generational change can not be achieved through E- learning alone and
  • Self-motivation of the users to continue learning in their own time is low.

Finally, we would say that an E- learning component adds to the diversity of access to cooperative education and does have the potential to thrive in times of crises but only if appropriate technical guidance is provided throughout the learning process.

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