Meet … Om Devi Malla, vice chair of Nepal’s co-op federation

‘The lesson we have learnt for fostering an enabling environment for co-ops is to continuously lobby and advocate with the government and other stakeholders’

Om Devi Malla is a member of the legislative Parliament of Nepal, vice-chair of National Cooperative Federation of Nepal, and sits on the global board of the International Cooperative Alliance. 

How did you get involved in the co-operative movement?

My inner sense of mutual help and co-operation pushed me to be a co-operator. In my preliminary working life, I was involved in the private business sector with my family. Coincidentally, I came across the co-operative activities with my seniors who inspired me to start a co-operative and extend collaboration among ourselves. The co-operative movement is a movement of people, its centre is its members. To be involved in the co-operative is to serve members. It is a collective way of helping each other. I found the co-operative movement to be a medium of a socialist society with democratic norms and values. 

Who has encouraged your co-op journey?

When I joined the co-operative movement in 1996, my family members and friends were my supporters. But gradually I got involved with the National Cooperative Federation (NCF) where I met Deepak Prakash Baskota, then chair of the federation, who encouraged me. In 2005 I went to India to study for a diploma in co-operative education and management and met Savitri Singh, the director of National Cooperative Union of India; she motivated me to continue with the movement. Dame Pauline Green, former president of the International Cooperative Alliance, is another role model who inspired me more to be actively involved. 

Nepal has recently launched a university degree in co-ops. How did this come about?

[This degree] is the result of many years of effort. When I studied in India, the idea of a similar course in Nepal came to mind; I started lobbying for it, but there was no policy to back it up at the time. The co-op movement of Nepal was also lobbying the government and the political parties to recognise the co-operative model for economic development; this was achieved in the interim constitution of Nepal 2007, and the first national co-operative policy was announced by the government in 2012. 

National Co-operative Policy explicitly says that co-operatives will be taught at school and university level, but we struggled to make the formal arrangement. A team from Nepal led by myself with the dean of management from Tribhuvan University and others visited universities in India where the co-op model has been taught for a long time. It was a breakthrough event for introducing the co-operative course in grades 9-12 (secondary level) in Nepal; now the NCF has made a memorandum of understanding with the Tribhuvan University to launch an MBA in
co-ops and entrepreneurship. Next we are focusing on the managerial level and are developing diploma level skill-oriented academic and nonacademic courses in collaboration with the universities. 

You are also an MP. How do you see the role of legislation in enabling co-ops?

We have made several efforts to get co-operatives recognised as a pillar of economic development and as a means of attaining the goal of socialist society in the new constitution of Nepal. As a member of the constituent I had made personal efforts to make this happen. Secondly, with the then chairman of NCF and constituent assembly member Keshav Badal, I worked on the change in parliamentary committees. So, despite some room for further improvement, we have put our best effort to include many good provisions for the co-operative promotion in the New Cooperative Act 2017 and Cooperative Regulation 2019.

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For example, we put 33% mandatory reservation for female participation board representation. However, there are other several cross cutting laws that need to be amended to increase the contribution of co-ops in agri enterprise and medium and large industries.  

The lesson we have learnt for fostering an enabling environment for co-ops is to continuously lobby and advocate with the government and other stakeholders. 

How have Nepalese co-ops been supported during Covid-19?

The Nepalese co-operative movement has tried its very best to service our members affected by the pandemic. During lockdown, co-operatives delivered doorstep services. Because of the closure of small and medium enterprises, our members could not deposit their regular savings or repay instalments in time. This affected cash flow and other financial indicators, so we lobbied for the extension of payment periods, discounted interest and penalties, and rearranged the loan structure through several policy measures.  

What is the situation of women in the Nepalese co-operative movement?

In Nepal, women make up more than 56% of co-op members, but hold less than 40% of the leadership roles. Considering women’s inclusion in co-operatives, we managed to reserve 33% of seats for women in the different committees of co-operatives through the Cooperative Act 2017 – but the challenge is still there. Many co-operatives have not changed their bylaws in line with the spirit of co-operative act and regulation. Women co-operators should come forward to enjoy their rights and duties. They should be proactive. Nobody will grant them the benefits – it should be grasped. Although the legal environment is favourable, there is still a lack of knowledge in a largely patriarchal society. We are developing women empowerment programmes to give women the tools to be independent and empowered economically, socially and culturally.

How do you see the future of the co-op movement in Nepal? 

Very bright. The co-operative movement was initiated by the executive government order in 1956 for the support of flood-stricken people. Later the government enacted the co-operative act and institutionalised co-operative development. The government started to write co-operative plans from its 10th five-year plan. Now we have the 15th five-year plan, again including co-op development. The most important thing is to have co-operatives in the constitution as one of the pillars of economic development. This all shows the full commitment of the government to promote co-operatives. 

But we have to show our sincerity towards maintaining co-operative principles and values, and show our commitment in keeping good governance in co-operatives.  

Related: Meet … Sharmila Thakuri from the Nepal Society of Co-operative Journalists

To grow the sector, we must empower co-operators and develop a transparent and healthy co-op movement by implementing standardised monitoring indicators. It doesn’t matter how many members, savings and share accounts we have unless it positively affects the living standards and lives of co-op members. So we have to be serious about uplifting their living standard through different socio-economic activities while also developing a self-sustainable co-operative movement. 

I am trying my best to increase the number of young members and women members because I believe young people are good ambassadors for the change in society – and women must be economically self-sustained.  

I appeal to all national, regional and international organisations to make a common effort for attaining the self-sustained and good governed co-operative movement around the globe.