End of year Q&A: Roz Henry, CEO, Cooperative Business New Zealand

‘This past year has seen a significant increase in groups looking to establish co-op as a sustainable business model across multiple industries’

 How has the last year been? 

New Zealand has seen multiple lockdowns and major uncertainty around the long-term impacts of Covid on our economy. Our government has taken a very different approach compared to other countries, by applying an elimination strategy. Varying lockdown measures across the country continue to cause major disruption, with many businesses being unable to operate, in particular tourism and hospitality. 

New Zealand co-ops span a wide range of industries. The majority have been classified as essential services, continuing to operate in some capacity. However, the impacts on their businesses are varied with the recovery differing, dependent upon location and industry. 

The cost of housing and food continues to rise. We are seeing these costs being passed onto consumers.  Interest rates are at historically low levels and given the limited ability to travel internationally and domestically, there is significant investment into property leading to a boom in the construction industry. 

Border closures and limited working visas have impacted access to seasonal workers from Pacific nations, who fulfil the peak staffing needs of our primary producers. This has placed significant pressure on this sector. In addition, we have seen a number of skilled workers departing New Zealand due to visa status, along with executives exiting organisations as they reprioritise their work-life balance. With our unemployed rate at an all-time low of 3.8%, and the increased need for both low and highly skilled employees, labour shortages have risen. The closed borders are hindering our ability to look offshore to fill the gaps, but there has been a major push by the business community to increase access to these groups. We anticipate the country slowly reopening our borders and reduced restrictions in early 2022. However, the continuing variants continues to create uncertainty.

This past year has seen a significant increase in groups looking to establish co-op as a sustainable business model across multiple industries, where they are leveraging differing ownership constructs (customer, producer, employee and supply chain). 

 What are your hopes for the future?

The future for co-operatives in New Zealand is bright. Fonterra has presented a capital restructure proposal to its members which will see it refocus on its co-operative roots, with closer alignment to the fundamental co-op principles. This sets a great example for others. 

There is significant work required to ensure better recognition of these businesses. The messages we are presenting to government and broader stakeholders focuses on how critical these businesses are to the economy, community and environment, and how they will be part of enabling us to move New Zealand away from a debt-fueled economy, to enable us to rebuild post-Covid and respond to climate change.

We are looking to collaborate with government on opportunities to establish co-operatives in new areas such as housing. To support this, we need better education on the model, and further consideration of the UN / ILO recommendations on enabling a supportive regulatory environment. 

A key to success will be the activation of a MOU with Massey University. This will act as a catalyst to enable the roll out of education on the model. 

Cooperative Business NZ sees our membership with ICA, working alongside their subject matter experts, and the opportunity to engage with our broader network, as a key part of enabling change. 

Click here for more Q&As from our annual review